Hearne: Can Anyone Save Ward Parkway Center?

It’s not easy being the Ward Parkway Center

Take it from the last however many owners that’ve tried.The allure of affluent Leawood housing to the west, the prestigious Ward Parkway corridor and nearby south Johnson County subburbs make it impossible to resist. So owner after owner have marched in with grand plans, plowed money and improvements into the mall attracting sexy tenants like Staples, only to see them wither and die or bail because of lackluster sales.

In the 1960s and ’70s and into the ’80s Ward Parkway was one of the city’s premier shopping centers.

That was then.

Today a pre-holiday jaunt through Ward Parkway Center reveals the awful truth behind the lender forced foreclosure sale of 2009. Even despite landing prized new tenant – Trader Joe’s grocery store – times remain tough.

And not just because of the failing economy of the past two years.

The unsung truth of Ward Parkway is that many, if not most, of its more affluent shoppers have  taken their business elsewhere.

And while it’s impolitic to say, in no small part the center’s image has been tarnished by its current rep as an urban mall. One that today attracts less affluent patrons and minority customers.

Over the years some have pointed to the urban youth its movie theater draws that has resulted in rowdy teen and tween problems similar to those experienced at Cinemark’s Palace on the Plaza.

To a small extent that movie worm has turned…

The once proud AMC’s  Parkway 14 -movie plex is down 8 screens from its hey day. Leaving a large vacant space in the mall’s lower level and aising the question of whether AMC is planning on staying or going.

"Our lease is up this year,"  a manager told me last month. "But we’re planning on staying."

Ward Parkway’s interior main level may not be a ghost town but take away the seasonal filler stores and it’s getting there. Storefronts such as the giant railroad display, a Santa Photo space and a massive empty area fronted by "Boys & Girls Club" signage to name three.

Combine that with the Ward Parkway’s dated-looking flooring and a color scheme of beige and off-white and you start to get the feeling it could be on its way to becoming the next Metcalf South ghost mall.

Speaking of ghosts, an escalator ride down to Ward Parkway’s lower level passes over a skylighted empty space that now serves as a shrine to the once vaunted T.J. Cinnamon‘s. Yeah, there’s still a Dick‘s sporting goods and PetsMart down there but the way it’s chopped up makes it seem very disjoint..

Meanwhile, the 8 year-old Target – Ward Parkway’s north anchor – probably doesn’t come close to making up for the ginormous, shuttered Dillard‘s that until recently served as its south anchor. The outdoor, strip style shops – added to compete with luxury malls like Leawood’s Town Center – lend a measure of respectibility but with anchor stores like Catherine’s Plus Sizes and Lane Bryant it’s hardly hip or upscale.

The $64 million question: Can Trader Joe’s Save Ward Parkway?

Stay tuned…

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10 Responses to Hearne: Can Anyone Save Ward Parkway Center?

  1. halrey says:

    Once a great center
    I remember going there with my family shopping because that was “the mall”
    in kc. the movie theatre upstairs was always packed and we always played pranks
    on the pay phones. but i was there to see a movie and noticed that there were
    many many african americans there and few whites. But that area has changed
    dramatically and many families moved out.
    It may come back but they need to get some better stores in there.
    But like everything else in life….things change and people want to get “in and out”
    of the stores they shop in…………..

  2. Gerald Bostock says:

    just like other malls
    Bannister, Metro North, Antioch, Blue Ridge, Metcalf South, Mission–do you see a theme emerging? Except for Oak Park and Independence, all the big indoor malls are gone or are on life support–Why should Ward Parkway be any different?

  3. chuck says:

    Here is a list of the folks who might enjoy a movie at Ward Parkway Cinema.

    Lou Ferregno, Marlee Matlin, Hellen Keller.

    I love the admonishment before the movie to remain quiet and not use your cell phone, or text.

    You can see it, but you can’t hear it.

    Uniform of the day, your dad’s pants with no belt and a grill.

    I did NOT say girl. I said GRILL.

    I quit going to movies there because no one who goes there, actually watches the movie in my experience.

    It is a loud, messy, social gathering with a movie playing in the background and acapella rap music, with urban colloquialisms.

    Me personally, I didn’t enjoy it.

    But, what the heck, each to his own…

  4. newbaum turk says:

    Malls across America have been dying for years. It is not just here. Oak Park is an anomaly with how busy it is. Hell, the mall in Fast Times at Ridgemont High closed a few years ago. I don’t know why but people just don’t go to them anymore.

  5. PV Pathfinder says:

    When AMC opened up @ WP, everyone thought it would be a shot in the arm for the mall. Not the case. What they found out was that the theater (at least early on) was doing well, but it didn’t translate into much of a bump at the other retailers except maybe the candy store.

    Also doesn’t help that the newer retailers can’t actually be accessed from inside the mall.

    The loss of Dillard’s is going to be a big issue as the south end of the mall and parking structure seem to be crumbling. I heard Staples bolted (and sued) because there was some sort of major plumbing issue in their store.

    The last piece of the failing puzzle, a parking lot on the east side of the property that requires a compass and trail of breadcrumbs to navigate. I’m sure at one point someone thought it would actually be a brilliant idea to make it a pain in the ass to get out of that lot. Truth is, it’s such a mess that if I need to go to any of those retailers, I skip WP all together and go to Town Center or Merriam.

    Good luck Trader Joe’s. Hopefully liquor sales at the WP location will keep that store afloat until you can find another KCMO location or Kansas changes their arcane liquor laws.

  6. red says:

    its reputation is undeserved
    I go all the time with my family to the movies as I live so close in leawood. We have never been hassled or felt in any way uncomfortable. I don’t think it is anywhere near as big a hangout for teenagers as it used to be. Target is always full too.

  7. bschloz says:

    TJ’s Not Cinnamons
    Ward Parkway see Blue Ridge Mall…..can you say Wal-Mart Super Center
    Isn’t TJ’s Aldi on Green Steroids?
    I went to one in DT Chicago…most of the stuff comes from Asia…not that there is anything wrong with that.
    I think they should of located it up North or I-70 & 291…To close to 119th IMO.
    That said they will do great! Monster Brand.

  8. Mouse says:

    Let’s face it, malls are dismal places where broke teens hang out and miserly elderly folk walk laps. They are the products of a bygone era, and rather than be surprised when they close left and right, you should be writing about how amazed you are that a tiny handful of them still thrive.

    The truth is people don’t want all-day shopping excursions. They know what they want, they’ve comparison shopped online, and they just want to go get it as easily and quickly and cheaply as possible.

  9. arvin macko says:

    Don’t forget auto theft
    We lost a car there last winter, and security said they couldn’t keep up with the car thefts from their parking lot. It’s out of control. Purse snatchers and other low life crime is rampant, and yes….you can’t enjoy a movie with half the audience trying to entertain each other. It’s just another Bannister Mall and will soon be inhabited by incense shops and thrift stores.

  10. Chris says:

    I love Ward Parkway Shopping Center
    Ward Parkway is convenient to my home in Prairie Village. it has stores that I frequent (Dicks, Target, Pier 1, T.J. Max…). And unlike some of the other commenters, I like that there are a mix of people who shop there. I’m excited about the Trader Joe’s and I enjoy going to movies at a theater so near my home. I’ve never been robbed or harassed or otherwise bothered. I like the smaller size and that I don’t have to fight parking lot hell when I go there.

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