Northeast Joco

Mission Gateway inches ahead

Green space atop the Wal-mart in the Mission Gateway project aims to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
Green space atop the Wal-mart in the Mission Gateway project aims to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Submitted photo

Developer Tom Valenti still hopes to get ground turned this summer for the long-delayed Mission Gateway project, now that the city council has approved the preliminary plan.

The controversial development that would feature a Wal-Mart store relocated from its current Roeland Park address, still has some steps to go through with the city, however.

No date has been set yet for the council and planning commission to consider the finer points of the site’s design or any public financing. Valenti said he still plans to ask for a $29 million package of incentives that would include tax increment financing and community improvement districts to defray some of the costs of building on the wedge of land that once was home to the Mission Center Mall.

The city has struggled for about a decade to find the best use for the 16-acre tract of land at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Johnson Drive. The latest project calls for a 155,000-square-foot single-story Wal-Mart, hotel, apartments and smaller retailers. Valenti said the project might also include an office building if he can find a tenant.

A bigger plan was approved in 2013, but the construction never happened because Valenti said he couldn’t get commitments from the right mix of tenants.

This time, though, Valenti said he is sure of financing for the hotel and apartments, and Wal-Mart is still committed to the project. He expects the smaller retailers will become more interested once construction actually starts.

“Because it has taken as long as it has, people want to see some action before committing to it,” he said. But Valenti said he is confident that when that happens, it won’t be hard to find smaller businesses to occupy the retail space.

A split council approved the newest preliminary plan 5-4 at its Jan. 20 meeting, with Mayor Steve Schowengerdt casting a tie-breaking vote. It was the culmination of two trips each through the planning commission and the council itself.

The plan has faced vocal opposition from many Mission residents who dislike the idea of putting a Wal-Mart at what is the city’s eastern entrance. The city had written zoning for that area that called for mixed use and multi-storied buildings.

Some opponents questioned whether the city could allow Wal-Mart to have such a large single-story building in a development intended to be multi-story. The council could not reach a decision when the plan came up last November and sent it back to the planning commission for reconsideration. The commission approved it again Dec. 28.

Valenti and the development’s supporters have argued that there is enough vertical space in the development to meet zoning rules. And Wal-Mart agreed to have a rooftop green space installed to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

Still, many speakers at the last public meeting remained disappointed in the plan. Ken Davis, president of the Countryside Homeowners Association, told the council that 85 percent of its members oppose the Wal-Mart at the Gateway site.

Supporters of the project said the city cannot legally turn down development because of a specific business, but must decide the issue based on the land use and zoning rules.