Wal-Mart, the ubiquitous retailer that the Mission Gateway developer once described as the “rocket fuel” to getting his project going, has fizzled on the plan.
New York developer Tom Valenti confirmed that Wal-Mart was no longer the key anchor in the 16-acre development on Johnson Drive and Shawnee Mission Parkway.
The retailer never received a warm welcome from the public, nor from a Mission City Council that shot down Valenti’s latest plan in August.
“I can only discern they didn’t want a Wal-Mart as part of this project,” he said.
Valenti said that Wal-Mart officials attended the Aug. 14 meeting where the Mission City Council turned down a preliminary site plan for a development concept that included apartments on top of the 24-hour retailer.
Valenti said he was told last week of Wal-Mart’s decison.
Wal-Mart plans to remain in its nearby Roeland Park location and has pledged to remodel the store.
“While we were excited to be a part of the vision for the multiuse Mission Gateway development, we understand the developer’s current proposal is not moving forward and have made a business decision to no longer pursue a new store at this location,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Delia Garcia.
She said Wal-Mart “remains committed to finding ways to better serve our area customers and, as we continue to innovate our services and invest in improving our stores, we anticipate launching an extensive remodel of the existing store in Roeland Park in early 2017. The Roeland Park Wal-Mart has proudly served the community for 20 years, and we look forward to making investments in this store that will greatly enhance the customer experience.”
Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt said Wal-Mart’s decision to stick around will help the city’s finances. Wal-Mart and the shopping center it anchors at Roe Avenue and 51st Street was one of the city’s biggest sales tax generators.
“It’s obviously good news for our budget,” Marquardt said. “I think it will help.”
Valenti said he plans to stick with the Mission Gateway development, perhaps substituting the Wal-Mart store with several smaller retailers.
He plans to be in Mission on Oct. 13 and 14 to get community input for the plan.
It’s the latest in a long list of setbacks for the Mission Gateway project, which was supposed to be a grand entrance to the suburb from the west once the Mission Center Mall was torn down more than 10 years ago.
But various proposals — condos, apartment projects, an aquarium, restaurants and retailers of various types and so on — fell by the wayside.
Eventually in 2011, Valenti proposed a Wal-Mart for the site, the same retailer that years before had been rejected by city leaders in Mission.
“We now have the rocket fuel to get the project off the ground,” Valenti told The Star in 2011.
Instead of a source of ignition for the project’s future, the retailer became a target of derision. Roeland Park officials complained that the Mission Wal-Mart would cost its neighboring city their own store, which accounted for $500,000 of that city’s sales tax income.
Mission residents complained about the Wal-Mart, airing concerns about how poorly the retailer had kept up its Roeland Park location and whether the city needed another Wal-Mart in perhaps the city’s most visible and valuable undeveloped piece of commercial property.
A slate of candidates, many of them political newcomers, ran for Mission City Council on a plank of opposing Wal-Mart for Mission Gateway. They all won, which appeared to shift the balance of the city’s governing body against the Wal-Mart-anchored development plan.
Kristin Inman, one of those newly minted council members, said she welcomed the news.
“I’m pleased the Wal-Mart won’t be part of the development, but I’m excited about the rest of it with the hotel and replacement retailers,” Inman said. “It’s hopefully going to be an outstanding development.”
A Mission Gateway without Wal-Mart may be more palatable to Mission residents and leaders.
Debbie Kring, a Mission councilwoman for 17 years who has seen virtually all the interactions of Mission Gateway, shared those sentiments.