Opened in 1958 at the corner of U.S. 40 and I-70 in east Kansas City, Blue Ridge Mall was a major shopping center anchored by The Jones Store, JCPenney, and Montgomery Ward. Once the fourth largest mall in the Kansas City area, Blue Ridge Mall slid into a quick decline and today is nothing more than a Wal-Mart Supercenter with a few outparcels. The story is interesting and even somewhat controversial, so read on.
The mall was enclosed in the 1970s following a national trend to enclose large, existing open-air centers in North America, and it also expanded as JCPenney moved into a new location. The newly enclosed mall was well received, despite competition from both nearby Independence Center in the mid-1970s and Bannister Mall, which opened in 1980. Success at Blue Ridge Mall during the 1970s and 1980s was at least partly due to its highly visible location with impressive frontage on I-70.
However, the fate of Blue Ridge changed dramatically during the 1990s. The changing demographics of the area surrounding the mall combined with a general trend favoring only large, super-regional centers left Blue Ridge with more vacancies than ever before. One of the worst blows occurred in 1997 with the closure of the largely popular Woolworth’s store as that chain folded. According to a deadmalls.com submittal, by 1999 the mall had lost many stores; however, all three anchor stores remained open by 2000.
Although Blue Ridge Mall declined dramatically during the 1990s, the first few years of the new millenium proved to seal its fate. In late 2000, Montgomery Ward closed up shop around the same time the entire chain closed. Then, in 2001, JCPenney closed, prompting mall management to think about massive renovations to save the troubled center. MBS Mall Investor-98 LLC, who owned the mall since 1998, contracted plans for the renovation. It was to feature a hybridized enclosed-outdoor combination, retaining most of the old enclosed space but complementing it with new exterior frontage facing I-70, where 216,000 cars pass daily. During the planning process, they also added non-traditional tenants to the mall, including a 97-table dinner theatre and a 91,000 square-foot antique mall. That’s a lot of antiques. In addition, they eagerly announced a national sporting goods and outdoor-supply chain were both interested in space at the renovated Blue Ridge Mall.
Sadly (and rather mysteriously), the ambitious renovation plans disappeared completely after being announced in 2001, which is very similar to what happened at nearby Bannister Mall. This caused many more stores to become frustrated and leave. Finally, The Jones Store called it quits in 2003, leaving Blue Ridge Mall anchorless. Like a car without wheels, the future of Blue Ridge by this point was rather grim, with only Applebee’s and a few stores hanging on.
The following year, in 2004, Blue Ridge Mall’s owners got in bed with Wal-Mart and announced they were going to demolish the entire mall and build a shiny new Wal-Mart Supercenter, while developing some of the outparcels and the whole shebang. But they would only do this once they secured a TIF from Kansas City to redevelop the blighted property. Hmm. And so it goes, I guess.
And so it went. In February 2005, they got their TIF and demolition began in Fall 2005. By early 2006, the former mall was a pile of rubble (with a huge rat problem), and the new Wal-Mart was up and running in January 2007. At least it’s a “green” Wal-Mart, meaning the urinals don’t waste water and the store uses renewable energy, creates less waste and sells products that sustain our resources and environment. That makes me feel better about the tons of diesel fuel they use every day, among other things…
At any rate, the mall is gone now, but lucky for y’all we’ve preserved it here on the interweb for future posterity. The pictures were taken in April 2001. Check out the decor, including the awesome vintage Jones Store scripted logo. The middle of the mall was renovated at some point, probably during the late 80s or early 90s, but the outside of the mall was as old as ever. Also, check out Rod Shelley’s cool demolition pictures. As always, feel free to add your own opinions and if possible, more information about the mall itself.