Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
Officials in Kansas thought Walmart would ruin a mixed use development. Seven years later, the big box store is the project's saving grace
In 2004, when developers offered to tear down a shopping center in Mission, Kansas, and replace it with a Super Walmart, the city said no. They were hoping for (and soon signed on) a more "pedestrian friendly" development.
Seven years later, that initiative - now an empty field stalled by the recession - is being brought back to life by a new tenant: Walmart.
The Kansas City Star reports that Mission Gateway, a $200 million mixed-use development, has inked a deal with Walmart to build a 150,000 square foot store to anchor the project, effectively bringing it back from the dead.
The project first bubbled up in the wake of the first Walmart proposal. Developer Tom Valenti of the Cameron Group purchased the land and tore down the existing shopping center to make room for "a mixed-use development in the new-urban style." That project was meant to include 300 residences, 150,000 square feet of retail, 150,000 more of office space, a gym, movie theater and 3,000 parking spaces, according to the Star.
In 2008, with the help of $63.2 million in STAR bond financing from Kansas, a 70,000-square-foot, 2.5 million-gallon aquarium was added to the project to help make it a regional draw. However, the onset of the recession combined with the special challenges associated with mixed-use developments stalled the project.
The huge property, rather than being a classy gateway to Mission off busy Shawnee Mission Parkway, became a community embarrassment, a wild pasture overgrown with weeds and even small trees.
And now, Walmart will enter the scene to provide the larger investment needed to get the project rolling again. City officials claim the walkable character of the development will be retained, even with the addition of the big box store. "We’re happy all the mixed-use elements remain, and we’re staying true to our community’s vision," Mission Mayor Laura McConwell told the Kansas City Star.
This story of the villain-turned-hero is also playing out in other places, with Walmarts being called in to save flailing developments. Washington, D.C., recently made a deal with the retailer to open six stores in the District, two more than Walmart had originally planned. The city lobbied hard to have one of those additional stores located in a long-neglected shopping center called Skyland Town Center. The Washington Post reports that Mayor Vincent Gray personally called Walmart U.S. President Bill Simon to see how the city could convince the company to plant a new store there.
Big box retailers like Walmart are often criticized for the harm they cause local retailers and small businesses. But it seems some cities are willing to brush those concerns aside to bring in the economic power mega-retailers like Walmart can provide.
Joshua Lott / Reuters