The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 18, 2014

Joplin's master developer, baseball franchise investor are ex-business partners

JOPLIN, Mo. — Joplin’s master developer and one of the owners of a baseball franchise looking to move to Joplin were once on the same team, partners on a deal in Waco, Texas, that in 2009 ran into financial trouble and ultimately ended up in court.

Today, Michael Wray, one of the partners in the WLD Suarez Baseball LLC group that wants to put a team in Joe Becker Stadium, said there is no relationship between himself and David Wallace, chief executive officer of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, which is under contract to build projects for tornado recovery in Joplin.

But Wray also said he is seeking assurances from Joplin officials that neither Wallace nor anyone else with Wallace Bajjali, of Sugar Land, Texas, “will come ... near our project.”

“We want to stay 500 miles away from him,” Wray said. “We will pull out of Joplin before we work with David Wallace.”

In view of the problems with the Waco deal, Joplin city officials said they are trying to structure agreements with the baseball group so that Joplin will be protected.

Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr said it is his job to see that the two don’t interfere with the outcome of each other’s projects.

“My role is to separate the efforts, and that’s what I am trying to do. I have listened to both individuals’ statements and taken that into consideration, but my role is to advance both efforts and protect the city’s interests, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Wallace, in a short interview last week before he traveled out of the country, called the fact that he and Wray are each working on separate but simultaneous Joplin projects a “fluke.”

Matt LaBranche, executive vice president of WLD Suarez Baseball LLC, who also worked with the franchise when it was operated as the El Paso Diablos, called the fact that both Wallace and Wray are in town “coincidental.”

Wray, who acknowledged he is the “W” in WLD, said, “Funny how the world works.”

Wray, of Austin, Texas, said that he and Wallace had an “amicable” business divorce until recently, when he learned that Wallace spoke to the city manager about his and Wray’s history.

“We would like some assurance that Wallace will stop meddling in our baseball project,” Wray said in a telephone interview last week with the Globe.

Asked what he was referring to, Wray initially said, “I don’t want to go into specifics.”

But then he acknowledged that he was referring to a conversation Wallace had with Rohr about their previous business history.

“They attempted to undermine us, and they weren’t successful,” Wray said.

Wallace said that he had told city officials about Wray and their project together in Waco.

“We have spoken at length and provided information to the city,” Wallace said.

Rohr also said that Wallace had talked to him about Wray but that he does not remember when that conversation took place.

“He verbally expressed to me some of the history they had on that project,” said Rohr, adding that he does not know from an independent source about what happened between the two.

“It’s not unusual for developers to bad mouth each other,” Rohr added.

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