The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 9, 2012

Developer outlines $794 million in possible Joplin revitalization projects

Council to act on initial steps next week

Joplin’s master developer Monday night asked the City Council to authorize further work toward exploring 19 potential projects that would cost $794 million if they were all constructed.

Those potential projects could include a new home for the Joplin Public Library, proposed at no cost to taxpayers, and a $68 million performing arts complex that city leaders and arts supporters had sought before last year’s tornado destroyed a third of the city.

David Wallace, chief executive officer of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners of Sugar Land, Texas, spoke to city leaders during a council work session Monday to reassure them that the firm will stand behind its work here.

“We don’t just go in and build an asset, and leave it alone,” said Wallace, a former city manager himself. He said the firm will commit to projects that will create long-term economic benefits to the city because Wallace Bajjali will be invested here, too.

“We need to bring things that are viable,” he said. “Nobody wants a project that fails,” and the firm as well as other investors will be conducting market studies before any particular project is proposed to be sure it is economically viable.

The council will be asked at its regular meeting Monday to authorize the necessary steps to proceed.

Land acquisition was the first step recommended. Wallace recommended that $8 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds and $22 million in bonds from the Missouri Development Finance Board Program be allocated to the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation, a city board, to start land purchases. The land could be used for several purposes. It could be used to consolidate tracts for development or it could be sold for redevelopment. Proceeds can be used to set up a revolving loan fund for economic development projects, according to the Wallace Bajjali proposal.

The largest of the proposals, a $258 million housing program to replace some of the 7,500 houses and apartments lost in the tornado, would be the priority, Wallace said in response to a question from Councilman Mike Woolston.

That would include $162.5 million for the construction of 1,300 houses that would be sold at market rates for about $125,000 each. There also would be housing for low-income residents and for senior citizens.

A $68 million performing arts complex and Union Depot restoration downtown might be funded from a large portion of a grant — perhaps $30 million — from the Economic Development Administration, Wallace said.

A larger Joplin Public Library could be built and financed by revenue generated from leasing an upper floor of the building to a movie theater company, Wallace told the council.

The library’s existing site could provide land for construction of a downtown education complex that might bring Joplin a medical college and student housing, he said.

These types of projects have been done in other cities where Wallace Bajjali has worked, including its hometown of Sugar Land.

The firm has experience relevant to Joplin in two other cities affected by tornados: a $350 million redevelopment of Waco, Texas, and a $113 million project in Amarillo, Texas.

Wallace said some of the projects might be in operation within three to five years, though the initial stages would appear to come slowly as the land is acquired, the financing pieces put together, and the projects engineered and designed.

Asked by Councilman Jack Golden whether the housing projects would be coordinated with what is already being provided in projects by nonprofit and church organizations, and by developers using tax credits from the Missouri Housing Development Corp., Wallace said they would be.

Councilman Mike Seibert asked if Wallace would use local contractors and professionals for the projects. Wallace said he would because the projects would not stimulate the local economy otherwise. “There is no sense in getting government grants and then cycling them to Texas,” he said.

Asked by Golden how long the firm would be in Joplin, Wallace said the firm is making a long-term investment here. He said the firm still owns all of the projects in which it has invested in other cities.

Wallace told the council he may propose 30 to 40 projects over time, and they will all have to be assessed. He also will hold community meetings to get resident input on the proposals.

“I don’t know what else he has in mind,” said City Manager Mark Rohr after the meeting. “These cover a lot of ground from housing to those that affect quality of life issues, so I think it’s pretty well-rounded.”

“I’m excited,” said Jerrod Hogan, co-founder of Rebuild Joplin, of the Wallace Bajjali proposal. “Our mission is to see that everyone has safe, affordable housing. I don’t know that this will directly impact Rebuild Joplin, but it will help support our mission.”

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