Government & Politics

Sports arenas proposed at Great Mall site and OP’s Bluhawk. Olathe seems to have edge

An illustrative view of the south elevation of the Olathe arena.
An illustrative view of the south elevation of the Olathe arena. HOK

A plan to revitalize the demolished Great Mall site with a hockey arena, golf entertainment complex and apartments advanced Monday, appearing to give Olathe the edge over a rival concept proposed for Overland Park.

By a 5-0 vote, the Olathe Planning Commission endorsed a rezoning and preliminary development plan for the former Great Mall of the Great Plains site, at Interstate 35 and 151st Street. The City Council is expected to vote Feb. 5.

“I think the project is actually very exciting,” said planning commissioner Jeremy Fry. “I think it’s great for all things Olathe and in getting some life back in this section of the city.”

The $318 million project, dubbed Mentum, calls for a 3,700-seat minor-league hockey arena, an interactive golf driving range facility, fitness center, restaurants and retail, hotel, medical office building, plus up to 570 multifamily residential units in seven buildings.

Utah-based Woodbury Corp., working with the HOK architecture firm, has proposed the redevelopment on the 100-acre site generally at the northwest corner of 151st and Harrison Streets, where the former mall operated from 1997 until it closed in 2015. The majority of the mall was torn down in 2016, with the exception of Burlington Coat Factory, which remains.

“We really like this market a lot,” Woodbury Corp. vice president of acquisitions Josh Woodbury told The Star on Monday night. “And this is the quintessential redevelopment opportunity where we are taking a property that’s in blight and has been blighting neighborhood properties as well.”

The project is contingent on $69.5 million in Kansas state tax incentives, called STAR bonds, which help developers of major tourism projects pay for eligible development costs. The Olathe City Council has already approved the developer’s STAR bond application, but it still awaits a budget approval from the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Olathe is in something of a race with Overland Park, where a different developer, Price Brothers, has also proposed a hockey arena and other entertainment uses for the Bluhawk development, at the southwest corner of U.S. 69 Highway and 159th Street.

Price Brothers is seeking $63.2 million in STAR bond incentives for a 3,500-seat arena and multi-sport complex plus other retail, restaurant and hotel uses. Overland Park City Council members postponed a decision in December on that STAR bond application, saying they needed more information about how that development would be a major tourism destination. The Overland Park City Council could take the request up again Jan. 28.

Skeptics, including residents and some state lawmakers, have questioned whether the state of Kansas will approve even one, let alone two, hockey arenas within 10 miles of each other in Johnson County.

Woodbury Corp. has been investing in the Kansas City area for the past seven years and also has experience with a large mall redevelopment project on 150 acres in Orem, Utah, Woodbury said.

If the Olathe City Council approves, Woodbury hopes to break ground in May on the first construction phase, including the arena, a BigShots golf facility, retail and restaurants and part of the residential component. That phase could be completed by late 2020, although two future phases could take more than five years, depending on the market.

Olathe resident Adam Mickelson raised the STAR bond issue Monday night before the Planning Commission, questioning whether Olathe really needs the Mentum hockey arena and whether it will be in high demand year-round. He said the city needs a lot more information about other potential tenants.

“It’s pretty pictures with no details,” Mickelson said. “I strongly oppose as much public funding as they’re asking for.”

Mickelson suggested Johnson County is already overbuilt with apartments, and he questioned why this project wouldn’t include condominiums to appeal to the millennium employees of nearby Garmin and other growing firms.

Woodbury said the multifamily buildings could include townhomes or condos as well as apartments.

Regarding the public incentives, Woodbury said the redevelopment of blighted property justifies the public investment, and he’s confident there will be high demand for the hockey arena and community ice sheets. He said the Kansas City area only has a handful of public ice rinks, while the St. Louis area supports nearly 30 ice sheets.

Woodbury Corp. is partnering with an affiliate of Loretto Sports Ventures, a company owned by Lamar Hunt Jr., on the minor-league and community hockey project, which is envisioned as the home base for the Kansas City Youth Hockey Association. Woodbury said it will be a multipurpose facility capable of hosting other sporting events and tournaments as well as concerts, conventions and other community events.

The plan drew opposition from attorney John Duggan, who represents Legato LLC, which owns 88 acres adjacent to the former mall property.

Duggan pointed out that six lakes on the Legato property are supposed to be maintained and cleaned by the city. He said they are full of silt and need to be dredged, at considerable city expense.

Duggan said the lakes can’t handle existing storm water runoff, and he worried about additional water gushing from the redevelopment’s parking lots and rooftops. He said the city has not done the necessary storm drain analysis that’s needed for the entire area.

“My client is asking the planning commission to press the pause button and delay any vote and approval until those analyses are completed,” Duggan said.

Commission Chairman Dean Vakas acknowledged those concerns and said they need serious consideration.

Sean Pendley, senior city planner, said the storm water runoff from this development is actually expected to be less than from the old mall. He said the final development plan would address the storm water issue.

Lynn Horsley reports on Johnson County for the Kansas City Star, focusing on government, politics, business development and battles over growth and change in the county. She previously covered City Hall in Kansas City for 19 years and has a passion for helping readers understand how government affects their lives.