Olathe’s Great Mall of the Great Plains on Monday announced plans to close this fall, joining a list of other once mighty area shopping centers that have gone dark.
The Great Mall — at Interstate 35 and 151st Street — opened to great fanfare in mid-1997, attracting nearly 1 million visitors in its first month of operations. But the mall soon began to struggle and never recovered from the economic downturn, changes in customers’ shopping habits and other factors, said the current owners, the Great Olathe Center LLC, an entity of the Van Tuyl Group.
Overhead costs have continued to rise even as occupancy of the 786,000-square-foot mall has dropped to about 50 percent, with many of those tenants on month-to-month leases. Recent studies by Jeff Green Partners, retail real estate consultants, say the site can support only 200,000 to 250,000 square feet of retail, the owners said.
“We’re considering our options, but there is nothing definitive yet,” said Jeff Smith, vice president of asset management for VanTrust Real Estate, which manages the property. “We need to get it closed in order to take a look at what the future holds for that piece of ground.”
Smith said the current tenants will close as their leases expire. The hope is to then save all or part of the mall, which is constructed as nine different buildings linked together.
“But it’s my best guess that we probably will be tearing it down,” Smith said.
The owners said they were working with the Olathe Chamber of Commerce and the Olathe Economic Development Council to determine the best use for the property, one that is in the interests of both the city and the community. It could include a mix of retail, residential and office tenants.
“Our focus is on working with the current businesses in the mall to relocate to sites that meet their needs,” Tim McKee, chief executive officer of the Olathe chamber, said in a statement.
City officials couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
The Great Mall, a $110 million project when it opened, will join other older malls looking at redevelopment as a way to remain relevant in an ever-changing retail landscape.
For example, the 1960’s era Metcalf South Shopping Center thrived with a growing Johnson County residential market until new, larger and more stylish centers moved into the market. The Overland Park center struggled as some of its national tenants moved out and it couldn’t draw strong retailers to replace them. The center closed in mid-2014, but Sears has continued to operate in its building.
The new owners of Metcalf South — and the shuttered shopping complex to the north — have submitted a redevelopment proposal to the city that calls for plowing down most of the buildings to make way for a new retail, luxury residential and office complex.
In the Northland, Metro North Shopping Center shut down in early 2014 after nearly 40 years of operation. All that remains open is the Macy’s attached to the west end of the mall and three restaurants in freestanding buildings on the site.
Metro North Co. LLC and two affiliates have proposed a $200 million makeover that calls for demolishing the center, at Barry Road and U.S. 169, and replacing it with a more compact one-story indoor mall.
The Northland’s Antioch Center, which dates to 1956, has been redeveloped as Antioch Crossing with such new tenants as a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.
Other regional malls, such as Oak Park Mall and Independence Center, have continued to dominate their markets over the years by bringing in strong national brands and unique local retailers.
When the Great Mall opened, Olathe officials expected it to do the same, saying it was poised to become the shopping and entertainment mecca in Johnson County’s south reaches and beyond.
The original plans for the Great Mall called for a covered wagon entrance, giant grasshopper jungle gym, ticker tape updates of grain production and a Wild West-style carousel park. That had locals dubbing it “little mall on the prairie.”
But developer Glimcher Realty Trust tossed most of the Kansas kitsch before opening its doors with a few sunflower decals and Wizard of Oz displays in mid-1997. It expected 50,000 people opening day. About 73,000 shoppers showed up.
The mall had contemporary architecture, interactive directories and kiosks, wall-to-wall brightly colored carpeting, a race track design and shops organized by themed courts — fashion, home and hobby, sports and adventure, and “techtainment.”
A second phase, focusing on entertainment, was set to be completed in 1999, bringing the development up to 1.2 million square feet. It never happened.
The shopping center started to stumble soon after opening. First-year traffic was about 8 million, about a third less than projections. By 1998 the mall was suing tenants for back rent, and by 1999 it lost three of its large tenants.
In early 2009, Glimcher sold the mall for an undisclosed price to local owners, the Van Tuyl entity and David Block of Block & Co. Inc. Realtors. In 2011, Block sold its interest to the Van Tuyl group. On Monday, it said the “structure, maintenance costs and layout do not support preservation of the current building.”
The current tenants include Burlington Coat Factory, B&B Theatres and Monkey Bizness, a children’s party and entertainment center. Most of the tenants will close over the next nine months as their leases expire or are terminated. Burlington Coat Factory could remain open longer.
Taelor Allen, general manager of the family owned Monkey Bizness, said she learned of the closing on Monday. The family also owns and operates a Shawnee location.
“We won’t close until this summer or fall, so the show still goes on,” Allen said. “With that being said, someone could buy the mall and we could re-lease or relocate. This was our second home, and our blood, sweat and tears went into it, so it would be a sad goodbye.”
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The Star’s Diane Stafford contributed to this story.
The Great Mall of the Great Plains
Opened: August 1997
Location: 20700 W. 151st St., at Kansas 7 and Interstate 35, Olathe
Description: A unique combination of traditional retail, factory outlet and national discount retailers, The $110 million mall was expected to draw one million shoppers a month.
Future: The center’s owners said nearly all of the tenants will close in the next nine months as their leases expire or are terminated. Burlington Coat Factory could remain open longer.