$200 million Mission Gateway project ready to lift off with Walmart store
Wal-Mart plans to build a store in the $200 million Mission Gateway development, a decision that’s expected to give the long-delayed project and its saltwater aquarium attraction the boost to begin construction this spring.
Developer Tom Valenti of the Cameron Group of Syracuse, N.Y., said Tuesday that Wal-Mart had signed a letter of intent to put a 150,000-square-foot store in the project, which was first proposed in 2005. That’s when the former Mission Center was demolished at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Roe Avenue.
“We now have the rocket fuel to get the project off the ground,” Valenti said, referring to Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart officials could not be reached for comment.
The announcement that the big discount retailer will be the major tenant necessary to get the project off the ground is accompanied by a bit of déjà vu. An earlier plan in 2004 to tear down the Mission Center and replace it with a 203,000-square-foot Super Wal-Mart was opposed by Mission.
The city wanted a more pedestrian-friendly project to be the gateway to its shopping district on Johnson Drive, which is a mix of mostly small businesses. It even proposed rules to regulate the size and scale of large-scale discount stores. Mission residents collected more than 1,970 signatures opposing Wal-Mart.
At the time, Wal-Mart planned to close its store in Roeland Park, about a mile away at 5150 Roe Ave., if the Mission deal was approved.
Wal-Mart went away, and the property was bought in 2005 by Valenti. The developer announced he would take down Mission Center and replace it with a mixed-use development in the new-urban style.
In 2008, with the help of $63.2 million in STAR bond financing from Kansas, a 70,000-square-foot, 2.5 million-gallon aquarium was added to the project to help make it a regional draw. However, the onset of the recession combined with the special challenges associated with mixed-use developments stalled the project.
The huge property, rather than being a classy gateway to Mission off busy Shawnee Mission Parkway, became a community embarrassment, a wild pasture overgrown with weeds and even small trees.
Though he had lined up a significant number of tenants for the project, Valenti ultimately turned to Wal-Mart to achieve the critical mass needed to move the development forward.
“This is the best development announcement to occur with this project for a long time,” Valenti said.
Mayor Laura McConwell of Mission said the revised project still retained the key elements her city wanted for the massive development tract.
“We’re happy all the mixed-use elements remain, and we’re staying true to our community’s vision,” she said.
Besides Wal-Mart and the aquarium, other elements of the 26-acre development include an additional 150,000 square feet of retail; 300 apartments; 150,000 square feet of office space; 3,000 parking spaces; a 35,000-square-foot movie complex; and a 45,000-square-foot fitness center.
The project will have several levels, Valenti said, and the Wal-Mart will be on the ground level with access from Johnson Drive, Roeland, and Roe.
“You’re not going to realize it’s a Wal-Mart,” he said. “They’re committed to doing something special there.”
Architectural details are still to be worked out, but Valenti said the revised project “will have some height to it” and the apartments might rise eight to 10 stories.
Sharon Miller, head of the Mission Merchants Association, welcomed the announcement that the project finally was poised to begin construction.
“Wal-Mart is a good store that will bring lots of business, and it will tie into getting that project completed,” Miller said. “It’s an eyesore now, but it is such a step to get something like that through, and then the economy had its own problems. They needed a good strong anchor.”
Miller added that businesses along nearby Johnson Drive were mostly specialty firms that would not be competing with Wal-Mart but would benefit from the increased traffic.
In a letter to Mission residents, McConwell said the Gateway project should become an economic engine for their community.
“I truly believe this development will serve a major draw and an economic benefit, not only for all of Mission and northeast Johnson County, but also for areas outside of our Kansas City metro, thanks to the inclusion of the Kansas Aquarium, a museum-quality aquarium.”
By KEVIN COLLISON and JOYCE SMITH
The Kansas City Star