The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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February 11, 2014

Joplin City Council hears status report from master developer

Joplin’s contracted master development firm has spent nearly $3.4 million of its own money to lay the groundwork for $165 million worth of projects, some soon to be under construction, the City Council was told Monday night.

A 60-year-old theater group, Q Cinemas, will be the operator of a new movie theater that will be built along with a new Joplin Public Library.

Those will be built in what will be called the Joplin Town Square center on 20th Street between Connecticut Avenue and Carolyn Place.

The city will own the library, which will be built with a $20 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration.

Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, along with a co-development group named as Four States Development, will own the movie theater, lofts and retail district.

David Wallace, the development firm’s CEO, said a feasibility study suggests that Town Square is a viable project. Lofts are in demand now as young professionals look to locate in areas where they can shop and be entertained, and there would be no problem filling the retail space, Wallace said.

City staff members have examined and approved the cash flow projections for the library and the theater, he said.

It has taken several months to advance that project because Wallace and the city had to develop a clear understanding with the EDA on what work would have to be bid out and what would not, the council was told.

A multifamily housing project is the intended use of property that has been acquired in the area of 26th Street and Jackson Avenue. Wallace said his firm will have a partner in the development, NuRock, the Texas branch of a firm based in Atlanta.

He and the city staff have been working together to separate components of a senior transitional living complex that is to be constructed in an area west of 26th Street and McClelland Boulevard.

The Wallace firm also is working with the board of Mercy Hospital Joplin to build a science and discovery center on part of the land at the site of the former St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which was destroyed by the 2011 tornado. Wallace said $5 million to $6 million is still needed to pay for the construction of the center, which is intended to be a learning center for science and technology for the Joplin School District.

But, several of the original $800 million in projects proposed for the redevelopment will not go forward.

A multipurpose event venue and sports complex anchored by a professional baseball team had been proposed by Wallace, but the city has agreed to lease Joe Becker Stadium to a partnership that proposes to bring a similar team to Joplin.

His lineup of proposals included a letter of intent from the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball to provide a franchise for that project. That league recently granted a franchise to WLD Suarez Baseball, a partnership that wanted to put together a new team to replace what had been the El Paso Diablos.

“Joplin cannot afford to have two minor league ball teams, so we have had to set this project aside,” Wallace told the council. He also said that a city plan to build a $40 million Joplin Commons community and athletic center also renders his sports and event venue unneeded.

Wallace Bajjali also had planned to eventually build a hotel and convention center in the area of Interstate 44 and Range Line Road. It has been determined that the market will not support more than one convention center, Wallace said, and so “we have decided to step back from that.”

His firm’s proposed projects are on a five-year timeline, and the past 18 months have been used to put together the building blocks the plans require, money and land, Wallace said.

“We’re proud of what we have been able to accomplish” since the firm was hired in July 2012, Wallace said.

That has involved generating nearly $100 million in temporary loans, state and federal grants and tax credits, along with local financing tools such as the formation of the Disaster Recovery Tax Increment Financing District in order to pay for the land and future stages of rebuilding, he said, maintaining that the firm’s status on the projects is still on target with the timeline.

Wallace said that with funding, land and partnership agreements secured, “We will be morphing into construction stage.”

At the end of the meeting, Councilman Mike Seibert said he asked that Monday night’s meeting be recorded to be shown on Missouri Southern State University’s television station so that the public could see Wallace’s report.

Seibert said that if public confidence in the master development projects was shaken because no construction has started, the details put forth by Wallace show that it has taken time to get to the construction stage because of the complexities in putting together the money and land.

“You are the right people to be with us in our redevelopment of the city,” Seibert said, to the applause of a nearly full house.

Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean, asked after the meeting if the council intends to move forward with the master development projects despite criticism in a council investigation report of the arrangement, said, “We are in a partnership with Wallace Bajjali, and it behooves us all to work as a partnership.”

The council also gave informal approval to move ahead with seeking out a national firm to conduct a search for candidates to succeed Mark Rohr as city manager. He was by the council last Tuesday.

Reasons for Rohr’s firing have not been disclosed.

The move came after a long closed session in which an outside contracted attorney delivered his conclusions from an investigation the City Council ordered that was supposed to focus on issues involving two City Council members.

Closed session

THE COUNCIL HELD A CLOSED SESSION that was to set the terms of employment for the assistant city manager, Sam Anselm, to be acting city manager.

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