Few news items have been as shocking, yet as utterly predictable, as this week’s report that the Metcalf South Shopping Center is losing a major tenant.
Four decades ago, Metcalf South was one of the wonders of the world. You could buy a pair of blue jeans, get a haircut, find an album, grab some popcorn, flirt with classmates, then drop a few coins in the central fountain, all in an afternoon.
The Star would routinely publish an aerial photograph of the mall’s parking lot after Thanksgiving, with cars crammed into every conceivable space.
I saw a movie there during this year’s Christmas break. Parking was not an issue.
So another big-box store at another aging mall closes, a story so common it may escape notice. Perhaps, though, we should be paying more attention to the potential creation of yet another pocket of local decay.
That’s also a familiar story.
The Mission Mall lot remains a muddy hole in the ground, years after developers promised new uses for the space. The Bannister Mall parking lot may finally see construction, seven years after its doors were closed. The old Indian Springs Mall is an eyesore in Kansas City, Kan.
And more: The Kansas City area is littered with closed strip malls and discount stores, unused gas stations, empty hotels and boarded-up apartments.
Kansas Citians still confront closed schools in several neighborhoods, even as Prairie Village residents battle over one of their shuttered schoolhouses.
Thousands of abandoned homes threaten public safety. The Power & Light Building is a shell. The city still can’t figure out what to do with Kemper Arena more than six years after its replacement opened.
Each case reflects a troubling lack of planning for eventual obsolescence.
We can predict with certainty that today’s wonders will be tomorrow’s messes, depressing neighborhood values and creating hot spots for injury and crime. Yet we rarely have the money to tear down or repurpose facilities that outlive their usefulness, and the private sector routinely fails to pick up the slack.
Kansas City likes to study things, and this seems like a great subject to pursue. Perhaps today’s developers, builders and homebuyers should pay a sliding fee into a special fund to be used to demolish or rebuild old structures.
A half century from now, presumably, money would be available when 2014 projects start to crumble.
The study group could hold its initial session at Metcalf South. You can still get popcorn there, and parking isn’t a problem.