The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 2, 2012

Joplin City Council to consider retaining firm as master developer

JOPLIN, Mo. — A predevelopment agreement that would retain a Texas firm as a master developer for economic development and tornado recovery projects will be presented for Joplin City Council action at its meeting tonight.

The council meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 602 S. Main St. An informal session is set for 5:15 p.m.

The council on April 2 approved a letter of intent that gave the city staff permission to negotiate with Wallace Bajjali Development Partners of Sugar Land, Texas.

Hiring a master developer to oversee recovery and development projects in the wake of the May 2011 tornado was the recommendation of the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, city administrators, the Chapter 353 Joplin Redevelopment Corp. and other community leaders. Six firms applied for the role, and Wallace Bajjali was selected by a committee with representation from the cities of Joplin and Duquesne, the Joplin School District, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and the advisory team.

The agreement, if approved by the council, would be made on behalf of Duquesne as well. David Weaver, assistant to Duquesne Mayor Denny White, said Duquesne will take a more active role in working with the firm after there has been time for it to work on some of the Joplin projects.

Joplin City Attorney Brian Head said the predevelopment agreement sets general duties and terms, but that specifics will be worked out in subsequent contracts for individual projects.

Payments to Wallace Bajjali for the work and how the firm is to be paid will be negotiated with the terms of each of those projects, Head said.

City leaders said earlier that taxes will not be imposed to pay the firm. Payment methods could include an agreed percentage of revenue from projects. Head said the contracts also will specify how costs of pursuing the projects will be repaid to the firm.

The agreement on tonight’s agenda enumerates a number of general duties that include coordinating and overseeing the creation of a master plan; conducting feasibility studies of potential projects; coordinating cost estimates; selecting professionals to assess feasibility, and design and construct projects; acting as agent to obtain any needed land for projects; and evaluating bids.

The firm’s chief executive officer, David Wallace, who would be the contract agent to represent the firm, met last week with the redevelopment corporation, a city board, and discussed some projects in general terms.

He said he will disclose in more detail $800 million of projects to the City Council at a work session on July 9. That meeting is planned pending council action tonight on the predevelopment contract.

Additionally, the contract gives the city the right to reject a project, or an investment partner in the projects.

Two previous Wallace Bajjali projects hit snags because of problems involving partners. In one, work was delayed when a partner went bankrupt. In the other, a partner was found to have violated Securities and Exchange Commission rules in a business radio investment, which resulted in Wallace Bajjali paying a fine.

City Manager Mark Rohr previously said the firm’s principals voluntarily disclosed those issues, and a background investigation substantiated the firm’s disclosure. Rohr said he was satisfied that there was no wrongdoing on the part of Wallace Bajjali in those cases.

While the city does not have the authority to approve partners in the agreement, “We have the authority to reject a project if they propose one that might not be appropriate,” the city attorney said. “We have the authority to reject someone as a partner if we don’t think it is appropriate.”

Each project will require study before a deal is signed, he said.

Zoning issue

The  City Council will conduct a public hearing on a zoning request that has been controversial. David Powell, the owner of land at the northeast corner of 44th Street and Connecticut Avenue, is seeking a zoning change from residential to C3-PD, a commercial designation. The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission last month recommended denial of the request because there is no specific plan for the use of the property. Powell had earlier said it would be used for retail and offices, and then told the city that a convalescent hospital or clinic could be built there.

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