Walmart often the focus of objections, questions at Gateway developer’s session with residents

A rendering of Valenti's proposed green roof on the Walmart.
A rendering of Valenti’s proposed green roof on the Walmart.

Mission Gateway developer Tom Valenti invited the community to come talk about his latest proposal and almost 50 people responded to the invitation Tuesday night in a discussion that often turned back to unhappiness with a Walmart being built on the site.

“I know there are people who don’t like Walmart,” Valenti said. “There is still a stigma attached to them.” But, he added, the Walmart at the Gateway site will not look like a typical Walmart. “If you make it look good, it changes things,” he said. “We are going to make this Walmart look very good.” He said the previous owners of the mall had planned to place a large Walmart on the site. Although plans for a Walmart were never submitted, a zoning change put new restrictions on discount superstores.

The latest change to the plan includes a green roof built over a portion of the Walmart building with a one-eighth mile walking/jogging path that would be made of a material like high school tracks. The green roof would have soil and be landscaped with native plants, he said.

“I am frustrated as well,” he said, responding to criticism that the development has taken 10 years with nothing built. Valenti reiterated the history of his ownership of the former Mission Mall back to 2005 when he first started the purchase. He closed on the land in 2006 and on the separately owned Dillard’s buildings in early 2007, he said. His 2007 plan, he said, relied on condominiums, retail, a fitness center and a movie theater. Later that year financing for condominiums evaporated, he said.

In later iterations, the plan included an aquarium, but did not attract enough retail. Valenti said at one point he nearly had office space commitments for the AMC headquarters and the Polsinelli law firm that fell through. A number of other retailers had been interested and then pulled out, including Barnes and Noble and Circuit City. Most recently, that included Academy Sports which would have gone on top of Walmart in a plan that was approved in early 2013.

The current plan was approved by the planning commission, but rejected by the city council on a 4-3 vote. “I think if all of the city councilors were there, it would have been approved,” Valenti said. “But they were not all there.” Mission City Councilor Jason Vaughn was missing from the meeting.

While Valenti was challenged by a few of the residents on the Walmart and the long development saga Tuesday, Mission planning commissioner Scott Babcock, who will consider the remand from city council, said, “I think it’s a good project. I understand what you have been through.”

“It is a walkable, integrated, dense project,” Valenti said.

Developer Tom Valenti addressing questions about the Gateway project Tuesday.
Developer Tom Valenti addressing questions about the Gateway project Tuesday.