Located in Overland Park, one of the largest suburbs of Kansas City, Metcalf South Shopping Center opened in 1967 to immediate fanfare. Launched by infamous mall developer Sherman Dreiseszun, Metcalf South is anchored by local Kansas City department store The Jones Store Company and Sears. It is enclosed and nearly 800,000 square feet on three levels, including anchor space.
Over time, Metcalf South has fallen flat on its face and despite being open for business it is definitely a dead mall. The two anchors, Sears and The Jones Store, remain at the mall, and The Jones Store is expected to go through with the Macy’s conversion in September 2006. However, other stores in this large mall remain largely vacant and the center is a shell of its former self. An art theatre and Vaudeville theatre operate at the mall as well as a handful of other stores, but most of the national retailers have flown the coop. Mr. Bulky Treats & Gifts, Suncoast, Mastercuts, Foot Locker, and County Seat are among the visible store shells along the mall’s corridors. The third level of the mall is mostly shut off to the public and has been partially converted to offices, except for at center court. The mall’s floors are shiny almost constantly due in part to the janitors who are doing a great job as well as the fact that old people are the only people walking the mall (and they leave in the morning).
A bit more about the mall’s owner, Kansas City developer Sherman Dreiseszun. At 83 years old, he’s led an fascinating life in the realm of retail development and continues to do so. He’s helped develop several malls throughout the country and holds a stake in many of them today, including Metcalf South. What’s notable about these malls is that they aren’t always in the best condition. His malls in Toledo, suburban Cincinnati, Denver, and this one have all languished in recent years. He’s also been described as a very hard-nosed man with a personality of steel, and is known to drive hard bargains. It’s therefore no surprise he’s been listed on Fortune’s 400 wealthiest Americans. He has developed and owned Metcalf South since the beginning back in the 60s, and operates his base office from within the mall. Many municipalities have been upset with his mall management policies and procedures as of late and have threatened eminent domain or condemnation of his malls in order to remove their blighted status. The controversy surrounding his malls is notable as he continues to operate some very beleagured malls without divulging many plans to renovate them or make them viable again. It’s all very interesting, and I think he’d be a great person to talk to about retailing because of so much first-hand experience, and a still presence – it’s too bad he refuses interviews.
As for Mr. Dreiseszun’s plans for Metcalf South – he divulges none. He says there are a few things he’d like to do with the mall but remains tight-lipped as to what they’d be. This is probably part of the reason there is a bit of controversy surrounding the man. People like answers. People don’t like giant, blighted shopping malls sitting in their communities, especially when it seems unnecessary. Overland Park is one of the nicer and larger suburbs of Kansas City, and in fact the second largest city in Kansas with a population around 170,000. The city was incorporated in 1960, making it entirely suburban and defined by sprawl. Perhaps as a result of this, it’s not surprising the city allowed Dreiseszun to give himself some competition and open another very large mall in Overland Park, a couple miles down 95th street from Metcalf South. In 1975, Dreiseszun helped open Oak Park Mall which became Overland Park’s second mall. It was immediately successful, and Oak Park is today one of the more dominant malls in the entire Kansas City market and boasts 2 Dillards, JCPenney, Nordstrom , another Jones Store, and over 180 specialty stores. In the past decade as Metcalf South has rapidly declined, Oak Park Mall and the newer lifestyle center a few miles south in Leawood.
Right now Metcalf South just sits and waits for the next big thing to come, but it’s definitely past expiration in its current state. Let me know what I’ve left out about the history of Metcalf South, and add your own stories. What other stores were there? Leave some comments.
UPDATE 12/18/06: The ‘next big thing’ has come. A Colorado developer has agreed to overhaul Metcalf South and another ailing Kansas City mall, Metro North Mall, into new mixed-use developments. Metcalf South will be renamed The Streets at Metcalf and “will include upscale boutiques, national and local retail shops, an entertainment complex, office and residential space, and a hotel” according to the article. With wildly successful Oak Park Mall and Town Center in Leawood so close by, I wonder how this will fare. Preliminary plans for the new development are due sometime in 2007, so don’t expect the mall to come down immediately. We’ll keep an eye on the death watch.