The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 29, 2013

Joplin residents suggest museum for Mercy site

JOPLIN, Mo. — Joplin residents, described as emboldened after a deadly 2011 tornado laid waste to about a third of the city, dreamed boldly on Thursday as they envisioned what an empty site that had been St. John’s Regional Medical Center could become.

Two sessions Thursday at City Hall produced myriad ideas for land that Mercy could allow to be built on at the site where the medical center was destroyed by the 2011 tornado. Located on 26th Street across from Cunningham Park, the area is considered ground zero for the EF-5 twister that took 161 lives and leveled or damaged more than 7,000 homes and 500 businesses.

Mercy has offered the land for a community project and will have the right to approve a use that receives the most support from Joplin residents, said Gary Box, Joplin operations manager for the Wallace Bajjali Development Partners. The contracted master development firm is working with Mercy to develop a potential use of the land. The city was previously offered nine acres of the land but the City Council last winter decided the city should not be in charge of what eventually is built there. The city has agreed to participate in the project, though, Box said.

There were two recurring themes to this dream.

One was to build a new Joplin Museum Complex there.

Another was to construct a science or tornado museum.

Allen Shirley, president of Friends of the Museum, had a petition in hand to promote the site for a new Joplin Museum Complex.

“There is 150 signatures in support of the Joplin Museum Complex and that is only within three days,” Shirley said. “I never had an individual say ‘no,’” as he collected names. “I think it was a great endorsement of the museum. I think people realize the museum has been neglected for way too long.”

Clair Goodwin, chairman of the museum’s governing board, saw the same endorsements in the study circles held at 3 and 6 p.m. “I was very, very pleased so many people supported the museum for this site,” he said. There were about 35 people at each session.

The consensus of the sessions centered on a museum idea, whether it be the Joplin Museum Complex, a science and weather museum, a place with interactive science and meteorology exhibits, or a Discovery Center.

Participants were asked if the site should be used for something of local interest or something to bring in visitors.

State Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, said residents have told him they have concerns about the city building a movie theater to support a new library and a Joplin Commons project that would compete with the Joplin Family Y. He said most of those who have talked to him have supported a museum idea, but do not want something that would compete with private businesses.

“Joplin, in my opinion, should be a destination city where people will come, whether it be to a museum or a museum with a wing for the tornado,” he said.

Eileen Nichols pointed to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, which has a reflecting pool commemorating those killed in the bombing of the federal building there and exhibits recounting the event, the force of the blast, and its impact on victims and survivors.

She suggested a similar museum based on the Joplin tornado.

Dick Weber, chairman of the Mercy of Joplin board of directors, said that a museum would require 80,000 to 100,000 feet of space and would take up most of the 13-acre site. There is a remaining parking lot and some other land available along St. John’s Boulevard that could be made part of the project, he said.

Randy Steele, president of the Joplin School Board, said he likes the idea of a science and weather museum that would be of interest to children as well as adults.

Jane Cage, chairwoman of the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, helped conduct the session. She said she spoke last week at a Department of Homeland Security conference on disasters. She said she was asked if the experience with the tornado has changed Joplin residents.

“I said that I think it has, and it has made us bolder than we were before,” she said. “We’re not the same kind of place we were where we would say ‘we can’t have that because we’re Joplin and we’re not big enough.’ But now we’re not afraid to ask for anything that we want. And that’s what I listened to around my table here today.”

Discussions will be held with organizations through the month of September and then a way to fund a proposal will be studied.

Box said a proposal will be presented to Mercy directors on Dec. 4. They will make the final decision in January.

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