Antioch Center To Be Torn Down; Kansas City, Missouri

Back in 2007, we published a case study of malls in the Kansas City area. In doing so, we discovered one of the most extreme examples of retail overbuilding in the country.  Of the region’s once 15 enclosed malls, only two remain viable as regional or super-regional draws:  Independence Center, located in east-suburban Independence, and Oak Park Mall, located in southwest-suburban Overland Park.  The rest have been marginalized to ancillary status, like Ward Parkway Center in south Kansas City, and many others are either underutilized, on life support, or have closed completely since we posted the case study. One of the malls we profiled, Antioch Center, was still on life support when we originally published our case study, but has since closed and as of late 2010 is pending demolition.

Born in 1956 as an outdoor plaza with almost 500,000 square feet, Antioch Center was the second major shopping center in Kansas City, and was the first major suburban-style center in the region.

But first, an aside and caveat of sorts.  The first shopping center in Kansas City was the storied Country Club Plaza, located 4 miles south of downtown.  Country Club Plaza was an innovator in shopping center design, and although it was not the first shopping center to be constructed outside of a city’s downtown/central business district, it is generally accepted to be the first shopping center to be constructed with the automobile in mind.  Designed to look like a neighborhood in Seville, Spain, The Plaza opened in 1923 to immediate and lasting success.  Over time, the Plaza has upscaled its offerings and is currently the best shopping district in Kansas City.

Country Club Plaza (wikipedia):

However, despite The Plaza’s innovative success, a distinction has to be made between The Plaza and the suburban shopping centers it predated, such as Antioch Center, and all the enclosed malls which came many decades later.  The Plaza is designed as a traditional neighborhood, and its streets are intertwined into Kansas City’s normal grid.  There are no parking lots surrounding the development, and no standalone buildings like a mall would have.  The entirety of The Plaza consists of regular streetfront retail, mostly justified to the sidewalk, causing The Plaza to behave as a distinct neighborhood rather than the more modern shopping centers we’re more familiar with.  If anything, it’s the precursor to many of the modern “lifestyle centers” and fake neighborhood main street things popping up all over today.

In 1954, more than 30 years after Country Club Plaza opened, construction began on a new style of suburban shopping center.  Located on the north side of Kansas City, in an area known as the Northland, Antioch Center was built on a 42-acre vacant section of land that had just recently been annexed into Kansas City in 1950.  Just like The Plaza, Antioch Center was built with the automobile in mind.  However, the auto-centric developments of the 1950s trended toward building on the edges of cities, where land was cheap and plentiful.  Such a large space could have a retail center located in the middle of the property, with a sea of parking lots surrounding it on all sides for convenience, and more developer control over every facet of the project.

Antioch Center opened in 1956 as a 481,600 square-foot open-air center, anchored by a two-level, 102,000 square-foot Macy’s Kansas City on the north end, and was joined by junior anchors Woolworth and W.T. Grant.  According to mall-hall-of-fame, the open-air mall complex was two levels, with a basement level facing the parking lot.

It wasn’t long before the first competition came for Antioch Center.  In 1958, another open-air center, Blue Ridge Mall, opened just east of downtown Kansas City.  Blue Ridge, anchored by JCPenney and Montgomery Ward, was about the same size as Antioch Center and had a similar selection of in-line stores.  Antioch Center was mostly unfettered by this competition, though, because its trade area consisted mostly of the rapidly growing Northland area of Kansas City.  Blue Ridge served the growing eastern section of town, and Country Club Plaza served everybody in a separate league altogether.

A year after Blue Ridge arrived on the scene, in 1959, another outdoor mall debuted in south Kansas City: Ward Parkway Center, anchored by Montgomery Ward.  Ward Parkway was similar to the two outdoor malls before it.

In the 1960s, Antioch Center, Country Club Plaza, Ward Parkway Center and Blue Ridge Mall were the four main shopping centers in Kansas City until local developer Sherman Dreiseszun decided to develop two new enclosed malls in the region.  The first was East Hills Mall, located about 50 miles north of Kansas City in St. Joseph, and the second was Metcalf South, a mall we’ve featured on this site, which opened in Overland Park in 1967.  Metcalf South was the first enclosed mall in Kansas City, balking and changing the trend of the outdoor centers that previously dominated the market.

The 1970s provided much more serious and brutal competition for Antioch Center, as many more regional and super-regional malls were constructed in the region.  In 1971, Indian Springs Center opened in Kansas City, Kansas to serve the western side of the region, and between 1974 and 1976 three regional powerhouse malls opened – Independence Center, Metro North Mall, and Oak Park Mall.

Meanwhile, the 1970s brought change to Antioch Center as well.  In 1973-74, a 185,000 square foot wing was added to the north end of the mall, ending at a 100,000 square-foot Sears anchor.  In response to all the new competition and the swinging trend toward enclosed, climate-controlled malls, both Blue Ridge Mall and Antioch Center were fully enclosed by 1978.

Enclosure brought success and bought time for Antioch Center as it grappled to compete with all of Kansas City’s new enclosed behemoths.  Metro North Mall was Antioch Center’s biggest competitor with 1.3 million square feet of retail space, compared to Antioch’s post-expansion total of 667,000 square feet.  The sum total of the rest of the new malls also ensured that Antioch Center was no longer a regional draw, and only drew from locals in the Northland who couldn’t be bothered to go to Metro North Mall, effectively making Antioch an ancillary to Metro North.

In the 1980s, Antioch Center rode the modicum of post-expansion express train as it settled into its new position as an ancillary, neighborhood mall.  Incidently, the very first Showbiz Pizza opened at Antioch Center in 1980, the same year that yet another behemoth mall, Bannister Mall, was constructed across town.

In 1986, anchor changes at Antioch Center began, with the closure of Macy’s as they left the Kansas City area.  Dillards, a rapidly expanding chain from neighboring Arkansas, quickly snatched up the anchor for a new store.

Any success Antioch Center had came to an end during the 1990s, even despite an exterior renovation of the mall in 1993, and a store expansion by Sears in 1997-98.  Dillards also closed after a short 6-year stint at the mall, but its store was quickly snatched up by Burlington Coat Factory.  Also at some point, Woolworths became Payless Cashways, a home improvement box.  Stores began leaving the mall as shoppers eschewed stopping here in favor of all of the others Kansas City built for them.

For a period, beginning the late 1990s, Antioch Center was marketed as a value-oriented mall, but after the turn of the millenium it was clear that didn’t work, either.  Payless Cashways went out of business in 2001, and the food court became increasingly barren thereafter.  Many stores exited the mall in droves, leaving vacancies in their wake.

The tides had turned into an irreversable downward spiral, and the mall was sold to a group of investors from Toronto in 2002.  They put together plans for a total renovation in 2004, which involved tearing down most of the mall sans Sears and BCF, and replacing it with a lifestyle center of sorts, paid for by tax abatements.  Unfortunately, the project met numerous delays and setbacks, including the economic downturn, causing the investors from Toronto to walk away from the project in 2010, turning it over to M&I Bank.

Meanwhile, the remaining stores in the interior corridor of the mall have closed, and the mall was permanently sealed.  Sears and BCF remain committed to the mall and its renovation, and have stated that they will remain open no matter what.

In September of 2010, a group of local investors who call themselves Antioch Redevelopment Partners bought the mall from the bank and hoped to get the ball rolling again.  They are the same investors who redeveloped the troubled Blue Ridge Mall into a Wal-Mart, and locals are optimistic when leveraging their “success” on that project.  They plan to start razing the mall by January 2011, but also may need more TIF money from the city.  We’ll see what happens.  The title of this article could have remained the same since 2004, yet nothing has happened.

Since the mall no longer exists as such, I went on web.archive.org and stole the mall’s most recent directory as well as its logo, featured above.  I hope nobody cares.

We’ve visited Antioch Mall several times, beginning in the early 2000s, noting the visible downward spiral of the mall.  Take a look at the pictures and leave some comments and let us know what you think.

2003:

2005:

23 Responses to “Antioch Center To Be Torn Down; Kansas City, Missouri”

  1. What an um.. interesting choice of decor. This mall looks more like a frankenstein of other buildings (or maybe the secondary hallways of other malls) tacked on together, with light fixtures, etc. fished out from a dumpster.

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  2. Yikes the Metcalf South article needs an update (hint: the Streets at Metcalf South never materialized). Last I heard, there was another redevelopment planned that would keep it as an enclosed mall, and there were wholesale shops.

    But Antioch Center…Payless Cashways (and other names it operated under like Furrow’s) was more of a traditional hardware store, not a big home improvement warehouse like Home Depot.

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  3. History aside, enclosing this mall did not do it any favors. You keep expecting to find a grand part of the mall somehow, but instead it just looks like a very cheap 70’s enclosing project that otherwise did little to enhance itself. I don’t even see anything that even remotely resembles a “center court” and I imagine it was somewhat cavernous even when it was open-air.

    BTW, did the lower level only have access from the outside? I saw it listed as two levels, but the mall itself looks to just be one level.

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    Prange Way Reply:

    @JT, The lower level only opened outside to the east parking lot, and wasn’t accessible from the main mall. It was a remnant of when the mall was open-air.

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    Debbie Reply:

    @Prange Way,

    east side on the south end of antioch mall had doors to an outside staircase to lower level of mall. there was also a staircase in one of the big stores – furniture store at one time…

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    Prange Way Reply:

    @Debbie, an outside staircase? that sounds precarious. I never noticed it, is it still there I wonder? I did look for ways to get down to the bottom level without going all the way around in the car.

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    Lori Reply:

    @Prange Way, the outside stairs took you directly into the food court and to the inside mall entrance to Showbiz Pizza.

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    Ron Reply:

    @JT,
    The lower level had Woolworths, Midlad Hardware, the Bowling Alley,and other stores. there was a large truck entrance that ran under the center of the Mall from the SE- to the N end to service all the shops .This was built during the cold war and the underground area was also a huge fallout shelter. Also under ground on the west side was a roller skating rink. I grew up near there and remember when it was all a corn field.

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    jeanette Reply:

    There was NEVER a woolworth’s at Antoch. There was at Blue Ridge and Ward Parkway. Antioch had a TG&Y –2 levels by the outside stairs (and the cut-throuh enclosed walkway to the ental offices that came out in the middle of the mall). Grants was the other dime store hat later was added on to to become a payless cashways. I grew up in that mall and spent most of my money there at TG&Y.

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    Joyce Reply:

    @JT, From the lower east side you could get to the ‘Main” level by going up the wide steps that led into the food court area in later years. There was also a stairwell alongside Macy’s that went out near the bowling alley. You could get up in Macys, of course. You could also get upstairs through the furniture store, Levitz? Sears had the parking garage and the way up through that store. You could wander in from TG&Y. They were two stories. From the west you could go down to the Library, Roller Rink or dance studio, at different times if course. That always seemed an enclosed space, though. It was a wonderful mall when it was open to the world. You felt like you were shopping downtown or Northtown but you didn’t have to wear a hat and gloves. But you still had to eat at the Forum. Good memories of good simple times.

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  4. This reminds me of eastland center in West Covina, CA. It was built in the 50’s and had one level of basement shops onl acessible from the outside of the mall level. It was anchored by a monstrosity of a May Co.. 5 levels and just under 400,000 sq feet… And a two level WT Grants on the west end.

    It too in the 70’s was enclosed.
    Grants closed late 70’s.
    Mervyns added to the west of the Grants store. Grants became inline stores to the mall.
    Office Depot, Marshalls and Ross took over basement stores.

    1990-91 May Co announces move to a smaller store being built in a new wing of the Plaza at West Covina.
    Mid 90’s mall completely dies off and is closed.

    Now the difference here. The basement stays open and the mall is gutted but not torn down. They subdivided the mall for new big box stores. The May Co is torn down except for the basement level. Target builds new store where May Co was. Burlington Coat Factory moves in old basement of May Co.

    Today its an amazing place. You can wk through the big box stores and see the original mall. you can see where the concourse was and where the exit corridors were. You can see where grants was too. Its amazing.

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    Prange Way Reply:

    @jeff, That’s interesting! I’ve never checked that one out when I was out there. I always assumed it was totally redeveloped.

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    Chip Reply:

    @Prange Way, Sounds like the same thing happened to Orland Park Place. The empty mall subdivided into big box stores. 8 store were used to fill in the empty concourses.

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  5. why does the area only have that many malls?

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  6. why does it have so many dead malls and whats Kansas Citys crime rate like?

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  7. just reading this, since i saw a new for sale sign in front of mall. Someone needs to know that our local representative sent out her accomplishment letter a couple of years ago, and one of her brags was having $2 million ready for Antioch demo. Where is that money? You don’t need anymore tif….find that money she says she has. thank you.

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  8. Nobody mentions that most of the shop owners were run out by double and triple rental fees when the Mall was taken over several years ago. I talked to several store owners and they said they just couldn’t afford the high rental fees they were being charge so they mostly relocated. It seems like they wanted an empty mall to get TIF money and KC was ready to give it away. BTW the Sears store there has been a loser for many years now. Almost empty most of the time. My wife worked there (35 Yrs for Sears) until they canned her to keep a young kid for less than half her salary. If Sears was smart they would relocate everything across the street in their K-Mart store. Doesn’t make sense they have stores together like that. What they need there is a COSTCO to battle the Sam’s Club. That’s the only option we have in the Northland. Hated to see Antioch Center go down like it has. I grew up there.

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  9. Wow! Antioch mall is gonna be torn down I will miss this spot living in Gladstone I went there a lot when I was a kid now I live in Omaha NE and it sucks!

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  10. Does anyone have photos of Antioch Center back when it was open-air, and before they enclosed it. It used to have these swooping arches around the outside, between the parking lot and the sidewalk in front of the shop doors. The arches were made of bent steel beams and were painted brown.

    Also, there used to be a smaller downstairs area at the west end of what became the food court, with stairs inside the mall that led down to it. There was a dance studio down there where my sister took ballet, and there was a slot-car race track business where you’d bring your slot-car and speed-control grip and rent time to race it on their track.

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  11. what about showbiz pizza?!

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  12. What is the South anchor?

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  13. I was googling tonight to find old photos of the inside of Antioch Mall. Trying to see what I remember as a kid. Does anyone remember the TJ Cinnamon’s that used to be in the food court? Or the Kid’s clothing store outside of Sears that had the pet parrot? Or how about the mini Christmas Shop that was set up in the center of the mall for “Kids Only” to do their shopping? I remember all of that in the early 90’s. I’m sad to see that the mall is demolished now. I have so many great memories of that place. Such a shame. But so glad to see photos online of what once was. Thanks for posting this!

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  14. I remember when the airplane flew over our house in Gashland and dropped paper plates that had a coin amount printed on it. You would take the plates over to Antioch center during its grand opening, and use the plates like coins, e.g. 1, 5, 10 and 25 cents.

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