Mission Gateway construction is ramping up, developer says. Neighbors are skeptical

Developers say construction on the long-stalled Mission Gateway project will take off this month — starting with a massive entertainment complex. But some neighbors say they’ve been let down before.

It’s been 14 years since developer Tom Valenti bought and demolished Mission Mall, at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Roe Avenue. Today, there are still few visible signs the $200 million project is progressing. Some support columns and bits of rebar rise from the acres of dirt.

But Valenti, of New York-based Cameron Group, said that’s about to change.

“No one could be more anxious about this than me,” he told The Star on Friday. “I’ve been working on this since 2005. Then, 2008 came along and it was a knee bender. It impacted us for a long time. … Has it taken longer than we expected? It certainly has. But the good news is we’ve hung in there. We are persistent. We made promises to our neighbors and our city and we are keeping those promises.”

Most of the work this summer has been behind the scenes, such as underground electrical work and final design approval, said Andy Ashwal, of GFI Development, which is building the project with Valenti. Construction has begun on the building pad for the 90,000-square-foot Cinergy Entertainment complex.

Other plans for the 16-acre site include a 200-room Marriott Element hotel, 170 apartments, shops, an office building and a 40,000-square-foot food hall curated by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio. Valenti said office and retail tenants could be announced soon.

A design rendering of the Mission Gateway development, on 16 acres bounded by Shawnee Mission Parkway, Roe Avenue and Johnson Drive. The development, which has been long-stalled, should include a hotel, apartments, retail, a food hall and entertainment complex. Cameron Group

“We’re really excited to get work started out on the site,” Ashwal said. “Very shortly, there will start to be more action — more than just the utility work that’s been going on.”

Dallas-based Cinergy Entertainment’s complex will include 10 movie theaters, a bowling alley, escape rooms, arcade and virtual reality games, a zip line course and more. The city approved Cinergy’s building permit last month.

Company spokeswoman Traci Hoey said the entertainment center is expected to open next summer and will be the first business at Mission Gateway.

Cinergy Amarillo_HR-2988.jpg
Cinergy Entertainment will be the first tenant at Mission Gateway. Pictured is a game floor from a Cinergy Entertainment location in Amarillo, Texas. Wade Griffith

Valenti said some of the projects will be built simultaneously, with staggered openings throughout next year and 2021.

Business owners and residents in the area have said they’re hopeful the project will come to fruition and boost the city’s economy. But some said they’re not holding their breath.

“The frustrating part is that it’s taken so long for it to happen,” said Karen Crouch, a manager at Lucky Brewgrille just west of the development on Johnson Drive. “These businesses were hoping we’d have an influx of people because of that a long time ago. It’ll bring competition for the restaurants, but it’ll also bring more people to the area.”

The site has remained vacant since 2005, but not for a lack of trying, Valenti said. His plans have taken a variety of forms, including multiple hotels, an aquarium and a Walmart — all of which fell through.

Valenti has been working to overcome several financial setbacks, which were made worse by the Great Recession, he said. He’s had to address delinquent property taxes and secure a $20 million intermediary loan from Metropolitan Commercial Bank, which Valenti said he hopes to close on in October.

In 2017, the Mission City Council created a community improvement district, which will impose a 1-cent sales tax at Mission Gateway to help fund development costs. The district was supposed to take effect in January 2019, but last year, the council agreed to extend the start date to July 1, 2020. That date should correspond with the opening of the entertainment complex.

City Administrator Laura Smith said the council will need to review changes to the current development agreement spelling out phases of construction. She said the council also will eventually discuss when to issue bonds for the project.

“To date, all the work that has been completed on the site has been done at the expense of the developer,” Smith said. “The revenues to support the incentives that were anticipated to be provided are not yet being generated by the project.”

If all goes as planned, the area could be transformed. Roeland Park is eyeing its own redevelopment project nearby, along Johnson Drive and Roe Boulevard. A July study explores options for transforming aging commercial areas, including a mixed-use development just north of Mission Gateway.

While the vacant Mission Gateway site has remained an eyesore for 14 years, Jose Ramirez, who owns Moss Printing on Johnson Drive, said he’s still optimistic.

“When it gets done, it’s going to be an incredible boost for the city. It’ll bring a lot of incoming business and visitors,” he said. “I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’m hoping it gets done. Even if this project doesn’t happen, somebody else will take it over. Maybe it doesn’t happen real quick. Sometimes you’ve got to have a little patience.”

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Sarah Ritter covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. Formerly a reporter for the Quad-City Times, Sarah is a graduate of Augustana College.