Mission mayoral and city council candidates on the issues: The Mission Gateway project

Mission Gateway sign

Mission mayoral and city council candidates discuss their ideal outcomes for the long-stalled Mission Gateway project. File photo.

The Post asked readers in August about the issues they wanted to hear candidates running for Mission mayor and city council seatse address. Based on that feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire with the most important issues to Mission residents.

Each day this week, we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today, we’re publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

The long-stalled Mission Gateway project continues to be a sore spot for residents, who are tired of driving past an inactive construction site nearly a decade after the developer held a groundbreaking ceremony there. What’s the best possible outcome for this situation at present, and what should the city government be doing to make it a reality?

Below are the answers the Post received from candidates on this issue:

Mayor

Sollie Flora

I’ve been out knocking doors and talking to voters across the city since May, and the top two criticisms I hear about are the poor condition of our residential streets and the stalled Gateway project. I want to let Mission voters know that I 100% share your frustration over the Gateway project. The Gateway project components were voted on before I was elected to the City Council (the main development agreement with the TIF, etc.). Since I’ve been on Council, my only vote has been to move the completion deadline up with the goal of completing construction of the whole project sooner. That deadline is now December 31st of this year. So,technically speaking, there’s still time left on the clock for the developer to get the project completed – the best possible outcome would be for the current project to be completed by that time. However, while perhaps technically possible, that outcome unfortunately seems highly unlikely.

If everything isn’t built by the end of this year, that’s an event of default under the development agreement, and the city will have the opportunity to renegotiate the deal (keeping in mind that the property is privately owned and we can’t “force” the developer to sell). I know there is a major trust deficit between the developer, the city, and Mission residents with respect to this private development. My number one priority in any renegotiation will be protecting the city’s interests (through performance/completion bonds, stronger default provisions, reconsideration of the city investment portion etc.). We have to make sure that any new project still has components that align with what residents want (a true mixed use development), and not settle for an inferior project out of frustration. We also need to put stronger teeth in any future development plan to ensure completion. And lastly, if this developer (or any new owner/developer) comes looking for city incentives (i.e., TIF) for any new version of a project on the site, there has to be an understanding that the Mission Bowl development has set a new baseline and an incentives request likely won’t be viewed favorably unless there is a strong benefit to the city (like with respect to our sustainability and affordable housing goals).

Arcie Rothrock

I was asked about the Gateway when I ran for City Council in 2014, 2017, and now for the third time as I run for Mayor. A quote from my answer in 2017.

“In a perfect world, a successful resolution would have been for Valenti to redevelop the Gateway with zero participation from the city, and in a reasonable timeframe. With the lot having set empty for as long as it has, generating zero revenue, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about getting this thing going. Even though I voted down the latest (now approved) Gateway redevelopment agreement, I am looking forward to the 45% proceeds of the city’s general sales tax and 11% of the transient guest tax. These two additions are projected to generate $545,000 a yr. in new revenue by 2021. Money our city and streets could really stand to use. With the recent project plan approval from the city, I am hopeful that Valenti has what he needs to finalize deals with the tenants and obtain their signatures so he can finally share the details publicly.”

The current contract states a significant piece of the project will be completed by 12/31/21. If that piece of the project isn’t completed by then, the developer will be in breach of contract. The next best possible outcome would be for Valenti to secure additional investors and complete the project as soon as possible, without changes in plan, timeline, or incentive.

2022 will bring on two new city council members and a new mayor. My hope is that the citizens elect a mayor and city council members that know the Gateway project’s history with the city. Not just the past promises and renditions, but the timeline of events that have landed us where we are today.

Tax dollars spent paying not only administrative staff, but extended staff like our financial and land use attorneys for things like:

  • Meetings/conference calls w/the Valenti
  • Document review, write-ups, and rewrites in addition to the communication of information to the council and public
  • Loss of potential tax dollars that could be generated but aren’t.

I know I’ve said it before, but it really would make for a great veteran’s community with a park for kids and dogs. But I’m not the one who owns that land, Valenti does, and I do hope he finishes what he started.

Ward 2

Lea Loudon

The residents of Mission have been waiting over a decade for the completion of the Gateway Project. Waiting for it to transform our town into a destination that entices people from all over the metro area to come to Mission to enjoy the restaurants, shops, and services of the Gateway promise. It’s time to realize Mission has already become the destination we dreamed we would be when the Gateway project was finally finished. When we look at our business district we find breweries, a mix of diverse ethnic restaurants and comfortable staples, as well as unique shops, a variety of dance and maker studios. People are already coming to Mission to take part in entertainment options, the Mission Farmer’s Market, weddings, and other events. Developers are already choosing Mission to build multi-family apartment buildings that are modern and in demand by young professionals who want to live in Mission. Commercial property owners who have been waiting to develop are moving forward with plans to begin construction on venues for entertainment and retail shops. Mission is officially a hip and happening place to be!

A good portion of our business district weathered the past year and a half despite a pandemic due to the support of our community and those from outside of Mission who shop and use services in our fair city. It is time to use our strengths as a desirable community and our reputation as a solid place to open a small business as our power to affect change with the Gateway project. The current contract with Tom Valenti ends at the end of December. As defined in the agreement, phase one will not be completed on time. Mission has the opportunity to move forward in a new direction. I would like to see the city council use every tool available to them to strongly urge Tom Valenti to sell this property to another developer who will value the opportunity this project presents and has the cash flow to complete it. We learned the hard way over the years, Mr. Valenti doesn’t deliver on his many promises. Trust in the Gateway project and Mr. Valenti has withered in Mission. The Gateway site is a valuable piece of real estate with immense potential. The city of Mission is a perfect location within the metro area because of its access to main highways, and close proximity to other desirable parts of the city without the price tag of housing or the level of crime in those areas. Mission is quiet, safe, and a wonderful environment to raise a family with excellent schools and a vibrant business district. It’s time we realized all we have to offer developers who are serious about completing a project in Mission and play that to our advantage.

Keith Viken

The long-stalled Mission Gateway project continues to be a sore spot for residents, who are tired of driving past an inactive construction site nearly a decade after the developer held a groundbreaking ceremony there. What’s the best possible outcome for this situation at present, and what should the city government be doing to make it a reality? From what I understand from a past councilperson, there is not much the city can do. We need to look outside the box. It seems to be the site is abandoned, and maybe there is something that can be done from that angle. It took several years to get to where we are now, and it will take some time to correct it.

Joe Donaway

Did not respond.

Ward 4

Ben Chociej

The best possible outcome for the Mission Gateway project is a prompt renewal of the existing development agreement and subsequent timely completion of the partially-built proposal. While this outcome is far from certain, it’s plausible. And there is no other likely path to a better outcome–not renewing the agreement, selling the property, razing the existing structures, or pursuing eminent domain proceedings all imply a much less favorable timeline and potentially a high price tag for the city.

Of course, the developer will (and should) face challenges renewing the development agreement with the current council, owing to the significant trust deficit that has developed. But in any case, completion of what’s been started is the fastest route to a positive outcome.

Though the city has few options to compel the developer to complete anything at all, I would like a renewed agreement include much stronger performance guarantees, a better value proposition for the city related to incentives, and a continued strong stand against conducting any business with the developer unless strict criteria are met, such as confirmed financing arrangements.

Ray Ruecker

I spoke with the developer a few Saturday mornings ago for 55 minutes. There are countless concerned citizens not just in Mission but the surrounding areas. The city and tenant are in a tough spot. If the December 31st deadline of completing the project isn’t finished — which it won’t be — public financing goes away. You are left with either working with him or he can file for bankruptcy and tie up the space for countless years.

I’d work with the developer with a strong measure of carrots and sticks. Give him one last chance. If he doesn’t complete the project by agreed upon time, have in writing that the city can seize property by eminent domain in iron-clad legal writing or he has to sell property 30 days from when the deadline is over. Have 3 neutral appraisers appraise land, get an average, and if the developer gets an offer in the agreed-up range, he has to sell it and give someone else a chance to develop the property.

On Tuesday, we’ll publish candidates’ responses the following question:

Mission is distinct in Johnson County for its “small town” vibe, but some residents say they’re concerned that feeling is being chipped away at by new development projects. Of note, the governing body has granted variances to the three-story height requirement for buildings on a handful of occasions in recent years. Do you believe the city should hold fast to the three-story height requirement? Why or why not?