Prospects for plan to develop former Merriam Kmart site take hit after city council meeting

Kmart Merriam

A Merriam city spokesperson said the city has been "unable to strike an appropriate balance with the current proposal" to redevelop the long-vacant Kmart site on Shawnee Mission Parkway. It's unclear what may happen with an Overland Park developer's plan going forward. Above, the sign out front of the old Kmart.

A redevelopment proposal for the long-vacant former Kmart site in Merriam now appears to be off the table.

Last month, Overland Park-based Drake Development submitted a tax increment financing proposal worth a potential $35 million that outlined a plan to build a luxury apartment complex, grocery store and retail space on the prominent site at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Antioch Road.

On Monday, councilmembers discussed Drake’s proposal in executive session, which is closed to the public.

Jenna Gant, the city’s communications and public engagement manager, sent the Post the following statement regarding the situation with Drake Development’s TIF application:

“We remain excited about the recent interest to develop the Kmart location and the possibility of bringing new business to Merriam. We recognize there are site challenges at the location that will likely need a public/private partnership. We’ve been willing partners in those conversations. But, it remains a City priority to not only help our businesses thrive and be successful but also to protect the long-term financial interests of our Merriam taxpayers. The City is eager to take advantage of any opportunity where those priorities align. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to strike an appropriate balance with the current proposal.”

Still, Gant said there was no formal action taken on the TIF application during Monday’s executive session.

Matt Pennington, Drake Development’s president, told the Post the company is committed to the project because it believes in the site. Pennington said the Kmart redevelopment is something Merriam needs, and is hopeful Drake and the city can find a way to align on the specifics.

Pennington, who previously told the Post a preliminary development plan would be submitted soon, said Drake will likely resubmit a revised TIF application in the next couple of weeks — after getting feedback from city officials, that is.

“What we’ll probably end up doing is having additional conversations essentially with staff and city council, and hopefully strike a better balance where all parties are happy,” Pennington said. “Obviously, right now, you’re seeing that we’re not on the exact same page.”

Ward 2 Councilmember Whitney Yadrich told the Post that while Drake’s proposal was exciting, “it almost seemed too good to be true.”

She noted that the city council voted last summer to include the former Kmart site in the city’s I-35 TIF district, a move that potentially paves the way for future development.

“The council showed that we’re eager to get something done, but this is the public’s money and we demand an elevated level of scrutiny and due diligence,” Yadrich said. “I don’t want to commit tens of millions of taxpayer dollars up front without any guarantee that the development will open as proposed.”

Kmart closed on the site in 2013, and the crumbling building has remained vacant ever since.

City staff told the planning commission in December that conversations for a redevelopment project weren’t going the way the city had anticipated. At that time, Drake Development told the Post of plans to submit a TIF application in January.

Before TIF funds are dispersed to a Block and Co. affiliate for the Taco Bell redevelopment across the street, the company must pay back taxes on the Kmart property.

This story has been updated with comments from Drake Development.