I was recently downtown and noticed that construction workers are busy at the intersection of Seventh Street and Minnesota Avenue. They are preparing the streets for the new bus terminal for the Area Transportation Authority.
The workers are removing some of the last elements of what was the Center City Mall. I recall an editorial that The Wyandotte West ran on April 23, 1970 that criticized the downtown urban renewal project. Jack Root, who was my business partner in the newspaper, wrote the editorial.
“We’ve seen the Urban Renewal Agency’s slide presentation and the model of the “mall and, quite frankly, we aren’t too excited about it…
“Concrete sculpture, which presumably will bring aesthetics to the mall, will feature horizontal lines of the Western Kansas horizon and the vertical lines of the state’s grain elevators…”
The Thursday the newspaper came out, I got a call from Frank Corbett, a vice president at Security National Bank and a promoter of the downtown project. Corbett also just happened to be the man who controlled the advertising budget for Security Bank; Security was a major advertiser in The Wyandotte West.
“What are you guys trying to doundefinedpit downtown with people out west?” Corbett asked.
I told him that was not our intentundefinedthat we just didn’t think the public would accept such a radical change downtown.
Minnesota Avenue had a history of being one of the busiest centers in the Midwest during the fist half of the 20th century. Folks would identify three booming retail areas– downtown Kansas City, Mo., the County Club Plaza and Minnesota Avenue. But change was occurring here, over town and across the country. Downtowns were suffering as people were moving to the suburbs. Frankly urban renewal projects, such as the one on Minnesota Avenue, failed across the country.
However, an interesting thing happened during the next few years after the mall was built. I grew to like the “monuments” such as the aluminum silos and the huge Indian mound. Dale Elred, a noted sculptor, created the huge artwork.
Downtown failed as a retail area– but not because of the urban renewal project. It failed because the middle class was leaving Wyandotte County and, at the same time, Indian Springs, a highly popular mall, opened in 1971. It also threatened the Wyandotte Plaza Shopping Center at 78th Street and State Avenue.
Fast-forward to today. Downtown continues to find it way, despite the loss of the Kansas City, Kansas, School District’s administrative offices and the exit of a major law firm. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency will soon move to Johnson County.
However, we are encouraged with the commitment of the Chamber of Commerce that remodeled its old building at 727 Minnesota Ave. with a commitment to stay downtown. And I noticed very few parking spaces available on a recent Friday afternoon as shoppers visited downtown thrift stores.
Indian spring is a relic of a past era of enclosed malls. But another ATA terminal and Unified Government offices could help attract new development there. And Wyandotte Plaza recently sold from the original developer’s estate; plans call for a new Price Chopper with more than 70,000 square feet of floor space and other major retail stores.
The ATA buses will provide express service from downtown to Vill. It also will link Indian Springs and Wyandotte Plaza with the rest of the State Avenue Corridor. State Avenue will continue to play a key role in retail activity.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press.
He is the executive director of Business West.