The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 4, 2012

Jo Ellis: Consultant asks Carthage leaders to dream big

By Jo Ellis
Globe Columnist

CARTHAGE, Mo. — City officials and community leaders representing educational, health, social services, business and cultural organizations met Friday after being asked a week earlier to dream their biggest dream for Carthage, if money were no object.

Leading the daylong session at Memorial Hall was Ralph Ochsner, chief executive officer for Ochsner, Hare & Hare, a Kansas City firm hired by the directors of the Steadley Trust to identify the city’s future needs that can be met by grant funding.

Needs and goals were identified for the downtown square, parks and recreation, housing, economic development, infrastructure, cultural assets, education, social services, city services, and tourism promotion.

A thriving, pedestrian-oriented downtown with an active farmers market, a variety of businesses and nighttime entertainment, perhaps even a movie theater, was envisioned for the Carthage square.

A long list of desires was compiled for the parks system. Alan Bull, city parks director, said there is a need for more soccer fields, better parking, signs and improved roads through the parks, a tree fund, and an enclosed shelter house. While the softball field at Rock Stadium is recognized as one of the best in the area, there are issues with the enclosure (built in Works Project Administration days), the restrooms and the stands.

City Administrator Tom Short said the city hopes to tie some of the recreational areas together with walking and biking trails.

“These things are going to be the draw in the next 20, 30, 40 years,” said Larry Chapin, a city councilman. He said they would be the best asset for members of a younger generation who are very aware of the benefits of exercise.

Dick Fanning, reporting for the economic development committee, said a nonprofit group, Citizens for a Better Carthage, has been formed and already has a project under way. He said Leggett & Platt Inc. has donated the old Smith Brothers parking lot at Sixth and Howard streets, appraised at $151,000, to the group.

“We have plans for a 75- by 175-foot open air pavilion with handicap restrooms and an equipped kitchen, all protected with chain-link fencing and landscaped,” Fanning said. “The bids are all there. We are ready to go, and we’ve been encouraged to file for a grant from the Steadley Trust.” The area could be used for a farmers market, citywide garage sales or auctions, he said.

Blaine Henningsen, Carthage R-9 superintendent, said the school system is experiencing a population bubble that will hit the junior high school in a few years. The largest classes now are kindergarten, first grade and second grade. An additional trailer will be needed for growth at Mark Twain Elementary, along with an improved vocational training building. Plans for a football field at the high school and tennis courts are on the drawing board, he said, but no funding is currently available.

Ochsner told the group that cities tend to overlook substandard housing that is detrimental to a city’s image. A housing market study to determine potential development, or a nonprofit housing corporation, might be advisable, he said.

An opportunity exists for office buildings in the vicinity of the new hospital, Ochsner said. He noted that the five interchanges serving the city “are all pretty nondescript.” Improving them with lighting and landscaping would “make it more inviting to turn off the Interstate into Carthage.”

Ochsner said an emphasis on how to expand both the sales tax and property tax bases should be high on the city’s priority list. Short said that even with cuts, the city has accomplished several projects because department heads have done things internally and stretched their money.

Ochsner praised city leaders. He said many projects may be fundable by the Steadley Trust, but hopefully some ideas that are developed can be implemented by the city on its own. A final report will be sent to all participants and to the trust directors. Developing a unified strategic plan would be helpful to guide them in making funding decisions, he said.

ADDRESS CORRESPONDENCE to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email news@joplinglobe.com.