Members of the Joplin Redevelopment Corp., which is handling land transactions for Joplin’s master developer projects, said they believe the efforts for redevelopment have turned a corner that will make the projects more visible to the public.
The JRC on Tuesdaystet approved the final amendments to site development agreements separating a senior transitional living project to be built west of 26th Street and McClelland Boulevard.
David Wallace, CEO of the city’s contracted master development firm, Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, said his firm’s work on the project is on track.
There was a need to divide the project into two parts because the city has agreed to provide $4.5 million in Community Development Block Grant funds to build streets and other infrastructure for the project. Using CDBG funding slows down the procedure toward building because environmental soil testing and other work must be done and approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before the next steps can be taken, the JRC discussed.
Additionally, it meant that the earlier contracts regarding land purchases for the project had to be revised and presented for city approval.
CDBG money will not be used to build one section of the project, the villas or patio homes, and that construction can take place sooner.
The use of CDBG money for infrastructure construction will be contributed to the part of the project for the construction of apartments, and assisted living and memory care units. In exchange for the taxpayer investment, charges for living in those quarters will be lower than the market rate.
Additionally, the JRC agreed to give $6 million to help make the project economically feasible. The financial data was examined earlier by the JRC and the City Council in a city feasibility study that was commissioned.
The contracts authorized Tuesday by the JRC also must be approved by the City Council.
Gary Duncan, chairman of the JRC, said, “We’ve learned that merging different types of money can be very complex, but it feels like we are turning a corner now because we are in line for the senior living center and we will be able to proceed with the library.”
It was announced at a special meeting of the City Council on Monday that the U.S. Economic Development Administration had authorized a request by the city to allow the new Joplin Public Library at 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue to be built separately from a movie theater. The two were to be built together in a single, two-story building when the project was proposed to the EDA. The EDA has given the city a grant of $20 million to build the library as part of the city’s tornado redevelopment. The grant cannot be used for the costs to build the theater.
Duncan said it takes time to go through the steps required when federal funding is used, adding, “We have moved forward with our charge.”
Some members of the JRC on Tuesday made comments in reference to public concerns that construction had not yet started on projects that have been under the direction of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners.
A special investigator hired by the City Council to look into questions about City Councilman Mike Woolston’s business deals with Wallace Bajjali and another developer, Charlie Kuehn, and with the JRC recommended that the city halt the work and clarify its contracts with Wallace Bajjali.
Wallace recently said that some of the testimony to the investigator was incorrect or was biased, which resulted in faulty conclusions.
The JRC has run into delays recently with the contracts on the senior housing project because of repeated revisions that attorneys have made to the documents. On Tuesday, JRC member Fred Osborn said he had a concern about the time it took — about three months — to get completed contracts ready.
City Attorney Brian Head said that happens sometimes when dealing with complex government contracts. In this case, there were several law firms involved representing the city, the JRC and Wallace Bajjali, as well as city staff members who sought advice on the CDBG rules.
“There were five separate sets of eyes looking at this, and at the last minute someone spotted something that had to be fixed,” each time the JRC board was poised to take action on the contracts, said Head.
Osborn said he was not criticizing. He said he only wanted assurance that the work underlying the contracts was being done thoroughly before the matters are presented to the board.
Keith Grebe, a board member, said the city should be communicating with residents about the status of the projects to help residents understand why construction has not started yet.
Interim City Manager Sam Anselm told the board that information about the progress of projects will be included in the city’s next newsletter that is mailed to residents.
He said the multi-layered steps involved in the projects are diagrammed on a memo board in City Hall. The city staff, he said, is just as eager “as everybody else to have dirt turned.”
Board member Phil Stinnett said that “the conversations early on were too positive,” adding that he believes that comments by Wallace “need to be ratcheted down.”
Wallace, in an email response to a Globe question Wednesday, wrote that when the firm “started our efforts in the fall of 2012, we were charged with redeveloping Joplin without raising taxes and without using city of Joplin general funds. To date, our office has secured close to $100 million toward redevelopment and (has) successfully completed the acquisition of over 50 acres of land for the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation. Land that is now owned by the JRC is free and clear.
“Yesterday’s vote by the JRC on the Senior Transitional living project Site Development Agreement, and upcoming vote by council, will be a major step toward site work beginning.
“This process is complex, the funding sources and their specific requirement must be met by the numerous entities involved to ensure compliance. We encourage anyone with questions or concerns to contact our office. We will be glad to meet with them and walk them through the complex process involved in the redevelopment of Joplin. We are on schedule and construction will begin this year.”
THE WALLACE BAJJALI OFFICE is located in the Gryphon Building at 10th and Main streets.