Long-awaited Mission Gateway development to begin construction

Eight years after he acquired the former Mission Center Mall with grand plans of redeveloping the property into a major mixed-use development, developer Tom Valenti is finally ready to make good on his promise.

Beginning Monday, graders are expected to begin preparing the site of the Mission Gateway development, transforming what has been for several years a 26-acre, weed-choked field and community eyesore into a $165 million project anchored by a Wal-Mart and 300 apartments.

The ambitious development at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Roe Boulevard has evolved considerably since it was first announced in 2005 by Valenti and his firm, the Cameron Group of Syracuse, N.Y. Among the abandoned components were a 2.5 million gallon saltwater aquarium attraction and a condo tower.

It’s also far past its original timetable of opening in 2008, but Valenti said Wednesday he’s now ready to go.

“It’s been a long haul, and we’re just thrilled to get started with work,” he said.

The preliminary timetable calls for what will be 300,000 square feet of retail buildings to begin construction this winter. The 150,000-square-foot Wal-Mart at the northeast corner of the project at Johnson Drive and Roe is expected to open along with some other stores in spring 2015.

Besides Wal-Mart, other announced tenants are a Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, a Sprouts Farmers Market and an Aspen Fitness Center.

The apartment development along Johnson Drive is expected to be completed in the summer of 2015. The project also includes a 2,300-space, four-level garage in its center.

Valenti said he’s close to completing deals with other tenants and believes the construction start will help accelerate the leasing effort.

“We’re not 100 percent leased yet and we haven’t closed on construction financing, but we’re far enough along that I feel confident about getting started,” he said.

Mission Mayor Laura McConwell, whose faith in the project was tested over the years by critics in her suburb of 9,500 residents, was excited the work was finally beginning.

“It’s going to be a great economic generator for Mission and the northeast part of Johnson County,” she said.

The original plan for Gateway carried a $300 million price tag and called for 416,000 square feet of retail, 100,000 square feet of office space, 125 condominiums, a 150-room hotel and four-level garage anchored by a massive saltwater aquarium attraction.

But the recession threw both the development off track. The aquarium and hotel plans were dropped in 2012, and Valenti eventually turned to Wal-Mart to be the catalyst to make his development work.

The retail giant had long wanted to close its current store nearby at 5150 Roe Blvd. in Roeland Park and relocate to Mission, but it was rebuffed when it wanted to locate a stand-alone store on the site of the Mission Center in 2003.

The new design calls for a more urban-style Wal-Mart with a second level of retail above it. Wal-Mart also agreed to participate in a community-improvement district that will generate $14 million for development costs. Sales at Wal-Mart will have a half-cent surcharge, sales at other retailers a full penny.

“I met Tom Valenti eight years ago this month,” McConwell said. “He’s had the tenacity to stay with this project and move forward.”