An ambitious $186 million plan to transform the long-languishing Metro North Mall with retail, apartments, a hotel and cinema got a green light Wednesday from a key Kansas City Council committee and appears headed for final approval.
The council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee unanimously endorsed a tax increment financing deal to partially demolish and redevelop the mall, which has been on a downward spiral for about 15 years. The full council votes on the financing package Thursday.
“This is a long overdue project for the Northland,” development attorney Spencer Thomson told the committee, adding that a new owner with a proven track record has taken on the challenge.
Metro North, which opened in 1976, is much like several other aging enclosed shopping centers in the area — once popular destinations that have become forlorn landscapes of vacant buildings surrounded by acres of pockmarked parking lots. Across the state line in Overland Park, for example, Metcalf South is facing many of the same issues.
Except for a Macy’s and a few stand-alone restaurants, Metro North has been essentially closed since 2014. But the property was purchased in March by a new owner, IAS Partners Ltd., that has successfully redeveloped other area shopping centers, including what are now the Blue Ridge Crossing and Antioch Crossing.
City Council members hope the same renaissance is in store for Metro North.
“I am certainly in support,” said Councilman Dan Fowler, who represents the district that includes the mall. Fowler liked the mixed-use plan and foresees that the development can once again be a draw for people from St. Joseph, Smithville and Kearney as well as points south.
The 90-acre Metro North Crossing development is forecast to cost $186 million, with $71 million of that in tax incentives redirected to support the project. Thomson said Clay and Platte County representatives support it and there is no neighborhood opposition. However, he acknowledged that Platte R-3 School Superintendent Mike Reik voted against it at a recent TIF Commission meeting.
Reik did not address the council committee, and supporters said that, in reality, the school district will benefit financially from the development, even with the tax incentives.
If all goes as planned, reconstruction could start next spring on the mall, located just east of U.S. 169 and Barry Road in the Northland. The total build-out of the project will depend on market conditions and could take five to seven years to complete.
Thomson said the plan calls for partial demolition of the existing enclosed mall to create a much more open setting, with substantial green space and a large landscaped courtyard for community gatherings.
The retail component is expected to have a high-quality grocer. Nearby residents have said they would love to see a Costco or Trader Joe’s.
Dave Horn, project manager with the developer, said Wednesday that he could not comment on any specific retail tenants but that is the type of grocery tenant that would be sought.
It would also have about 60,000 square feet of office space, 150 units of multifamily housing and a 100-room limited service hotel.
Macy’s, which owns its own building at the mall, is expected to stay, as are the Olive Garden, Red Lobster and McDonald’s restaurants.
Council members questioned whether a rebuilt Metro North would draw business away from Zona Rosa, another upscale shopping center a few miles west in Platte County.
But Thomson and Horn said Metro North would have a very different mix of tenants and uses and should not compete in a detrimental way with Zona Rosa.
Metro North Mall was owned for years by MD Management, which explored numerous redevelopment options that never came to fruition. Former Councilman Ed Ford, who represented the district that includes the mall, recalls sitting in dozens of meetings with MD Management representatives, trying without success to find a solution for the blight.
In 2013, MD Management and two affiliates proposed a $200 million makeover that they hoped to complete by 2016. But they never could find the right tenant mix in a difficult retail environment, and the plan fizzled.
Ford said he was thrilled with the new owners and pleased with the results they have already achieved at Blue Ridge Crossing, which was finished several years ago, and Antioch Crossing, which is three-fourths complete.
Metro North is even more ambitious and substantially larger than the $67 million Antioch Crossing redevelopment.
Horn said the development company has high expectations that growth in the Northland will support and complement this new development. He cited specifically projections that tens of thousands of new residents will move into the Twin Creeks area of Clay and Platte counties over the next 20 years.
Metro North’s redevelopment
Cost: $186 million
Tax incentives sought: $71 million
Proposed start of reconstruction: Spring 2016