By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
More than 100 people came to each of two sessions Monday at City Hall to hear a presentation on the $794 million in projects a master developer firm has proposed for Joplin’s redevelopment and to comment on them.
Residents were asked to post written comments and encouraged to ask questions about each of the projects that make up the proposal by Wallace Bajjali Development Partners of Sugar Land, Texas, which the City Council has contracted to guide the recovery.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said resident and business owner George Bostick at the afternoon session of the overall proposal to build various kinds of housing, a performing arts complex, a medical education complex and various types of retail development. “I hope they get private enterprise involved in it” and not rely strictly on government funding and city backing, Bostick said of the projects.
Resident Bill Pate questioned whether the projects would serve Joplin’s lowest income residents. He cited in particular a proposal to build a public library and movie theater complex on 20th Street.
Pate believes that area could be out of reach for some of the library’s current users.
“I am a retired social worker. I have concerns about a population that is not well represented here. How will those people who go to the library to use the computers access it on 20th Street if they cannot afford to take the (city) trolley?” He said he was speaking of low-income residents who live on the north side of town.
“If this whole thing works, are more and more people being priced out” of accessing Joplin’s activities? Pate asked.
Ben Miller, a certified public accountant, said he lives in Webb City but works in Joplin. He said he came to see what funding sources are to be used for the proposed projects. He was concerned about whether projects could be left hanging if there are federal spending cuts that reduce the amount of grants available to cities.
He said he learned at the session “that a lot of that public funding is already committed” for these projects. That includes $45 million in federal Community Development block grant funding and the potential for $20 million from the Economic Development Administration.
“Some are going to be hard to get public support for,” Miller predicted. He cited a minor league baseball field and team. Wallace told the audiences that the owners of the Amarillo Sox have indicated they would consider putting a team in Joplin if a new field were built.
In the written remarks left by those who attended the evening session, the bulk of the comments in regard to the interest in minor league baseball said Joplin already has a ballpark at the Joplin Athletic Complex.
Some residents are likely to wonder if taxpayers will be supporting these projects 10 years from now if investors in them pull out, Miller said. He said he is reminded of when Joplin city officials in 2007 turned down a proposal by Global Entertainment Corp. to build a hockey arena because of the cost and amount of debt the city would have assumed at a time when some other arena projects were failing.
Charlie Kuehn of Four State Homes, a Joplin builder of residential, commercial and retail projects, said he supports the proposal. “I think it sounds pretty good. They are covering all aspects” of development, “which opens a lot of doors for local builders.”
Asked if the projects list appeared to be achievable, Kuehn said, “I think a lot of it can become reality, especially with the help of the city. Joplin has the potential to grow right now if they do it right. It’s like David (Wallace) said, we can end up with a big scar down the middle or we can build back” from the 2011 tornado, which destroyed or damaged 7,500 homes and about 500 businesses in the central section.
Jane Cage, chairwoman of the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, asked residents to submit comments about what type of tornado memorial they would like to see. Many of the comments supported a site where St. John’s Regional Medical Center was destroyed; it has been donated to the city as a memorial site.
The comments will be posted to the CART’s website later in the week, Cage said.
The $794 million in projects proposed are:
• Land acquisition to site projects— $30 million.
• Housing — $258 million.
• Transitional living housing for seniors — $35 million.
• Salvation Army transitional housing — $2 million.
• Mixed-use residential over retail and commercial space — $56 million.
• Medical office buildings — $74 million.
• Neighborhood revitalization and infrastructure — $8 million.
• Joplin Public Library/theater complex — $20 million.
• Consolidated government office complex — $45 million.
• SPARK performing and visual arts center and Union Depot restoration — $68 million.
• Downtown education complex — $73 million.
• Multipurpose event venue and sports complex — $55 million.
• Hotel and convention center — $70 million.