21 Apr Jon Cartu Reports Construction projects in Johnson County affected by…
Even with construction considered an “essential service” under COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, major development projects across Johnson County are facing setbacks or coming to a halt.
With major public and private projects in the works — including new housing, entertainment complexes, sports amenities, a courthouse and community centers — leaders had expected 2020 to be another year of strong growth in the booming Kansas City suburbs.
Now, from the Interstate 35 expansion to the long-awaited Mission Gateway development, crews are struggling to finish projects due to a shortage of supplies and strict social distancing requirements. Some developers have decided that operating during this time is too risky to employees’ health, shutting down work sites completely.
Still, many developments are forging ahead, keeping crews on the job and working to meet deadlines, though the public has questioned whether some workers are able to follow social distancing guidelines. Leaders say they are implementing safety protocols, requiring workers to keep separated and even checking for fevers.
Here is how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting some significant construction projects in Johnson County:
It took 15 years for a new structure to rise on the long-vacant site of the former Mission Mall in Johnson County. But just as the Mission Gateway development was taking shape, the coronavirus outbreak brought it to a halt.
The $225 million project that’s highly visible for commuters along Shawnee Mission Parkway will include a massive entertainment complex, a food hall, apartments, offices and shops.
“While the state of Kansas and Johnson County stay-at-home orders did not exclude construction, keeping in mind the health and safety of those that work at Mission Gateway, we took the step to suspend work on the site until the order is lifted,” said Andy Ashwal, of GFI Development.
The Mission Mall was demolished in 2005, but the 16-acre parcel sat empty ever since, despite efforts by Developer Tom Valenti, of New York-based Cameron Group. He previously said he struggled to get work started due to financial issues, partly brought on by the Great Recession.
Now as work finally has picked up on the site, the coronavirus pandemic is threatening another economic downturn.
But Ashwal said the developers are looking forward to work beginning again, and once it does, they will follow national construction recommendations to “ensure a safe environment at Mission Gateway.”
Crews made progress this year on the 90,000-square-foot Cinergy Entertainment complex, with 10 movie screens, a 16-lane bowling alley, escape rooms, zip lines and game floor. The building had been scheduled to open by this summer before the pandemic hit.
Johnson County Courthouse
Construction on the new $193 million Johnson County Courthouse in downtown Olathe has not slowed and should meet the deadline of opening to the public by January, program manager Dan Wehmueller said.
The new seven-story courthouse is being built west of Olathe City Hall, at Kansas Avenue and Santa Fe Street.
The building includes 28 courtrooms, plus new security and technology features, which officials say should make the new facility safer, easier to navigate and more accessible to people with disabilities. It will replace the existing courthouse, which is directly to the south and opened in 1952.
Several residents have complained about the courthouse construction continuing, arguing that it is too difficult to enforce social distancing guidelines among dozens of workers. Wehmueller said crews are practicing social distancing, plus medics are taking the temperatures of contractors on the construction site.
Work has slowed on the $16.5 million project to expand Interstate 35 around 75th Street in Overland Park and Merriam during the coronavirus outbreak, said Kelly Kultala, spokeswoman with the Kansas Department of Transportation.
“Due to the pandemic, there has been a little bit of delay on materials procurement, and a subcontractor had a whole crew in quarantine,” Kultala said. “Work has slowed down a little bit, but we should be seeing more action (this) week.”
The construction project will add a fourth lane of traffic in both directions of I-35, from south of 67th Street to south of 75th Street. That stretch of highway narrows from five to three lanes, causing regular traffic jams.
AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, which is off I-35 and 74th Street, has had to form a plan for dealing with lane closures during the construction project. KDOT has redirected hospital traffic, and so far, Kultala said the detours have not changed because of the pandemic.
She said the project is still on schedule, with an expected completion date in November.