Decision to demolish Topeka’s White Lakes Mall the right call

Years of neglect make resuscitating the abandoned mall a lost cause



September 23, 2021 - 9:59 AM

Topeka's White Lake Mall will be torn down by year's end after sitting empty for 14 years.

Topeka’s White Lakes Mall is coming down. A time-worn eyesore, it’s past due.

That the city has to cough up an estimated $2 million in demolition fees doesn’t sit well, of course. But the location on Topeka Boulevard is such prime real estate that, over time, officials figure they’ll recoup the costs with new development. 

That’s the thing about retail space. It gets old fast. 

A building’s ambiance — how it smells and looks — goes a long way in helping market its products.

Successful businesses know that continual upkeep is always worth the investment.

In the case of White Lakes, attempts to attract new tenants had become increasingly difficult over its 57-year history.

The mall’s last tenants abandoned the site in 2007. Only a printing business set apart from the mall remains on the site.

Attempts to get the mall’s owner, KDL Inc., to address its deteriorating condition were to no avail. Its owner, Kent Lindemuth, a real estate developer, has filed for bankruptcy.

Last December, a fire resulting in $100,000 in damages helped seal its fate. In August, city officials deemed it an “unsafe structure,” paving the way for demolition.

The city also must deal with the extra expense and time needed in removing the asbestos-laden tiles and insulation installed throughout the massive building, valued at about $750,000.

Once a prime shopping destination anchored by Sears and JC Penney, the mall’s luster began to fade when the West Ridge Mall opened in 1988. 

Fourteen years of sitting empty can do a lot of damage to a building — and a city. 

“I promise you that the cost of (demolishing) White Lakes Mall pales in comparison to the brand equity damage that’s being done to your community on a daily basis,” Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Partnership, was quoted in a recent Topeka Capital-Journal article. 

IT’S A LESSON for us all. A building is a business’s calling card.

Let’s do all we can to make sure Iola’s stock is sending the right message.

— Susan Lynn