The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

March 27, 2012

Texas firm could guide Joplin’s tornado recovery

Proposal comes with private investment pledges

JOPLIN, Mo. — Joplin’s future could be guided in part by a Texas development firm that has put together projects in two other tornado-torn cities and could bring up to $1 billion in private investment possibilities to the city’s tornado redevelopment.

The City Council on Monday will be asked to authorize negotiations with Wallace Bajjali Development Partners of Sugar Land, Texas.

The Citizens Advisory Recovery Team has worked since January to evaluate six firms that submitted proposals for the job.

“We will propose a resolution to the City Council on Monday to work on a development agreement, which will take some time,” City Manager Mark Rohr said of the advisory team’s recommendation.

Wallace Bajjali has been in business as a firm for six years but has members who have experience in the field of real estate and economic development for 30 years. It is headed by Dave Wallace, the chief executive officer and a former Sugar Land mayor, and Joe Esch, who was the first economic director hired by the city of Sugar Land.

The firm has a list of development projects to its credit and, of relevance to Joplin, is working now on redevelopment projects in two Texas cities that were affected by tornadoes in past years: Waco and Amarillo.

Waco, the home of the Dr Pepper Museum and Baylor University, suffered the nation’s 11th deadliest tornado of the last century in 1953, when 114 people were killed by a twister that leveled the downtown. The city paved over the site, and nothing had been built there for more than 50 years when Wallace Bajjali launched a $350 million project to bring a university stadium, hotels, a convention center, student housing and other features to the long-idle site.

The firm also is directing a $113 million project in Amarillo, the economic hub of the Texas panhandle, to build a sports stadium, convention hotel and parking garage designed to invigorate downtown redevelopment.

Jane Cage, chairwoman of the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, said the firm is willing to put up its own money as an investment in pursuing projects for Joplin rather than asking that it be paid a fee.

A master developer puts together an often complicated financing package to construct projects and manages the development details. Crossland Construction Co., based in Columbus, Kan., would be the firm’s construction manager. Rohr said local companies would be hired to build the projects.

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 the Wallace Bajjali.

Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said the firm’s creativity along with its experience in public-private partnerships is another reason for the recommendation.

“They’re visionary,” he said. “This is the time for you to dream of the many things that could be done,” including projects like a cultural arts center that was on the table before the devastating May 22 tornado destroyed 7,500 homes and affected 500 businesses.

O’Brian said the city lost 50 small businesses in the tornado, and they need to be replaced.

A medical school was another project on the wish list of some city leaders.

Wallace Bajjali has experience in all of those types of developments, according to the company’s proposal.

Dave Wallace, the CEO, said the firm is interested in Joplin because of the determination of residents to rebuild the city in a creative way. Representatives of the firm have visited 11 times and watched the public input that went into the advisory team’s plan. Wallace Bajjali believes in seeking public input in planning what projects to take on, he said.

“We are looking at Joplin from the standpoint of ‘you’ve got to go to a community that has come together in an incredible manner’ to rebuild,” Wallace said. “Residents are working together to try to determine, ‘What are some of the things we can do to raise the bar?’ We saw such a community spirit there to rebuild a classic American community.”

Rohr said an extensive background investigation was completed on four firms that were selected as finalists from the six applicants for the job. He said Cage and O’Brian traveled to Texas to look at the firm’s current and past projects, while he talked to city managers in the other cities about the firm’s reliability.

Wallace Bajjali has been involved in two projects that hit difficulty. Rohr said the firm disclosed details of those problems in its Joplin proposal, and that inquiries by city officials verified the firm’s admissions. Those incidents involve a bankruptcy taken by some its partners in the Amarillo project, and fines paid to the Securities and Exchange Commission for investment fraud committed by two partners in a radio acquisition deal.

To illustrate the types of projects that are possibilities for Joplin, the company provided letters of intent for potential developments that include the exploration of bringing minor league baseball to town, developing an arts complex and convention center, and building housing developments.

“We have about $1 billion of private-sector capital committed in letters of intent,” Wallace said. “To bring that kind of private-sector capital injection can stimulate the economy like nothing ever seen before.”



Presentation

A PRESENTATION on the master developer recommendation will be given at the City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

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