Acknowledging that there was a “significant trust deficit” between his company and the city, developer Tom Valenti on Wednesday attempted to reassure the Mission City Council that his latest plan for the Mission Gateway site was on track — but found healthy skepticism from some members.
Appearing before a meeting of the governing body for the first time in six months, Valenti walked the council through the status of his proposed development, saying the plan at present largely reflects that plans approved by the city last fall though there have been some significant changes.
“This is not hocus pocus,” Valenti said.
Most significantly, the Cameron Group, Valenti’s company, is in talks with a tenant that would occupy all or “almost all” of an office building that would sit at the intersection of Shawnee Mission Parkway and Roe Avenue, though he said he could not disclose the identity of that potential tenant at this time.
As currently envisioned, two hotels — an Element and an Aloft — would sit to the west of the office building with retail, apartments and a parking garage sitting to the north of those facilities. Valenti said his company was in talks with two potential tenants to take over space along Johnson Drive and Roe Avenue, effectively replacing the Walmart that had been part of previous plans. Again, Valenti stressed that he was not in a position to disclose the identities of the possible tenants, but said that one would be a “large entertainment” tenant with both an indoor and outdoor component.
But years of fits and starts on the project combined with delinquent taxes and growing weeds prompted pushback from a number of councilmembers.
Councilman Ron Appletoft, who is the only candidate running to replace Steve Schowengerdt as mayor, questioned Valenti about his promise last year to get work moving on the retail and apartment buildings along Roeland Parkway and Johnson Drive this spring without the use of public financing money. On Wednesday, Valenti suggested the company was now hoping to break ground on that part of the project in October. (Initially, Valenti had suggested work would begin by the end of March). What’s more, Valenti said that while the company would not need for the city issue special obligation bonds before work on that phase of the project begins, Cameron would still be seeking access to public finance incentives for the retail and apartment project and that an agreement would have to be in place before construction could begin.
“What I’m hearing tonight is inconsistent with what I thought I heard you say earlier, which was you would start phase one before asking for incentives,” Appletoft said.
Councilmember Nick Schlossmacher said he took issue with the weeds growing on the vacant lot, and was hesitant to consider public finance incentives for the updated project with Cameron delinquent on significant taxes and special assessments owed to the city. Valenti said he hoped to be able to bring the tax bills current by this fall.
“We will pay those hopefully in October when we get our construction financing,” he said. “What we’ve been spending our money on is for all these plans the past several months.”
But with so many moving pieces — Cameron has yet to finalize letters of intent with the office tenant or the two possible tenants for the buildings along Roe Avenue and Johnson Drive — the council and city financial consultant Bruce Kimmel had doubts about the feasibility of the October timeline.
“Without knowing who the tenants are, and how much revenue is going to be generated, how is that even possible?” Councilman Pat Quinn asked about the projected October start date for construction, suggesting there wouldn’t be enough time to produce the financial projections needed for public or private financing agreements.
Valenti did not say specifically how much the company will be requesting in public finance incentives for the project. Mission will hold public hearings on the Cameron Group’s new CID and TIF district creation applications next month.