Irwin Blitt, Kansas City developer and shopping mall pioneer, dies at age 89

Kansas City developer Irwin Blitt
Kansas City developer Irwin Blitt Submitted

Irwin Blitt, the Kansas City developer whose name was part of the Copaken White & Blitt real estate firm, died on Tuesday, his family said. He was 89.

Blitt was known as one of the pioneers of the shopping mall era of the retail industry. Blitt had a hand in developing Indian Springs Mall in Kansas City, Kan., and Bannister Mall in Kansas City.

Those two malls have since been demolished as enclosed malls largely fell out of favor nationally, but Blitt also developed Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, one of the surviving malls that continues to defy consumer trends.

“When you consider the era of the enclosed mall, which really started in 1955 and kind of ended in the year 2002 or 2004, he was instrumental in starting all that construction,” said Paul Copaken, Blitt’s brother-in-law and former business partner.

Blitt was born in 1928 in Chicago and later attended the University of Illinois where he graduated with a degree in business.

He moved to Kansas City and started working for a real estate firm that would later become Copaken Whitee & Blitt and continues on today as Copaken-Brooks.

In addition to the local shopping malls, Blitt was involved in the development of Rockaway Townsquare, a large shopping mall in New Jersey.

Starting in 1958, Blitt helped Copaken White & Blitt assemble nearly 2,000 acres of property between College Boulevard and 119th Street and Metcalf and Nall avenues, a swath of property that would later become the site of major commercial development, including the Sprint Campus.

“We paved College Boulevard,” Copaken said.

Copaken recalled Blitt as a respected member of the Kansas City real estate and development community.

“Not only did we rely on him, but many people in the Kansas City area called him for his judgment, which he gave all the time without thinking of charge or anything else,” Copaken said.

Blitt was also involved in Kansas City’s Jewish community. He developed the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, which opened in 1988.

Blitt is survived by his wife, Rita Blitt, daughter Chela Blitt and granddaughter Dorianna Blitt, and brother-in-law and sister-in-law Paul and Bunni Copaken.

Memorial services are Thursday, 11:30 a.m., at the Lewis and Shirley White Theater at the Jewish Community Campus, 5801 W. 115th St.