The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 12, 2012

Railroad to build new lines next to site of proposed Joplin cultural arts complex

City leaders seek railroad’s help in limiting noise impact

JOPLIN, Mo. — A planned expansion of rail lines in the Kansas City Bottoms appears to be nearing a start despite the efforts of city leaders to get the project moved from the Union Depot area, where a $68 million cultural arts complex is planned.

Joplin city officials and cultural arts leaders have been negotiating with Kansas City Southern Railway Co. and Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad since May to try to get the companies to reroute the construction of side rails that is to begin in October in the Kansas City Bottoms.

Details regarding the railroad project and negotiations were disclosed in documents the Globe obtained from an open-records request made of the city after Joplin officials and a spokesman for Kansas City Southern would say little when asked about the project.

David Wallace, president of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners of Sugar Land, Texas, said he and city leaders reached a resolution by negotiating an agreement with Kansas City Southern at a meeting in late July. That agreement calls for the railroad to provide money for a soundproofing wall and fencing, and to make other efforts to try to limit the effects of train noise on the cultural arts center.

According to the documents, the city’s public works director, David Hertzberg, and assistant public works director, Jack Schaller, met with railroad officials May 10 and told them about the cultural arts complex plan. It involves construction of a performing arts center, a new gallery and arts education space for Spiva Center for the Arts, an amphitheater and town green, and a restored Union Depot in the area of First and Main streets, on a hill above the railroad line.

Negotiations

In a letter dated May 16, Hertzberg asked Kansas City Southern to look for alternative locations for what was described as a “parallel railroad car storage track” to be built in the area of Union Depot. According to the letter, Hertzberg was to meet with railroad officials on May 23 with the purpose of looking at additional locations for the railroad to build the side rails away from the cultural arts project, called SPARK — Stimulating Progress through Arts, Recreation and Knowledge of the past.

In a memo on June 27 to City Manager Mark Rohr, Hertzberg and Schaller reported that the railroad project would involve construction of two parallel tracks more than a half-mile in distance through the Union Depot/Landreth Park valley. The purpose of the new rails is to serve as side yard for storing up to 49 cars on each line.

“We spoke with both rail companies about relocating the tracks to a different area so as not to interfere with the proposed Spark Project,” the public works officials wrote. “The railroads informed us they have looked at all of the areas within as well as outside the city limits of Joplin. This was the only area they had that was 1) close enough, 2) geometrically plausible, 3) could be done in the time frame they needed.”

They wrote that the two rail companies have been competitors but are sharing a business venture in which MNA will pick up and drop off rail cars on the side rails for KCS to pick up and take to clients.

The downtown area is the only place where the two lines can cross each other, according to the memo. They are within 30 miles of each other at Fort Scott, Kan., but it would cost them $2 to $3 million to build rails that could connect them there, which is financially unfeasible, the memo reports.

The side rails cannot be built between Fourth and 15th streets, where MNA stops at a metal scrap yard near 10th Street, because the rail line in that area is already on the maximum radius of a curve that a rail car can travel, and there is not enough time for the railroads to wait for a straight line of track to be built in that area, the memo reports.

There was only one mitigating option that the railroads would support. That is to build a noise-dampening wall in the area of the SPARK project, the memo concludes.

Economic benefits

The documents indicate that city officials asked Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, to aid them in further negotiations with the railroads.

O’Brian spoke with a railroad official on July 3 and arranged for a meeting to take place among railroad executives, representatives of the city, and officials with the chamber’s cultural affairs committee and Connect2Culture, which is promoting construction of the arts complex.

In his correspondence with Warren Erdman of KCS, O’Brian tells him: “We have had input from the Economic Development Administration that it would look favorably on putting significant dollars into the (SPARK) project because it will create jobs, add momentum to the downtown and be a symbol of building back better for our community” as a result of the 2011 tornado.

“Of course, KCS and MNA have a project that will also enhance economic development with the two additional sidings, which we greatly appreciate. From our architect’s point of view, there is ample room for discussion to make both projects successful.”

The Joplin City Council last month authorized an application for $40 million in grant funds from the federal Economic Development Administration. The money would be used toward the SPARK performing arts project and for a work force training program the school district wants to offer at Franklin Technology Center.

Wallace, with Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, has previously told the council there is no guarantee that Joplin will receive the full amount of the grant.

A meeting with Erdman, executive vice president of administration and corporate affairs at KCS, took place July 20 in Kansas City as a result of O’Brian’s request.

Wallace attended the meeting as the city’s master developer. His firm was hired to help with rebuilding and improvements in Joplin in the wake of the May 2011 tornado. He told the Globe recently that the meeting also was attended by Hertzberg and Clifford Wert, president of U.S. Bank in Joplin and co-chairman of the Connect2Culture committee.

Wallace told the Globe that the meeting “all in all went well.” SPARK officials amended the plans for the amphitheater to move it 40 feet farther away from the area where the side rails are to be built. KCS agreed to make a contribution to the SPARK project to try to mitigate the train noise. Wallace said the railroad will give enough to build a noise-dampening wall behind the amphitheater.

KCS also agreed to build a fence separating the depot and the rail lines so that people would not walk onto the rail lines. The railroad also agreed to establish a quiet zone through the city to limit horn noise. Crossing arms will be installed where needed, and whistles will be fixed lower on the train engines so that they blow at the level of street traffic rather than up in the air, Wallace said.

Wallace said part of the purpose of the side rails is to supply a food manufacturer that is coming to Joplin, though city and chamber officials have not confirmed that. O’Brian did refer to the railroad providing services to area manufacturers.

KCS is the largest shipper hauling products to and from Mexico and to Gulf of Mexico ports.

“In a general sense, this opportunity — when you have a Class 1 railroad like KCS that has ports on the Gulf of Mexico to bring products in and out of the middle of the country — has been a good pursuit by Kansas City Southern,” O’Brian said. “Building a relationship with the Missouri North Arkansas Railroad to switch loads out with manufacturers in the area on the MNA line can have a long-term great economic benefit” to Joplin.

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