The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

May 28, 2012

Master developer working on project possibilities

JOPLIN, Mo. — A Texas developer who Joplin officials intend to hire to help with the city’s post-tornado development says he has secured commitments for about $400 million in capital to fund about 20 possible projects.

City officials are negotiating a public-private partnership agreement between the city and Wallace Bajjali Development Partners of Sugar Land, Texas, a move the City Council approved April 2. City Attorney Brian Head said he expects the contract to be ready for council action either June 18 or July 2.

The council on April 2 approved a letter of intent to retain the firm on a recommendation of the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, although Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg said the council had been left out of the process and had been provided little information about the firms.

The advisory team had recommended hiring a master developer to ramp up business and residential redevelopment in the wake of the May 22, 2011, tornado. The team used the input of residents, business people, and city and economic development officials regarding the types of business and residential development they would like to see.

City Manager Mark Rohr said in April that a development firm could bring resources and investment that might not come to the city otherwise. In a public-private partnership, private investments are combined with public resources to accomplish projects that the two entities could not do alone.

Rohr said the intent is to pair public financing tools, such as the city’s $45 million in Community Development Block Grant money, with private investments to promote retail, commercial and housing construction. He said the city does not intend to raise taxes, nor is it the intent of Wallace Bajjali to propose tax increases, to pay for the projects.

In anticipation of the contract, Wallace Bajjali has continued to work on development prospects “so that when we sit down with the City Council, we have specific projects to discuss,” with details the city leadership will want to know, said David Wallace, the firm’s chief executive officer.

He acknowledged that he is working on the city manager’s proposal to build a cultural and performing arts center teamed with a new city museum and other features to provide entertainment and attract visitors.

The developer’s initial proposal includes a letter of intent from ACE Theatrical Group, which operates performance venues and theaters, and stages concerts and other productions. The letter states that while additional market analysis is needed, a $47 million arts and entertainment center could be conceivable, along with a $75 million convention center in Joplin.

Wallace said his firm is working on a proposed housing program called a home principal reduction program. “It’s a significant program, the first of its kind” in the nation, Wallace said. He said the project for low-income and working families would allow them to buy, for example, a house with a market value of $115,000 for $70,000, allowing the homebuyer to immediately build equity. The intent is to provide for families that previously have had to rent or live in more modest housing.

He and his firm also are working on a project to consolidate state and federal government offices in a location within the hardest hit area of the tornado zone, known as the area that underwent expedited debris removal. That concentration of offices would be wrapped with retail, restaurants and commercial operations.

Letters of intent to sell land that would be used for the project have been obtained from 60 to 70 owners, Wallace said. More will be sought.

The state of Missouri in 2009 solicited bids for 60,000 square feet of space for state offices located in the Joplin area to consolidate its operations here, but it later abandoned the move when the economy faltered, reducing revenues to the state.

Wallace said his firm also will help Joplin seek a share of $53 million in disaster relief funding that is to be made available for Midwestern states through the federal Economic Development Administration. He said all cities in Missouri will be eligible to apply because the state was declared a disaster area from floods and tornadoes last year.

Developer’s role

AN EXPLANATION of the master developer’s role developed by the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team states that the developer is not a builder who will construct the projects and take construction work from local companies. A master developer is a group of people who have experience in putting together financing for large-scale projects.

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