The latest attempt to resurrect the Mission Gateway development is headed for the City Council.
Planning commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to recommend approval of the proposal by the New York-based Cameron Group LLC and lead developer Tom Valenti to build shops, restaurants, apartments, office space and a hotel on the old Mission Center site between Shawnee Mission Parkway and Johnson Drive.
Valenti told commissioners that Wal-Mart is still signed on as the main tenant and that a “nationally branded” hotel chain has agreed to build a 200-room “boutique” inn on the site.
He said he didn’t want to announce the chain until the project has been approved.
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City Council members are scheduled to review the new plan Oct. 21.
The Cameron Group, based in East Syracuse, N.Y., bought the faltering mall in 2005. It was demolished in 2006.
A number of plans have been introduced and approved over the years but typically imploded long before construction began.
Valenti acknowledged that Gateway has had a troubled history but said he and his fellow developers have learned from their mistakes. For instance, the new project doesn’t include adding retail shops above the Wal-Mart or building parking under the apartments — two features of previous plans that proved too difficult or costly.
“I believe this is a plan that works,” he told commissioners.
The overall project, at 576,124 square feet, is about 165,000 square feet smaller than the previous plan approved in 2013. A series of six buildings will be constructed around a three-story, partially free-standing parking deck.
The Wal-Mart, which will include a grocery store, will occupy a 155,000-square-foot building at the corner of Johnson Drive and Roe Avenue. A series of four-story buildings along Johnson and Roeland drives will house shops and restaurants on the ground floor with 182 studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments built above them. The seven-story hotel and a five-story, 55,000-square-foot office building would be built along the border with Shawnee Mission Parkway.
While Valenti said construction of the Wal-Mart, hotel and residential units is vital for the financing of the project to work, he said the office building was essentially optional. He said the developers won’t go forward with it unless they get a signed tenant by next spring.
Architect Josh Shelton of El Dorado Inc. also noted the site’s planned amenities, including a boardwalk that connects surface parking with semi-private green spaces built between the retail/residential buildings and the parking deck.
Valenti said the project will cost between $145 million and $150 million to build. He said his group has already applied to city officials for more than $29 million in incentives. That would include tax-increment financing, a room tax applied to the boutique hotel, and two Community Improvement Districts – special taxing zones that would help offset some of the cost.
Unlike past plans that involved tax-increment financing, Valenti said the new plan would not require general obligation bonds, which means city taxpayers would not be at risk to repay the bonds if the project falters. City council members would have to separately approve any incentives.
The city did invest $12 million in stormwater improvements to the site in 2007 and this year will begin charging the Cameron Group $600,000 a year to recoup that cost.
Some neighbors questioned the phasing of construction, saying they wanted assurances that Valenti’s group intended to build the entire project.
“Will we just start the Wal-Mart and then have nothing else?” asked Mission resident and business owner Sandy Russell.
Valenti stressed that “it doesn’t work as a freestanding Wal-Mart” and that, with such a small site, a lot of the construction is interlinked.
“When people talk about phases, they’re usually talking about years separating the phases,” he said. “This is going to be months.”
Assuming the city approves the preliminary plan, Valenti said he could see construction beginning by the end of the year or early next year with the Wal-Mart opening next fall.
The planning commissioners included 27 conditions for the approval, many of which have been tied to the project since it was rezoned and have to be addressed in the final plan.
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