To a passerby, Red Bridge Shopping Center may seem a little dreary.
On a Tuesday afternoon, a handful of cars sit in the parking lot. Only a few people walk into the small stores of the main building.
The Mexican restaurant is gone. The bowling alley is gone. The movie theater just left.
The entire shopping center is for sale.
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But behind the retro exterior and growing vacancies remains a strong force of community support.
Residents living in 16 neighborhoods surrounding the shopping center aren’t sure what the future holds, but they are hopeful the place will be bought by an investor who will make it flourish.
“I just don’t want it to look down and out anymore, because it’s a wonderful place,” said Rick Chambers, a resident who lives nearby. “We need to get it on an upward cycle, rather than a downward one.”
Currently, the center, which sits on the southwest corner of Red Bridge and Holmes roads in south Kansas City, is listed for sale by S Management Group for $7.2 million.
The 144,660-square-foot center, featuring a Sun Fresh, has six vacancies.
The most recent is the four-screen Glenwood at Red Bridge theater, which closed in October when the Fine Arts Theatre Group decided not to renew its lease after five years.
The loss of the movie theater has been disheartening for many area residents.
Last year, Chambers helped orchestrate a movement to drum up more support for Red Bridge Shopping Center. He first created a survey, generating 150 responses from Red Bridge area residents.
Almost half of the respondents stated they patronized the theater.
In the same survey, most of them agreed they would like to see family-friendly restaurants and discount stores come to the center.
Meanwhile, Red Bridge Homes Association president Lawrence Marsh has been doing a little work of his own.
The retired economics professor helped create a Red Bridge Shopping Center pamphlet listing details of all the businesses. which also include Curves, Homer Coffee House, Bene-Fit Health and Fitness, China Dragon restaurant, American Coin and the Daily Limit Cafe & Pub. He passes them out to area residents, and he drops them off at nearby hot spots, such as the YMCA and the Red Bridge branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library.
Both men believe that gaining community support will show potential buyers and retailers that Red Bridge Shopping Center is worthy of a big investment.
They’re not concerned the shopping center will never get sold and renovated. They’re only concerned about when it will happen.
Although the shopping center, which was built in 1965, is not vibrant right now, it is still a valuable asset in a prime location, they point out. The center is not only surrounded by several hundred homes, but it sits near Interstate 435, St. Joseph Medical Center, Avila University and numerous businesses.
“Our hope is not to save a desperate situation, but have a shopping center fulfill its potential,” Chambers said. “As neighbors, we don’t have millions of dollars to renovate this place ourselves. So we just have to get the attention of someone who does.”
They would love to see the center updated aesthetically, to be more modern. They would like to see better lighting in the parking lot. And they would love to see more restaurants and big-name shops.
“This shopping center already comes with a customer base,” said Marsh, who moved to the Red Bridge area in 2005. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The surrounding neighborhoods and apartment complexes bring a rich mixture of customers, he added.
From college students to young families to retired folks, the possibilities for retail are endless, Marsh said.
Marsh and Chambers have let the center’s owner, George Gilchrist, the Kansas City partner for S Management team, know they are more than happy to meet with potential buyers and prospective retailers to relay what residents desire for the center.
But in the past year, they said, Gilchrist has not returned their phone calls. Gilchrist also declined to comment for this story.
The community’s efforts to revitalize Red Bridge Shopping Center have not gone unnoticed by local leaders, however.
“There’s something special about the Red Bridge area,” said Stacey Johnson-Cosby, president of the South Kansas City Alliance. “I love the time and energy that the neighbors are putting into rallying around the shopping center.”
As a Red Bridge area resident herself, Johnson-Cosby is eager to see the shopping center come to life.
“It should be a place where neighbors can shop, without having to cross the state line,” she said. “We should be spending our money in our own community.”
Right now, everyone agrees it’s just a matter of when.
“I’m a little impatient,” Marsh said, with a smile. “I want something to happen now.”