The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

January 20, 2014

Our View: Keepers of public money

— We count on members of the Joplin City Council and city staff to be the public’s eyes, ears and even mathematicians when it comes to spending taxpayer funds.

We’re depending on them now to complete the due diligence concerning a group of investors that wants to put a baseball team in Joe Becker Stadium and wants $4 million in city funding to renovate and expand the stadium as part of a $9.3 million deal. WLD Suarez Baseball LLC proposes to play independent professional baseball at the stadium and wants to build an entry plaza and parking lots for the stadium, contributing about $5.3 million to the project. It is a deal brokered by the city’s parks director, Chris Cotten.

A story on today’s front page of the Globe outlines connections between one of principals in the baseball deal and chief executive officer David Wallace of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, which is under contract to build projects for tornado recovery in Joplin.

Michael Wray, one of the partners in the WLD Suarez Baseball LLC group that wants to put a team in Joe Becker Stadium, once partnered with Wallace on a deal in Waco, Texas, that in 2009 ran into financial trouble and ultimately ended up in court.

Wray told the Globe he and Wallace had “an amicable business divorce” but is now seeking assurances from Joplin officials that neither Wallace nor anyone else with Wallace Bajjali will “come near” the baseball project.

City Manager Mark Rohr tells us his job is to see that the two don’t interfere with the outcome of each other’s projects.

The assurances, in our view, must first be made to the public, and that is what Rohr says the city is doing even now.

Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean has told the Globe that until the council receives a background check and all due diligence has been performed, no contracts will be signed. That, in our view, should extend to the Tuesday council agenda item that would lease Joe Becker Stadium to WLD Suarez Baseball LLC for professional baseball for 20 years. If approved, the lease would go into effect on Aug. 1.

We, as well as many in our community, would like to see Joe Becker Stadium preserved and baseball games continue there for many years to come. A $4 million investment by the city into property it will retain sounds like a good way to achieve both of those things. As well, we see it as a way to grow Broadway and the surrounding area. Its history is something we would like to see developed and preserved.

We await the final report from Rohr to the City Council and to Joplin residents who need to be kept in the loop about the details of the baseball proposal.

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