By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Joplin could be the first disaster city to not only retain most of its population but grow, City Manager Mark Rohr said Thursday.
He and David Wallace, chief executive officer of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, said projects like a proposed medical complex downtown that could house and educate 600 students are keys to growing Joplin in the wake of the 2011 tornado.
Redevelopment of 20th Street will be one of the keystones of $800 million worth of projects Wallace Bajjali is pursuing as master developer for the city’s tornado recovery. That is where the firm plans to locate a $20 million library and movie theater complex that will bring a larger local library to the center of the city. An application is being prepared for $20 million from the federal Economic Development Administration to pay for the project in the 20th Street corridor, which the firm calls the “redevelopment launchpad” for a series of projects it believes will follow suit.
A $73 million downtown education complex on the site of the current library at Fourth and Main streets is a component of the overall plan.
“These projects will have a transformative effect in the quality of life in Joplin,” Rohr said.
Discussions are going on with a university to occupy the medical complex, but the university has asked not to be identified, Wallace said.
Joplin is still a possibility as a location for a branch campus of Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, said Natalie Lutz, vice president for university relations, who was contacted by the Globe.
“We certainly were talking about it at one time,” she said. “I know there has been ongoing conversations between us, but nothing has been official in any capacity. There is no agreement right now. Certainly to have a branch campus is still something we may consider at some point in time, but no decision has been made.”
KCUMB is the largest medical school in Missouri, encompassing the College of Osteopathic Medicine and the College of Biosciences.
There were discussions in 2009 and 2010 about bringing a branch campus to Missouri Southern State University. MSSU would have had to provide $10 million to develop the satellite campus, but the KCUMB board eventually voted against it. A short time later, the former KCUMB president who had been in talks with MSSU officials was accused of embezzlement and fired.
Wallace said representatives of the Joplin Museum Complex have now indicated that they would be interested in moving downtown to the area of the proposed SPARK cultural arts complex at First and Main streets. It would be an anchor for the completion of downtown renovation that Rohr’s streetscaping, historic district and building facade programs started.
Wallace said building a mixed-use district on South Main Street, with lofts over retail and commercial space, is the type of development that would attract young people and new companies to come to Joplin to pursue opportunities. Those are factors in the studies that have been undertaken in regard to repopulating the tornado zone, Rohr said. It is significant because other cities, such as New Orleans, lost a sizable amount of population after disasters. Wallace said 35 percent of residents displaced in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina did not return.
SPARK, the medical complex, the library-theater complex and the South Main development would attract other investors, adding to the redevelopment boom, Wallace said.
In order to accomplish the projects, the Wallace firm is pursuing land. Wallace said he expects to make $10 million to $15 million worth of offers for land by the end of business today.
The tornado destroyed about 7,500 houses and apartments. Rohr said 79 percent of those have been repaired, rebuilt or are under permit for rebuilding. He said permits have not been sought for 1,700 of the lots in the tornado zone. One hundred were undeveloped before the devastating storm.
“We believe a certain percentage of those property owners are waiting to see what’s to happen on 20th Street,” Rohr said. As a result of the master developer’s work, “We think it is important for development to go ahead” by those who have been waiting, Rohr said.
The Wallace firm has scheduled public meetings on Monday to get input from residents on the development proposals. The meetings will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. at City Hall, 602 S. Main St.
THE JOPLIN REDEVELOPMENT 353 CORP., which is to be the land bank for the development projects, meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to finish the arrangements it needs to make before starting on land acquisitions.