It only took Crown Center 14 years to get a clue….
Because it was back in the summer of ‘98 that the Kansas City Health Department cautioned the Hallmark-owned upscale shopping center about allowing “swimmers” in its fountains.
Actually, I was the one who called attention to the matter after learning that Hallmarkers were derisively referring to the outdoor fountain as the “Crown Center Country Club,” owing to it’s popularity as an inner city kiddie magnet.
Funny thing was, after years of doing everything it could to shoo kids and urban teens away from its movie theaters, the last thing Crown Center wanted was throngs of urban youth and their parents publically bathing right outside its front door.
However rather than be party-poopers and possibly appear racist, Crown Center chose to put up with the practice all these years.
That’s when Crown Center declared the fountains off limits to the swimsuit crowd
See, according to Crown Center, suddenly there are safety issues and health issues because the water has tested positive for unsafe bacteria recently. So new signs are going up warning waders to steer clear.
So why the controversy now?
This deal would have probably been shut down 20 years ago except the Health Department didn’t have jurisdiction because it’s a fountain, not a swimming pool. The Health Department told me as much.
“In an open fountain like that, there can be contamination from different sources – animals, birds, little children in diapers and defecation,” former Health Dept. industrial hygiene and safety manager E.J. Olomiye cautioned. “I wouldn’t allow my kids to swim in that type of system that was not designed for swimming because there are many possibilities that they could get some type of contamination.”
Crown Center’s defense: it had signs even back then forbidding frolicking in the fountains.
And it conceded the fountains weren’t designed for bathing.
Now let’s take the gloves off and call it like it is.
None of the Crown Center merchants I’ve spoken with over the years have been supportive of public use of the fountains by swimmers. They know full well that dripping wet kids in baby speedos aren’t likely to pop into upscale stores and drop a bunch of dough. Let alone the Crown Center Country Club set.
Nor do they want them to.
Upscale shopping centers want upscale shoppers, not soaking wet, underage kids who look like they just got busted by the fashion police at Oceans of Fun.
Check out Kandace’s comment, for instance, on the Star’s version of this story:
“I’m saddened that this will be a loss for those who like free water park attractions, but if it discourages the great unwashed from loitering, I may go back to Crown Center and spend some money! Plus, I have been very put off (by) the fountain area due to the obvious way the fountain was being treated as an urban lakefront. Not so great to see the toddlers running around with sodden diapers or, even worse, totally bare butt in that fountain. Not to mention the barely clad adults.”
And this isn’t the first time – nor likely the last – Crown Center has battled urban teens and kiddies.
Oh and don’t assume that just because grandparents.com placed the fountain on its list of “101 things to do in Kansas City,” that the kids are all clean-cut types just because they’re young.
Allow me to share with you recently retired Kansas City police officer Jan Zimmerman’s take on some of the movie-going kiddies at Crown Center a handful of years back.
"The shocking thing is these little kids are just rude and nasty and they use lots of profanity," she told me. "I mean, Jiminy Christmas. They weren’t overturning police cars or setting anything on fire or
anything like that. They just were causing a disturbance and refusing to leave.”
Another officer’s take:
"It started at the movie theaters, then they went out into the foyer, then it spilled outside by the fountains and the skating rink," she said. "Once we spread ’em out they were running. They were just wild, running, screaming, pushing each other. Then they’d get on top of the bus shelter and kind of bang on it…
“I really commend our officers for being patient and using a lot of self-restraint. I mean, it’s hard enough to take that from adults – but children – especially when you have a 6-year-old calling us assholes. My question is, where are the parents?"
Make no mistake, Crown Center doesn’t want to babysit people’s kids, they want to sell them stuff.
Legos and fish toys, to name two. But it sure as heck doesn’t wants urban kids hanging out and loitering any more than the Plaza, Westport or Power & Light does.
It’s really very simple.
The only puzzling part of this jigsaw puzzle is why Hallmark put up with all this country club stuff in the first place – let alone for all these years. Why didn’t it simply enlist the Health Department to test the water long ago, when it was obvious it was probably unsafe?
And exactly who did the testing this time out anyway? Somehow the investigative reporters at the newspaper and TV stations forgot to ask that question.
So let me guess; the swimming pool engineers and health experts on the payroll at Crown Center?