Walmart pulls out of Mission Gateway plan; developer pledges to continue pursuing project

A rendering of the entrance to the Mission Gateway Walmart (on the left) submitted to the Mission Planning Commission in January.
A rendering of the entrance to the Mission Gateway Walmart (on the left) submitted to the Mission Planning Commission in January.

Walmart has pulled out of the proposed Mission Gateway project, ending nearly five years of controversy over the plan to use the mega-retailer as the anchor for the mixed-use development.

Developer Tom Valenti said Monday the decision for Walmart to quit the $190 million project was mutual. Its future involvement, however, already was doubtful after the Mission City Council rejected a project plan containing Walmart in August by a 6-2 vote.

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“We’re fully committed to completing this mixed-use project like we were before. We’re in the process of working with other retailers, probably three, that would take the Walmart space.” — Tom Valenti

[/pullquote]Valenti, whose development firm, the Cameron Group of Syracuse, N.Y., has been pursuing the Mission Gateway project since 2005, vowed he would continue to pursue new tenants to replace Walmart.

“We’re fully committed to completing this mixed-use project like we were before,” he said. “We’re in the process of working with other retailers, probably three, that would take the Walmart space.”

When Valenti first proposed his redevelopment plan for the 16-acres at the corner of Shawnee Mission Road and Roe Avenue, it included a New Urbanism-style blend of uses: hotel, retail, residential and office served by a central parking garage.

But the 2007 recession hampered his search for retailers to make the project, which relied on tax-increment financing and other incentives, work financially. In 2011, he believed he had his answer when Walmart agreed to include a 155,000 square-foot store in the project.

The Walmart would be the sales tax “rocket fuel” that would help the other elements of the development come together, he said at the time. But it proved a hard sell in Mission, which had rejected an earlier Walmart proposal for the same location.

Valenti attempted to design a Walmart that would blend in with the mixed-used vision for the property. One variation called for a park to be built on top of the store, another included apartments above it.

But with a new group of city council members in Mission, some elected specifically because of opposition to Walmart, the August vote apparently was the last gasp for the idea of using the big-box discount chain as the anchor.

A site plan had been approved in January after a 4-4 ties was broken by Mayor Steve Schowengerdt. That plan was not likely to get public financing support with the Walmart still part of the mix.

Valenti said he will not seek another “super-discount department store” to take Walmart’s place in the development plan.

“I’m looking for smaller retailers in the space where Walmart was going,” he said. “All the same uses are planned, retail, residential, hotel and potentially office if we can get a tenant.

“The goal would be to use the site plan approved by Mission in January 2016.”

Valenti said he informed Mission city officials of his decision last week.

“They want to be cooperative and want to see the project move forward and do whatever they can to help,” he said. “For the six who opposed Walmart, they thought it was good.”

The developer said he plans to hold community meetings at the Sylvester Powell Community Center the evening of Oct. 13 and the morning of Oct. 14 to get citizen feedback on what comes next.

As for his timetable, Valenti said it depends on his success lining up replacement retail tenants.

“I don’t want to come back to the city until we have commitments, not necessarily signed leases, but when I feel comfortable,” he said.

The developer still believes Walmart would have been a good anchor for his project, but added he understands people’s misgivings about potential security problems and other issues.

“I believe Walmart is a great retailer, the number one in the world, and they produce an incredible amount of sales,” he said. “We would have been able to handle well the concerns about security and cleanliness.”

Mission Councilmember Debbie Kring, who has been on the council throughout the period the Mission Gateway has been discussed, said she is confident a new plan will move forward.

“I have nothing against Walmart, but based on what’s good for the city, the potential for an alternative to Walmart looks very promising,” she said.

“That’s prime real estate between Southern Johnson County and the Plaza, I think our community deserves the best and I’m optimistic.”