Randall Park Mall demolition under way, as crew tears into former Dillard’s store (Cleveland.com)

A trio of excavators surrounded the entrance to the defunct Dillard’s department store on Monday morning, starting the final chapter in the riches-to-rags story of Randall Park Mall.

When the mall opened in 1976, thousands of people flocked there to see the stores, the celebrities, the glitz and the glamour.

Only a few mourners huddled in the pockmarked parking lot to watch this week, as the wrecking equipment chewed into the old department store, stripping out steel and sending dust into the cold air. There wasn’t much left to grieve. The mall closed in 2009 but had been dying for more than a decade before that.

David Smith, the mayor of the tiny village of North Randall, donned a baseball cap and stood with his arms crossed over his chest as Dillard’s started to crumble. The fanfare, he said, will come after most of the mall is gone, when new property owners refashion the site as an industrial park.

Developers Stuart Lichter and Chris Semarjian have acquired much of the 100-acre property through tax foreclosures, traditional purchases and deals involving the village and the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., commonly called the Cuyahoga Land Bank. They plan to refurbish the former Sears department store and the old Magic Johnson movie theater as industrial buildings. The main mall, along with Dillard’s, will be razed over the next few months.

Semarjian and Lichter don’t control the former Macy’s store, which is tied up in tax-foreclosure and bankruptcy litigation; the Burlington Coat Factory store, which is still operating; or the old JCPenney store, which Ohio Technical College transformed into a training space for motorcycle mechanics.

The ultimate development of the site could involve more than 700,000 square feet of construction, in addition to the existing buildings, and upwards of 1,000 jobs. North Randall’s village council expects to take up rezoning legislation for the mall property in January.

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