The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 15, 2013

Joplin master developer to pitch medical school proposal; City Council is told college should make decision soon

By Debby Woodin

— Local residents may know in about three months whether a medical school will establish a campus in Joplin.

Representatives of the firm contracted as the master developer for tornado redevelopment in Joplin will make a presentation today to the dean of the college, the name of which is not being disclosed. The plan calls for construction of a multistory medical school at the site of the existing Joplin Public Library.

“We feel it is a very compelling presentation we will make,” David Wallace, chief executive officer of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, told the City Council on Monday night. The council met to hear an update on the status of the development projects since it agreed last month to proceed with establishing a 3,000-acre tax increment financing district to help fund parts of the proposed projects.

Wallace said that in addition to the main campus of the school downtown, his firm has other buildings and tracts of land under contract as locations for satellite operations of the medical college should it agree to locate in Joplin. He said a contract is in place on a building from which the existing tenants would be moved in order to give the college a temporary administration building while the other sites are prepared for the campus.

Wallace would not identify the college. He said it would provide up to 600 students and 200 employees if it moved to Joplin.

The college dean will present the details of the proposal made today to the college’s board, which meets in three months and might vote then on whether to proceed, Wallace told the council.

Wallace said the firm has property on the northeast corner of 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue under contract as a site for a new library and movie theater. The plan calls for the movie theater to lease the space from the library.

Representatives of the firm also have been working on securing about 200 residential lots between Jefferson and Highview avenues to build housing that is part of the $806 million in tornado redevelopment projects in the works. Those lots will be sold at cost to stimulate construction, Wallace said. Offers to acquire $12 million to $15 million in commercial property also have been made so that some of the other projects can be built, he told the council.

Councilman Mike Seibert asked how many people will return to Joplin if the projects are built. City Manager Mark Rohr said all but a small number are still within a few miles of Joplin. He said that if the master developer’s projects come to fruition, Joplin’s population will exceed what it was before the 2011 tornado that destroyed or damaged 7,500 houses and apartments and affected about 550 businesses.

Another part of the plan would consolidate Joplin’s two post offices and move state offices into one building. Wallace said that building would be located on Main Street. He did not identify the exact location.

Land acquisitions for some of the projects will be ready to begin by the end of January, the council was told.

In other business, Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg asked that the council discuss whether another tornado memorial needs to be built. He said he believes the dedication of Cunningham Park as a tornado memorial is sufficient. He suggested that land offered to the city at 26th Street and McClelland Boulevard, where St. John’s Regional Medical Center was destroyed by the tornado, be declined. Councilman Morris Glaze said he agrees.

Rohr said the Joplin Museum Complex boards have agreed to the location of a new museum in the SPARK — Stimulating Progress through Arts, Recreation and Knowledge of the past — performing arts area downtown that is part of the master development plans. He said part of that agreement involves having a section of the museum devoted to tornado artifacts.

Seibert suggested that there be discussions with Sisters of Mercy Health System to “make sure we’re all on the same wavelength” about the future of the donated property.

Councilman Mike Woolston suggested that a final decision wait at least until the end of the year so that the city can be sure the SPARK plan will be developed before turning down the St. John’s land.

There was an informal consensus to have the city staff talk with Mercy officials about the status of the proposal before the council makes a final decision.

Next meeting

THE CITY COUNCIL will hold a regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22, because its usual Monday meeting date is a government holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.