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In Mission, a new appreciation takes root for the Gateway project with Walmart’s absence

Tom Valenti, the developer of the proposed Mission Gateway project, answered questions from about 50 Mission residents at the Sylvester Powell Jr. Community Center last week.
Tom Valenti, the developer of the proposed Mission Gateway project, answered questions from about 50 Mission residents at the Sylvester Powell Jr. Community Center last week. svockrodt@kcstar.com

For all of Walmart’s ubiquity — the retailer has 4,629 locations in the United States — a singular proposed location in Mission had the apparent effect of stalling an entire development proposal.

Now, with Walmart out of the picture for the Mission Gateway project, even skeptics of the plan seem to agree that New York developer Tom Valenti is on the right path with a plan that no longer includes the big box discount retailer.

Walmart dropped out Valenti’s plans for Mission Gateway after the Mission City Council wouldn’t approve a preliminary site plan for a Walmart-anchored development at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Johnson Drive.

Valenti addressed a crowd of Mission residents at the Sylvester Powell Jr. Community Center last week about the future of Mission Gateway. Gone from the discussion was the acrimony over Walmart’s presence that had been a fixture in earlier debates about the project. Instead, a free-flowing conversation about possible tenants took place.

“I feel good about the project and what’s in the project,” said Kristin Inman, a Mission council member who was elected in April over an incumbent who supported Valenti’s Walmart-anchored project.

Inman’s qualified support — qualified because many details remain unknown about Valenti’s new plan — is crucial for the project’s future.

So, too, is the mood of other council members like Nick Schlossmacher, who had also opposed Mission Gateway with a Walmart.

“For me, the change to not having a single big-box store is definitely something that I’m excited about,” Schlossmacher said. “I feel a lot better about it.”

Instead of a Walmart, Valenti’s plans call for three retailers occupying the east side of the 16-acre Mission Gateway development.

That’s the only substantive change from his previous plan. Other elements — an Aloft hotel, an Element extended-stay hotel, other restaurants, smaller retailers and apartments — all remain.

Debbie Kring, a council member since 1999 who has seen all of Valenti’s proposals since the Mission Mall met the wrecking ball on that site in 2005, said she objected to any big-box retailer in the project, not just a Walmart.

She did welcome the inclusion of a hotel, which has been an on-again-off-again component of Mission Gateway over the years.

“That’s a great plot of land and I really wanted that hotel back,” Kring said.

It’s unknown how Mission Gateway will be financed.

Valenti has made it clear that he will seek tax increment financing and a community improvement district to assist with the project. Both of those tools use taxes generated by the development to pay for certain project costs.

Valenti has floated the possibility that he may seek general obligation bonds for at least part of the public financing, which means Mission would cover debt service payments to bondholders in case the development underperforms.

Mission Mayor Steve Schwengerdt said previously that he prefers not to involve general obligation bonds. An alternative would be special obligation bonds, which depend solely on the revenues created by a project and don’t incur the city’s guarantee of debt payments.

Inman echoed that sentiment.

“Special (obligation bonds) would be much better for me,” she said.

The other main question mark for Mission Gateway is the identity of those three retail tenants that will take Walmart’s space.

Valenti declined to identify specific retailers, but said he is in pursuit of a grocery store, a computer-related business and a sporting goods concept.

He said he hopes to start construction in the spring, a timeline that will depend on answering the remaining questions that surround Mission Gateway.

Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vockrodt

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