Case Study: Kansas City Metro

Map of Kansas City Metropolitan Area.  Click on map to enlarge.

Situated smack dab in the middle of the good ol’ U.S. of A., Kansas City is a rich tapestry of Americana and the result of many different historical and regional influences.  What originally began literally as a cowtown predicated upon the spread of agriculture and the railroad became a center for housing livestock and manufacturing amid a boom of industrialization.  As such, postwar growth allowed Kansas City to grow exponentially, virtually unchecked, with sprawl as far as the eye can see.  Today, the Kansas City area is home to over two million residents.

Much of this sprawl which occurred during the latter half of the 20th century included suburban retail growth.  While Kansas City, in many ways, pioneered the suburban lifestyle center with the 1920s opening and continued success of Country Club Plaza, explosive retail growth and enclosed malls in the suburbs also flourished for a time.  But eventually, problems arose around the turn of the millenium.

Kansas City, Missouri Kansas City, Missouri 

It appeared that Kansas City may have overmalled itself.  Of the 16 major centers in the metro area, only two of them are successful enclosed malls today, and they are on opposite sides of the metro area: Oak Park Mall in Overland Park and Independence Center in Independence.  Two malls have been de-malled completely in 2005 and 2006, respectively: Blue Ridge Mall in Kansas City and Mission Center in Mission.  The remaining 7 enclosed centers are in varying condition, from just barely making it to being almost completely unviable.  In fact, the idea for this case study is especially prescient.   In late 2006, plans were unveiled to de-mall three more enclosed malls: Metcalf South in Overland Park, Antioch Center Mall in Antioch and Metro North in Kansas City.  If those plans go through, that would bring the total to four enclosed malls which bit the dust in only a few years’ time, and that’s pretty substantial.  Featured below are all of the major shopping centers in the Kansas City metro area.  Lastly, we chose to include the mall in St. Joseph because it really is an extension of the northern KC Metro and less than half an hour from KCI Airport.

  • 1. East Hills Shopping Center, St. Joseph – Anchored by Dillard’s, JCPenney, and Sears, this mid-tier mall serves all of northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas.  It is fairly well tenanted yet dated, and sits high atop a hill.
  • 2. Leavenworth Plaza, Leavenworth – Once a small, local enclosed mall serving the immediate Leavenworth area and anchored by Sears, JCPenney, and Ace Hardware, this mall has fallen on hard times recently, losing both JCPenney and Sears.  The JCPenney space was retenanted to a gym, but the Sears space remains vacant.
  • 3. Zona Rosa, Kansas City, MO – KC’s latest foray into what they perceive as New Urbanism, Zona Rosa shines as a popular mixed-use lifestyle center.  It opened in May 2004 and features several Big Box anchors surrounded by trendy restaurants and chain stores typically found in malls.
  • 4. Metro North Mall, Kansas City, MO – Once the premier mall for the Northland, this two-level mall has fallen out of favor due to its dated decor and competition from nearby Zona Rosa.  Anchored by Macy’s, Dillards, and JCPenney, the mall features a very 1970s-themed center court with large balloons which float up and down.  Currently, plans are under way for a major redevelopment, which most certainly calls for de-malling.
  • 5. Antioch Center, Kansas City, MO – Originally an open-air center opened in 1956, Antioch Center was enclosed in 1978.  Currently operating with only two anchors and the rest of the mall sealed, the 800,000 square-foot enclosed mall will be razed in 2010 and replaced with who-knows-what. 
  • 6. Indian Springs Mall, Kansas City, KS – This musty old two-level relic really died about a decade ago, but has lived on catering to the local hispanic community.  In addition, some local government offices have also taken some space, but the mall remains largely untouched.  All of the anchors are vacant as well.
  • 7. Blue Ridge Mall, Kansas City, MO – Another dated, wonderful retail relic of days gone by, Blue Ridge Mall closed in 2004 and was demolished in 2005.  It originally opened in 1958 and was anchored by The Jones Store, Montgomery Ward, and JCPenney.
  • 8. Legends at Village West, Kansas City, KS – The newest of the KC Metro’s major shopping destinations, this open-air center is home to JCPenney, Target, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Cabela’s, and many typical mall stores.
  • 9. Independence Center, Independence – One of two very successful, top-tier enclosed facilities in the KC Metro.  Anchored by Dillards, Macy’s, and Sears, the two level Independence Center wins points for a wide open floorplan and a subterranean food court.  
  • 10. Mission Center, Mission – This smaller, 50-store two-level mall anchored by Dillards and…Dillards was mostly leased when it was closed and demolished in 2006 for a mixed use development called The Gateway.  Strangely, the website still exists even though the mall no longer does. 
  • 11. Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO – Opened in 1922 as one of the first open-air shopping centers, this is where upscale KC goes to shop, see, and be seen.  The Plaza is an example of a pedestrian friendly, well done open-air center. 
  • 12. Oak Park Mall, Overland Park – The other of two very successful enclosed centers in the KC Metro, and is anchored by JCPenney, Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Dillards.  It is two levels and recently expanded to add the Nordstrom and more in-line space. 
  • 13. Metcalf South Shopping Center, Overland Park – The backstory behind this aging tri-level center with an awesome floorplan is almost as interesting as the dated decor and almost completely abandoned in-line space at this mall anchored by Macy’s and Sears, just one mile away from the majorly successful Oak Park Mall.
  • 14. Bannister Mall, Kansas City, MO – The last of the anchors at this long, aging two-story mall was Sears and it closed in March 2006.  The rest of the mall is currently hanging on by a thread and filled with mostly local, urban-wear establishments.  Many of the national retailers moved out long ago, but at least the fountains still run.  Plans have been made to renovate the mall several times, but have not panned out. 
  • 15. Great Mall of the Great Plains, Olathe – This large, sprawling outlet mall opened in the 1990s and was an attempt to capitalize off the successes of the Mills centers which were popular at the time.  Unfortunately, this mall shot for the stars and got less than the moon as major success never really materialized.  It is, however, far from defunct.
  • 16. Town Center, Leawood – This open-air center opened in 1996 and predates the lifestyle center craze as of late.  It features many upscale stores, including Dean & Deluca.
  • 17. Ward Parkway Center, Kansas City, MO – This recently renovated enclosed mall retained most of the enclosed space upon renovation and features anchor stores Dillards, Target, and AMC Theatres, as well as big box stalwarts Dick’s, PetSmart, Old Navy, and others.  Prior to the renovation Ward Parkway Center was aging and in decline, and the renovation repositioned it into a neighborhood ancillary to more successful centers like Oak Park and The Plaza. 

Kansas City, MissouriLook for detailed posts soon on several of these malls, and use this case study to gain perspective and a general overview.  Overall, we feel that Kansas City is possibly one of the most extreme fringes of a national trend favoring mixed-use, lifestyle centers and strip malls to their enclosed counterparts.  As people in Kansas City dictate place-making policy for their shopping and entertainment purposes, they are increasingly choosing to reject the community-building places enclosed malls have provided and are instead selecting centers of convenience in a sea of parking lots.

Take a look at the list above of the major malls and shopping areas of Kansas City and the corresponding map (click on it to enlarge).  Have we left anything out?  Is anything incorrect?  Let us know, along with your general comments.

39 Responses to “Case Study: Kansas City Metro”

  1. We went to see the Royals once in 2001 and having no idea of good and bad parts of town, we stayed at a Motel 6 by BAnnister Mall. We checked it out and it was dying back in 2001. Didn’t stay in there a long time because I feared for our car’s safety. The Motel 6 was ghetto too. Haven’t stayed at one since, Hampton Inn all the way!!!

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  2. Yup, you missed a couple, both in Kansas City, Missouri.

    * Crown Center. Anchored by Halls. Has upscale shops and restaurants. http://www.crowncenter.com/

    * Landing Mall. Originally anchored by Macy’s (later Dillard’s) and Kresge. 1950s or 1960s era mall. Now anchored by CJ Golds, unless that’s gone too. I don’t know anything else; it may still be open as a mall. Here it is on Malls of America: http://mallsofamerica.blogspot.com/2006/08/landing-mall.html

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  3. Crown Center appears to be missing from your survey.

    I’m wondering what you’ve heard about the fate of Metcalf South. That place fascinates me. The Glenwood Arts Theater seems to be going strong, still.

    A recent Pitch article made passing mention of a film being made about Indian Springs:

    “Recently, [Lisa Marie Evans] agreed to be an associate producer for University of Missouri-Kansas City film professor Daven Gee’s documentary exploring what a dead shopping mall — Indian Springs — says about American culture. His project, Our Mall, follows Wyandotte County’s attempt to claim the mall through eminent domain.

    Our Mall has been a two-and-a-half-year project. Gee says he brought Evans on well into production to help set up a Valentine’s Day fund-raiser and screening at the mall. He wants to invite people from the area to come back to Indian Springs and rediscover the mall.

    The older Pitch article, “Merry Xmas from the Dead Malls,” may also be of interest.

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  4. Also, if you’re going to include St. Joe (57 miles from my home in midtown), you may as well include the outlet mall in Odessa (37 miles to my west).

    Even Lawrence is closer (42 miles) than St. Joe, though I don’t know if anything there still qualifies as a mall.

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    David Reply:

    @Randall, Lawrence had a mall terminating New Hampshire street sitting on the river but it died over 10 years ago. Honestly what’s the point of a shopping mall downtown if the whole purpose of a shopping mall is to provide a civilized shopping and socialization area for people living miles away in the suburbs. Everything people wanted from a mall they already had for the last 150 years on Mass st, practically 0 blocks away.

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  5. The new Walmart superstore where Blue Ridge Mall once stood has finally opened. There will apparently be a few additions to the area including the Applebe’s that use to reside in Blue Ridge Mall. I should probably take a few photos of it as it looks now to add to my Blue Ridge Mall photo album.

    If they’re going to trash Antioch, I will try to get some photos there as well.

    Rod Shelley
    http://www.rodslair.com

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  6. Are you suggesting that Lawrence once had a mall?

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  7. Dude, you really need to make the numbers on your maps bigger! I’m an old man and can’t read things like that anymore!

    I’m cold and wolves are after me.

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  8. Are you suggesting that Lawrence once had a mall?

    Yeah. I believe it was called the Riverfront Mall. Now it’s a hotel (and a nightclub? and a convention center?).

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  9. Regarding the picture/map….

    If you click on it (or save it to your own computer) a smaller scaled version comes up where the numbers and all the streets are more than visible. In order to provide that level of detail, it’s not very large in the inset.

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  10. Did the Riverfront mall have any anchor stores?

    LOL at Caldor’s comments.

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  11. I honestly don’t remember which stores were in the Riverfront Mall–a post on a Lawrence site like larryville.com might gather some answers if anyone wanted to research that.

    There is also a failed Tanger factory outlet mall right off the East Lawrence exit.

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  12. There’s also a big box center in Lee’s Summit, SummitWoods Crossing

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  13. Kansas City sprawled because it was willing to let its old neighborhoods rot. People didn’t build new suburbs because the population was growing (nobody aspires to move here from Denver or Dalllas or Milwaukee or St. Louis or even Wichita) but because they didn’t want to live with the black people in the older parts of town.

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  14. […] Our first post from Kansas City focuses on a one-million square-foot behemoth of broken dreams.  Opened in 1980, the two-level Bannister Mall is located at the interchange between I-435 and Bannister Road in southeast Kansas City.  Once a poster mall for success and the center of retailing for the whole area, Bannister quickly slid into trouble and today is on life support.  While many respectable retailers remain, the majority of them are local and some are transient.  Most importantly, the last anchor at Bannister left the beleagured center in March 2006.  As we attempt to interrogate why this occurred, we can start with understanding the history of the mall. […]

  15. I’m just sad that I can’t find any old pictures of the mall. I know they displayed them at the mall the last year or so before it closed down… pictures of the mall in original construction (it was even totally enclosed in the beginning) and all the old stores. The pictures were so cool, and I couldn’t believe I remembered some of that stuff. I wasn’t THAT old when it first opened. But I can’t find any of it on the web. Wish someone knew how to get ahold of them.

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  16. […] 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.    […]

  17. […] Indian Springs Mall opened at the corner of State Road (U.S. 40) and I-635 on the west side of Kansas City, Kansas in 1971.  The 700,000 square-foot mall looks pretty much exactly the same today as it did when it opened over 35 years ago, save for many stores which have come and gone and very minor decorating updates.  Unfortunately, more stores have gone than have come, and today Indian Springs Mall’s days are numbered as redevelopment plans have picked up steam. […]

  18. There’s so many big box centers in Kansas City it would be quite a chore to list them.

    I used to work at the Great Mall, but haven’t visited there in a few years. Man, that place was dead in the middle of the week. Even a large store could conceivably get by with a very thin crew those nights. I saw a lot of tenant turnover and mom-and-pop type operations in my time there. The decor was weird and tacky as well.

    If you’re bringing up big box ‘lifestyle centers’ I guess you could mention Olathe Station, a ways north up the highway from the Mall. That’s where the real retail action in the area is. Target, Best Buy, tons of smaller places. About 7-8 years ago, it was basically an empty field with some dog kennel out in the middle.

    The whole retail complex just keeps spreading and spreading…Now a whole new set of pretentious-looking shops/restaurants (don’t recall the name) just opened up across the street from it, which somewhat resemble the buildings at the fancy Town Center in Leawood.

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  19. I have soo many good memories of Ward Parkway. Eddys Loaf and Stein had THE best bbq sandwiches I have ever tasted. I remember sliding my tray of food down the line at Eddy’s and seeing people with huge mugs of beer, and wondering if they were drunk!LOL! The TWO screen AMC theatre! I went to the “Strawberry Patch” for dinner with my homecoming date in 1977! My parents bought almost all of my school clothes at Wards. I, more or less, grew up at Ward Parkway. It makes me sick to go there today, because of how its changed.

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  20. Lets not forget the new Legends area…. Similar to Zona Rosa. This is on the Kansas side. Tons of retail there.

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  21. update: Missouri denied a TIF which was for the Antioch Center redevelopment so for now Antioch Center is safe but is empty xcept for Sears and Burlington coat factory and a few other stores…..

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  22. There was a shooting at the Ward Parkway Center today, April 29, 2007. The gunman, plus three other people, are dead. Currently, it is being disputed as to exactly where the shooting took place: some claim that it occurred near Starbucks, while others say it took place outside Target’s mall entrance.

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  23. Actually, I made a mistake: there are a total of three people dead, including the shooter. (Initially, I had indicated that there were a total of four people dead.) Sorry for the error.

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  24. The criminals that killed Bannister Mall are looking for other places

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  25. I have looked into and made phone calls to both Antioch and Indian Springs mall, and both will be open to the public through Feburary of 2008.

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  26. Label Scar need to mention about The Landing mall, which was built in 1960. It featured one anchor and about 30+ store fronts.

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  27. I havent been back to Ward Parkway in a while, me and a couple friends used to go there occasionally, a couple things I remember most was …(oh how embarrassing this is) skipping school to go see HANSON when we were all 15 years old, except one kid who just got a car at 16. They were playing in the empty lot accross from the mall.

    My friends mom and dad had like a 1990 suburban truck stolen from the parking lot while we were at the movies there, came outside and it was just gone, my friends dad was a cop, he found it the next day and arrested the guy himself!!!

    On another occasion, we skipped school to go to the movies on like a wednesday, no one was there, and we knew there wouldnt be, this theater i think was one of the only ones with the armrests that raised up, we all brought in mcdonalds food and a pillow, pulled up the armrest and watched the movie like we were laying on a couch at home, it was great.

    Just thought id share a few moments with you all, great information everyone!!!

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  28. Chris H. did you go to Center High School?

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  29. http://www.kansascity.com/business/story/777167.html

    Interesting article about KC’s retail situation.

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  30. Looks like Ward Parkway has been foreclosed on.

    http://www.fox4kc.com/wdaf-ward-parkway-shopping-center-story-31009,0,4038229.story

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  31. Where is the information about the
    Landing Shopping Center Case History

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  32. why so few malls?

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

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  34. ab out the MEtro north mall, I took pics inside the mall incase it gets torn down. I am not from there. the security guard was going to confiscate my camera and he said if I take any more pics I WILL GO TO JAIl. can that happen. tehy cant confiscate cameras.

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  35. Icydk, they razed Bannister Mall in hopes of building a new stadium for the MLS team. That failed, so the team moved across the state line near the Legends/Village West and changed its name. Antioch Mall has just two tenants left, Sears and Burlington. The rest of the mall is sealed. Dillards has pulled out of Ward Parkway Mall. The parking around the area is barbed off with danger/hazard eminent collapse signs. The Landing Mall lost two tenants recenty which leaves it with 13 out of 35 spots claimed.

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  36. I was in KC recently and the only thing open as far as I could tell in Metro North Mall is Macy’s.

    “In 2010, new redevelopment plans with MD Management Inc. surfaced, with intent to revitalize the shopping center that by this time had fallen to 17 percent occupancy with only one remaining anchor. These plans called for the majority of the present mall to be torn down and replaced by a smaller enclosed mall (rather than open-air shopping, as expected from the original developers), which will incorporate mixed uses in addition to the standard shopping mall. MD Management Inc., which was also set to redevelop Metcalf South Shopping Center in Overland Park, Kansas, had planned to begin the redevelopment process by 2012 with hopes to complete the $100 million to $200 million Metro North Mall project by 2014. However, in late 2012, the redevelopment plans for the mall were once again dropped and the future of Metro North Mall is still uncertain.”

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  37. Just an update on Leavenworth Plaza, a.k.a. the world’s tiniest mall….

    Genesis fitness center (in the old JCPenney space) moved to a new location in a renovated ex-grocery store down the street. The only tenant still in the mall is the Ace Hardware. The mall’s main corridor (actually its only corridor) is gated off; the mall trees are wasting away, unwatered. Signs posted on the gates warn that the area is under surveillance with alarms.

    The bear statues have been donated to the Leavenworth Historical Museum, in case anyone is curious about them and would like to see them.

    The three-sided light-up mall directory still has a map showing what stores were most recently in the mall, including Maurices, Bath & Body Works, C.J. Banks, Cato Fashions, Radio Shack, Zales, GNC, Waldenbooks, and Claire’s. All of these are gone, except I believe GNC might still be there, but when I was there a couple of months ago the manager told me they would be moving to a new location in a couple of months.

    I mainly knew the mall through the gym. I ventured into the corridor only once, and that was because I needed something from Radio Shack. Until I did that, I had no idea how small the place was. The whole thing had eleven storefronts with entrances accessible from inside the mall, not including the three anchor spaces and the six-screen movie theater. Eleven storefronts! That’s less than the total number of shopping malls discussed in the case study!

    Even if the mall had been at full occupancy, fourteen stores and a movie theater is pretty small. To be fair, the mall also included some other spaces that were not accessible from inside the mall. Sally Beauty Supply and a hair salon were among the mall’s stores with entrances only on the outside. Curves might still be there in another such space. Also, the mall directory listed outparcels, such as they were, including Papa Murphy’s (listed as a restaurant!) and Auto Zone.

    All of this was on Leavenworth Plaza’s website, but the website no longer exists. The sign out front still had some of these businesses listed on their marquee.

    I’m not from here originally, so I have no fond memories to contribute, but I’ve been here for a couple of years and am in general fascinated with the history of the area, so I decided to do some research on the mall. I’ll try to flesh out as best I can the profile on Leavenworth Plaza.

    It was built in 1967 with three anchors: JCPenney, Montgomery Ward, and Safeway. A fourth anchor was added in 1972, an ALCO (sort of a poor man’s Kmart). Wards, the north-end anchor, became a Sears in 1987. The Safeway, on the south end, is present-day Ace Hardware. The ALCO closed and was turned into a theater, which shut down in 2010; JCPenney became a gym at some point after it closed in 2003.

    Exterior-wise, Leavenworth Plaza bears the architectural marks of a ’60s-era mall. The interior evidently went through a mid-’80s facelift, very likely the only facelift the mall ever got. For example, light gray floor tiles with some teal tiles along the perimeters, laid in the typical ’80s diagonal pattern. There are also some metal benches with teal enamel paint. The outdoor signage by the highway also looks like an ’80s redo.

    Some ’60s elements remain, like a pseudo-Spanish fence surrounding an indoor tree. The main entrance to the mall, facing east toward 4th Street, features a courtyard-style plaza flanked on the north and south sides by very ’60s-looking buildings that seem almost like they were tacked on as afterthoughts. This area was obviously nicely landscaped originally, but needless to say it hasn’t been maintained for some time.

    Malls in the ’60s were frequently built with an emphasis on interior aesthetics and not so much with exterior appearance in mind. Leavenworth Plaza, like a lot of malls of its day, had only one main mall entrance. It had four others, but they all have a “back-door” feel to them, as if by entering through any of those other three, the experience of going to the mall has been dampened somewhat. In fact, nearly every part of the mall’s exterior looks like the back of a building, as if it’s one big loading dock. The courtyard area by the main entrance, which has clearly seen better days, is the lone exception.

    One standard feature of malls that Leavenworth Plaza seems to have never had is a fountain. There was no room for one. The lack of a fountain – in a metro area renowned for its fountains – seems to stick out. This can hardly be seen as a selling point, however.

    What are some likely causes for the mall’s decline? Its size, for one. It’s a one-level mall with a maximum capacity of 14 stores counting the anchors (not including stores with outside-only entrances). With this scale, it was probably doomed from the beginning. When The Legends opened only a 25-minute drive from Leavenworth, that was pretty much the kiss of death for Leavenworth Plaza. The Legends has all the usual mall stores and outparcel chain restaurants, plus a 14-screen cinema AND a fountain. Oh, and forget the fiberglass bear statues – The Legends has a statue of a box turtle.

    Leavenworth Plaza also probably suffered from a no-guns policy in a community of people who like to protect themselves, surrounded as they are by numerous prisons. The decals on the doors showing the gun silhouette with a red circle and line through it possibly deterred shoppers while inviting the recently paroled.

    There is also presently a poster displayed in the one area of the mall still accessible, detailing the rules of conduct expected of kids visiting the mall. Rules such as limiting the number of young’ns in a group to three, prohibiting skateboards and loitering, using inside voices, the standard stuff. It even goes a step further, assuring the riffraff that it is not the mall management’s intention to “violate the rights of youth or to alienate youth,” but to ensure that all shoppers have a safe and pleasant experience while visiting Leavenworth Plaza. I’m not sure what’s more sad – the fact that someone thought the poster was necessary, or the fact that it’s still there.

    In any case, the reputation the mall must have been acquiring might have steered some shoppers away.

    One other factor could be Waldenbooks. In a mall of so few stores, Waldenbooks had to have been one of the bigger draws. It was in a prime location, the first store on the left if you walked in through the main entrance. When Waldenbooks announced that it would be closing most of its mall stores by 2010, the Leavenworth location was naturally a casualty. Of course, when companies close a whole bunch of their stores, this feeds the decline of malls, which in turn brings about the closing of more stores.

    So there you have it – a slew of reasons why Leavenworth Plaza is officially a dead mall, along with so many others in the KC metro. Some reasons are pretty much the norm for malls, but others are unique. These are mostly my observations. As of now, I have no idea what’s to become of this mall. It has one store in it. I haven’t heard any whisperings about de-malling (demallition?) or redeveloping it, but it appears unlikely that management will seek any new tenants. For now, it’s just a little old empty mall.

    The good news is, except for some missing tile along the entrances in some places, the structure doesn’t appear to be distressed in any significant way. The bad news is, I don’t think Santa is going to be back in the foreseeable future.

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  38. Metro North Mall officially closed April 2014, except for Macy’s. The plans for the mall keep changing, so it’s hard to say exactly what will be put in it’s place. What is confirmed is that the mall will be torn down and Macy’s will be staying. From what I understand Macy’s will have a large, single story building at the site.

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