The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 3, 2010

City manager to announce ‘significant’ plan for downtown

JOPLIN, Mo. — A major redevelopment plan that might involve the Joplin Museum Complex or could address restoration of vacant historic landmarks in the downtown area will be detailed to the City Council by City Manager Mark Rohr at a meeting Tuesday.

An item on the council agenda lists a redevelopment presentation by Rohr, but he would not discuss any of the details on Friday before offering the plan to the council.

Rohr would say only that his presentation to the council would have “significant impact” on Joplin if it is implemented and that it is tied to the chief task he was asked to perform by the council when he was hired.

Rohr was hired in 2004 and was assigned to implement a downtown revitalization plan.

In 2005, he presented a plan for redeveloping Joplin’s downtown, decayed from vacancy and previous ill-fated urban renewal attempts. Most of that plan, which set in place financial assistance for restoration of old buildings, streetscaping and creating a lifestyle district that combines niche retail, residential and business, has been accomplished.

Yet to be done but mentioned in the 2005 plan is the restoration and reuse of three key historic landmarks — the Union Depot, the Carnegie Public Library and the Rains Brothers building. That 2005 plan called for the depot to become a new home for the Joplin Museum Complex.

Museum needs

Allen Shirley, president of the board of directors of the Joplin Historical Society, said he does not know whether Rohr’s presentation Tuesday will involve the museum. But he and other representatives of the museum will be at the meeting “with bated breath,” he said.

The current museum building at Schifferdecker Park does not have the space or the climate-controlled environment to display many of the pieces the historical society owns on behalf of the museum.

A museum proposal for a one-sixth cent sales tax to remodel Memorial Hall as a larger location for the museum and pay operating costs there was defeated by voters in April. Many voters said their opposition was the use of the hall — built as a war memorial — and not the tax or the museum.

Shirley and Brad Belk, the museum executive director, attended a city envisioning meeting June 26 asking that city leaders remember the museum’s needs.

On Friday, Shirley said that the historic society board is interested in working with city officials.

“We would like folks to understand we have literally thousands of items that are very unique that the public has never seen,” Shirley said.

“We want to be part of this process,” he said of any plan involving the museum. “We have some specific requirements because of our obligation to people both passed on and current that have given these priceless exhibits and our main objective is to preserve these items. If the city can give us a way to do that, we are more than happy” to work with a proposal, Shirley said.

The historical society board last year received a donation to pay $87,000 for a collection of presidential memorabilia “that goes from George Washington to George W.,” Shirley said, “and we have no way to show it to the public.”

Remaining objective

Most of the other work in Rohr’s 2005 plan has been adopted by the council and implemented.

Downtown redevelopment started with Rohr’s concept of a “Sunshine Lamp District,” harking back to Joplin’s heyday as a mining boomtown and redevelopment of its historic buildings. He recommended the council allow the city to establish a public-private partnership that offered city financial contribution toward facade reconstruction for a more historic look of buildings coupled with a streetscaping project to give downtown a new look and space for development.

Parking was changed from metered to time-limited free parking and long-term paid permit parking to eliminate problems caused by customers having to feed meters to keep from getting tickets.

With those items accomplished, the remaining objective in the plan is creating more amenities to feed the city’s economic and cultural development.

Efforts to build Union Depot started in 1908 and actual construction was going on in 1912. The building is noted for architect Louis Curtiss’ use of chat from mines in the concrete walls for what was then detailed in a Popular Mechanics magazine as a novel use of the material to build a fireproof building. The building stands on the site of the original 1870 lead strike that started the mining boom.

Part of the museum complex is devoted to display a collection of minerals and ore that Belk has described as a significant collection.

The neoclassical-styled Carnegie Public Library at Ninth Street and Wall Avenue was built in 1902 with a $40,000 donation by Andrew Carnegie sought by local residents. It was the only Missouri library to receive a second donation from Carnegie who gave another $20,000 later to build a wing onto the building.

Eventually, the building suffered structural problems and the second floor had to be cleared of books because it wouldn’t support the weight. The building survived a fire.

The building ceased operating as a library in 1981 when a new building was built at the site of the former Connor Hotel at Fourth and Main streets.

The Rains Building is located in the 900 block of Main Street. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally built as a hardware store on the main floor with apartments or rooms for rent on the upper floors.

Tuesday’s meeting is at 6 p.m. on the fifth floor of City Hall, 602 Main St.

In an informal session that precedes the formal meeting, the council will hear an update on the effort to select a site for a new fire station proposed for the west side of the city.

Change in date

The council is meeting on Tuesday rather than its regular Monday date because the city observed Monday as the Independence Day holiday.

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