Zona Rosa shopping center facing financial trouble after failing to make bond payment for 10 year in a row

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Zona Rosa shopping center is facing financial trouble after failing to cover bond payments for the 10th-straight year.

During the work week at lunch time, crowds are thin at Zona Rosa shops. But Paul Victor said he often pops over from his office nearby to grab lunch.

"We're here a lot and our kids are here quite a bit. They're 26 and 19, so there's a lot of draw for them to be here and they certainly spend enough money down here," Victor said.

But he also isn't surprised that the shopping center, like a lot of malls, is struggling.

"Zona is a top drawer development without any doubt," he said. "It's not the Plaza, and it won't be the Plaza. To try to emulate that success is probably always going to be a losing proposition."

When Zona Rosa expanded in 2007, the Platte County Commission backed bonds for its infrastructure. The development is obligated to pay $2 million per year to hold up its end of the deal.

A one-cent sales tax collected by Zona Rosa businesses is supposed to help. But every year, it's fallen short. In 2017, the mall missed the mark by $500,000.

"The owners chose not to write a check to cover that shortfall, which they have done in the past," Platte County Commissioner Dagmar Wood said. "Instead, they drew on their letter of credit, their $500,000 letter of credit, to make that payment."

To avoid a repeat in 2018, the county is setting aside $750,000 from its reserves. Most of that money had been earmarked to expand the county's overcrowded jail.

"That doesn't seem really fair to the county citizens, to the taxpayers of the county," Victor said.

Commissioners said they're coping with a bad deal from a past administration. Now, they're looking at every option to fix the problem moving forward.

"Our job is to protect taxpayer interest," Wood said. "So we hired bond council to tell us what some of our options might be in this because it's a pretty complex agreement that was entered into with the county and Zona Rosa. But in the long run, we'd like to have some kind of ordinance in place that would prevent this kind of thing from happening again."

Right now, only 59 percent of Zona Rosa storefronts are occupied. With growing online sales and fewer people shopping at brick-and-mortar retailers, the concerns about the mall making future payments is very real.

Adding to those concerns, the county is owed bonds for another 15 years from the development. In the future, the mall is set to be obligated to pay back $5 million a year, which looks nearly impossible given that it hasn't been able to satisfy its current $2 million annual bond payments.

The county commission said it's hoping for the best but planning for the worst and just hoping to find a long-term solution that will prevent taxpayers from being on the hook for future Zona Rosa payment shortfalls.

Zona Rosa's parent company, New York-based Olshan Properties, declined to comment about the situation.