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.