Steve Rose — Dead mall remains a huge obstacle for “Vision Metcalf”

09/16/2013 1:40 PM

09/16/2013 1:41 PM

“Vision Metcalf” — the elaborate and dramatic plan for Metcalf Avenue by Overland Park city officials launched in 2007 — is well under way. One can drive by and see the future walking and bike trails being bulldozed alongside the street.

But there is an 800-pound gorilla in the room, which really makes or breaks the true modernizing and upgrading of the corridor.

That gorilla is Metcalf South, the now near-empty enclosed mall built in 1967.

Metcalf South sits on the south side of 95th and Metcalf. Under the same ownership is the K-Mart development on the north side.

The city views any future development as a package. That is, if Metcalf South is renovated or reincarnated, the north side must be developed at the same time. One assumes this is to ensure that the north side is not forgotten.

That is but one hurdle the many owners of Metcalf South face. There are reportedly dozens of owners, many of whom are relatives of the original owners of Metcalf South, Frank Morgan and Sherman Dreiseszun.

They first must please the city with any plan. Several years ago, Metcalf South developers did present a beautiful mixed-use rendering that the city reportedly was very happy with. If they can resurrect that plan or stick close to it, the city approval should not be an obstacle.

But that plan has been gathering dust.

According to Jim Harpool, director of new development for MD Management, which oversees Metcalf South on behalf of all its partners, the recession was the main reason nothing has moved forward.

But apparently the recession cannot be the main culprit. The so-called recession has not been an obstacle to the complete renovation of Metro North Shopping Center, north of the river. MD Management is currently putting $200 million into its redevelopment, which is in the final stages of approval.

Another potential obstacle at Metcalf South is Sears. The store building is owned by Sears, and MD Management would have to get approval from Sears if they were to do a major change in the center itself, such as demolishing some or all of it and virtually starting over.

The fact that there are so many owners may have its own complications. As Harpool said, “Any time you have partners, you have questions.”

I asked Harpool if there was any light at the end of the tunnel. Could we expect any kind of announcement within, say, a year?

“I think about Metcalf South twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” said Harpool. But for the immediate future, it does not appear Metcalf South will get going.

Wikipedia is very blunt in its description of Metcalf South.

They call it a “dead mall” in Overland Park, Kansas.

Yes, there is no denying that.

What Metcalf South needs is a new life that matches “Vision Metcalf” plans for the future.

As Harpool said, “What Metcalf South needs are city approval of its plans, tenants who will sign up, and numbers that work.”

That will be no small feat.

In the meantime, the future for this portion of “Vision Metcalf” appears to be years away.

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