A $794 million list of projects posed for City Council action Monday night gives Joplin residents a looking glass into the city’s potential.
City planner Troy Bolander said the plan, by master developer Wallace Bajjali Development Partners of Sugar Land, Texas, could guide the city’s repopulation and goes beyond replenishing the hole left by the 2011 tornado.
“I think it can improve the quality of life. It can make this area attractive for others to come here,” Bolander said of the master developer plan. “We’re trying to improve the quality of life for our citizens and for new citizens. We could be a destination city for people to come here to work, eat and play and then have the opportunity to say to them, ‘Why don’t you just come and live here?’ I think if we include some of those amenities that Mr. Wallace mentioned, it will help us ask that question.”
The plan includes $302 million in proposed home construction and senior living apartments, a new library and movie theater, a minor league ballfield and events venue, mixed-use loft and commercial complexes, a convention center and hotel, a medical building and a medical education campus and also incorporates projects proposed before the tornado, known as the SPARK plan.
SPARK — Stimulate Progress through the Arts, Recreation and Knowledge of the past — would clear part of the downtown to make room for a performing and visual arts center with an amphitheater and a restored Union Depot attraction. It is part of an effort to make Joplin a more desirable place to live, said Bolander.
City leaders and members of the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team sought a recovery plan that would help the whole city, not solely the tornado zone, Bolander said.
“I think that’s exactly what we see in the SPARK proposal. We have got to make sure that the whole community is taken care of. You don’t want to take care of one part of town and ignore another part of town,” Bolander said. “You have to strategically place these projects in specific areas so that they benefit the whole community.”
City Manager Mark Rohr introduced the plan before the tornado, but it was put on hold after May 22, 2011.
A proposal by the North Group devised for the SPARK project calls for a performing and visual arts center of about 150,000 square feet to be built at First and Main streets. It could house a 1,200-seat auditorium for touring shows, a 500-seat theater for Pro Musica concerts, the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. It also could include spaces that could be used as classrooms for convention and meetings.
An amphitheater would be built at the base of the hill north of the depot. A town green gathering spot would be part of the complex.
It would be managed by Connect2Culture, a local arts organization based in the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.
The center would allow the Spiva Arts Center to have a climate-controlled space with modern security systems to hold visiting art exhibits that it now has to decline.
Broadway shows could be performed in the big auditorium, with Joplin Little Theatre, Heartland Opera Theatre, dance and other groups using the stages too.
Clifford Wert, co-chairman of Connect2Culture, a committee formed by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said that organization signed a letter of support for the proposal.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity for our community to reshape its future, and we look forward, with the unified efforts across the community spectrum, to see these possibilities become a reality.
“It’s all of us working together to find the best for our community and even in the subsequent projects that come,” he said.
Rohr had proposed that the city’s historic Union Depot be restored as a possible site for the Joplin Museum Complex but there had been no commitment by the museum’s governing board and the Joplin Historical Society board to move there. Museum directors in the past had rejected the depot as a place to move because of concerns about the nearby Kansas City Southern railroad line.
David Wallace, chief executive officer of Wallace Bajjali, met recently with the boards of the two organizations and offered to construct another building for them at the location if they did not want the depot.
Museum Board Chairman Clair Goodwin said there was not a quorum of the board present to make any decisions with Wallace, but that museum officials still have concerns about the depot location. Goodwin said he personally would prefer to relocate the existing historical and mineral museum to 26th Street and McClelland Boulevard, where Mercy Hospital has offered land for a tornado museum after St. John’s Regional Medical Center was destroyed by the twister.
For that reason, Wallace has left the depot proposal open to change.
“We haven’t received an indication 100 percent that the museum truly wants to be down in the depot,” Wallace said. “Rather than being presumptuous, until we get more clarity from the museum board as to which direction they would like to go, we kept the plan open.
“If their decision is to move forward and move the museum to this area on Main Street, we know a site where it would go,” he said, referring to a separate building in the area, but that’s a decision the museum directors will have to make. If they do not want the depot, Wallace said interest has been expressed to put two restaurants in the renovated building.
Asked if there would be funding available to build a new museum building at the hospital site, Wallace said, “From the (museum) board’s perspective, if they need to move to another location, we want to do all we can to help them, but we haven’t really focused on that particular site.”
Wallace also told the City Council that he had learned in his discussions that the Joplin Public Library and the Post Memorial Art Reference Library need more space and would like to construct a new building but did not have financing.
He created a proposal to build a new two-story building that would house the library on the first floor and a movie theater on the second floor. He said AMC Theaters has indicated an interest in further considering the possibility of operating a 15-screen theater in Joplin. The theater’s rental of the space would create enough revenue to make the payments on the building, meaning that the library could get larger quarters at no cost to the city.
Library director Jackie Gage said it might be an ideal solution.
“Even before the tornado, our library board was looking at the issues with the library we have now. We are out of space,” Gage said. “The library was built in 1981 before the American with Disabilities Act went into effect and, while most of our library is accessible, the stack widths are not optimal to be accessed by a person in a wheelchair. There is not enough space to spread the stacks out,” she said.
There also is not enough room to enlarge the library’s computer stations for patrons and other services are squeezed in, Gage said.
“As we have added services, we have had to encroach on the other use areas. We knew we were going to have to do something someday but we didn’t know what.”
A proposal to build $73.8 million in buildings for medical clinics, offices for doctors and spaces for outpatient hospital services and for a downtown medical education complex is something that may merits future exploration, hospital administrators said.
Paula Baker, president of Freeman Health Systems, said the Affordable Care Act may bring more need for those types of projects.
“Mr. Wallace provided Freeman Health System with a general overview of how his proposed master development plan could impact Joplin’s medical community,” she said. “This proposal is in a very preliminary state, so no formal agreement has been made for Freeman to be involved in establishing a new medical office building. However, Freeman would certainly give consideration to this opportunity as more details become available.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the individual mandate outlined in the Affordable Care Act will allow more Americans access to health care, thus heightening the already present need for medical professionals. As the only teaching hospital in this community, Freeman continually strives to bring more physicians to our area. Since May 22, 2011, alone, Freeman has signed more than 30 additional physicians. Mr. Wallace’s proposal to create an education center for medical students would help accomplish the same goal of bringing much-needed clinical staff to the Four States.”
Gary Pulsipher, president of Mercy Hospital, said there may be a need in the future. Mercy is building a hospital near Interstate 44 and Hearnes Boulevard that also will house medical clinics and offices for doctors.
“We have been involved in early meetings and we support the concepts,” Pulsipher said. “We will continue to be involved in the future. Though we currently have our physicians placed or have a plan where they will be placed, we may possibly be able to use future buildings for any future recruits we get along the way.”
David Powell, a Leawood developer who recently obtained zoning for property he owns at 44th Street and Connecticut Avenue, said it is possible his development could go after the same business the Wallace Bajjali proposal would seek.
Wallace said that is to be expected.
“There will be others that may be like it,” Wallace said, but “it all comes down to demand and supply and the market studies we will be doing.”
While the proposal includes a vision for a Joplin of the future, many of the details would have to be worked out, including land acquisition, financing and engineering and design.
The City Council on Monday will be asked to authorize several items to begin to advance the proposals, including:
The submission of a $40 million grant request to the federal Economic Development Administration. Up to $37 million would go to construction of SPARK projects and $3 million would be given to the Joplin School District for the Joplin Schools Workforce Development Project at Franklin Technical Center.
The submission of a $100,000 grant application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency to pay for a 20th Street market analysis, a green streets strategy, and to audit city zoning codes and development policies for the area.
Another proposal would give the city manager the authority to proceed with an agreement to allow the master developer to work with the Joplin Redevelopment 353 Corp. for land acquisition.
Bolander said it’s something that holds the promise of changing Joplin’s future and counteract the losses from the tornado.
“It’s still conceptual right now. We realize we still have to go through a needs analysis, but it’s still an exciting time for Joplin.”