Images of Metro North's destruction tough to see

Stef Bradley’s photos popped up in my Twitter timeline, and I felt the twinge — a slight pang of remembrance mixed with some sadness.

I don’t know Stef Bradley, who appears to be about 15 years my junior. She appears to have grown up somewhere in the Northland of Kansas City, which gives us at least one connection.

The two photos in her tweet last month were somehow from almost the same angle. 

On the left, a look from a balcony at a shiny platformed area overlooking a small indoor fountain with purple and red “hot air balloons” bounding upward. On the right, the dilapidated balcony shows a view of a decimated area hardly recognizable to those who spent time in that very spot in previous decades.

The photos were of Metro North Mall, the once-vibrant shopping center of the Northland reduced to a relic of the past in need of demolition. The 1.3 million square foot indoor shopping center opened in 1976 and shuttered in 2014.

Depending on your age, you probably have varying memories of Metro North — department stores like Macy’s and Montgomery Ward or maybe enjoying a drink at Orange Julius or perusing Spencer’s Gifts or the Disney Store. If you’re really young, you might only remember a decaying shell that no longer contained a movie theatre with empty retail spaces and cavernous hallways.

The demolition of indoor portions of the Metro North have begun. The full building should be coming down in the next few weeks with plans to give way to a new type of shopping experience — one that can only exist if a piece of our past comes down first.

Salvage crews have been in the process of removing usable pieces from the inside, and video shown on KSHB-41, Kansas City’s NBC affiliate, showed rubble and ruin illuminated only by the natural light still coming through the skylights in the roof. The darkest corners seen used to be stores a lot of you visited.

KSHB-41 called the building “just about pristine when it closed for good in April 2014” but noted that a portion of the ceiling has collapsed. The story even noted maybe some animals inside? 

Boy, that sounds terrifying for the crews and unbelievably sad for those of us who don’t want to envision that reality.

The demolition becomes the next part of a plan to redevelop Metro North through a tax increment financing (TIF) project. We reported on this process about a year ago and how the public financing method offers developers tax abatements as a subsidy to provide funds for construction, infrastructure and other area improvements.

IAS Partners, Ltd. bought the property from MD Management in March of 2015, and working with developer Antioch Crossing, came up with a plan to demolish the existing facility and replace it with about 950,000 square feet of commercial and retail space and another nearly 200,000 square feet of residential space.

This won’t be your dad’s Metro North, anymore, even if the name should stick as Metro North Crossing.

Valuation of the property has continued to decline, and the building would become a blighted and condemned so this at least offers new life. It’s just not a new life most of us wanted.

I know I used to casually dream of what would likely be an exorbitantly expensive process of turning the mall into apartments. At least that way, maybe a friend or relative might live there some day so you could go back in and reminisce on what it looked like before becoming housing.

I’m pretty sure this was a stupid idea, but it sounded good.

What’s most disappointing about the future of the site, which should be a similar setup to Zona Rosa, the shopping center on the other end of Barry Road in Kansas City, Mo., is that we’re losing our indoor malls. Yes, no one wants to shop in them anymore, obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this, but they used to thrive.

In the span of about 25 years, Metro North went from awesome to unwanted. Who’s to say, we won’t change our preferences again.

Sure, we can offer up tax incentives and pave over another site, build a huge indoor mall, but it won’t be our mall. It won’t be Metro North Mall. We won’t ever get Metro North Mall back.

I knew that long ago, but the pictures from Stef Bradley hit pretty hard.

I knew this was coming, but now I know it’s over. Those two photos will be lasting images of what we once had, the memories we will keep and what we will lose moving forward.

Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.