A $794 million list of projects posed for City Council action Monday night gives Joplin residents a looking glass into the city’s potential.
City planner Troy Bolander said the plan, by master developer Wallace Bajjali Development Partners of Sugar Land, Texas, could guide the city’s repopulation and goes beyond replenishing the hole left by the 2011 tornado.
“I think it can improve the quality of life. It can make this area attractive for others to come here,” Bolander said of the master developer plan. “We’re trying to improve the quality of life for our citizens and for new citizens. We could be a destination city for people to come here to work, eat and play and then have the opportunity to say to them, ‘Why don’t you just come and live here?’ I think if we include some of those amenities that Mr. Wallace mentioned, it will help us ask that question.”
The plan includes $302 million in proposed home construction and senior living apartments, a new library and movie theater, a minor league ballfield and events venue, mixed-use loft and commercial complexes, a convention center and hotel, a medical building and a medical education campus and also incorporates projects proposed before the tornado, known as the SPARK plan.
SPARK — Stimulate Progress through the Arts, Recreation and Knowledge of the past — would clear part of the downtown to make room for a performing and visual arts center with an amphitheater and a restored Union Depot attraction. It is part of an effort to make Joplin a more desirable place to live, said Bolander.
City leaders and members of the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team sought a recovery plan that would help the whole city, not solely the tornado zone, Bolander said.
“I think that’s exactly what we see in the SPARK proposal. We have got to make sure that the whole community is taken care of. You don’t want to take care of one part of town and ignore another part of town,” Bolander said. “You have to strategically place these projects in specific areas so that they benefit the whole community.”
City Manager Mark Rohr introduced the plan before the tornado, but it was put on hold after May 22, 2011.
A proposal by the North Group devised for the SPARK project calls for a performing and visual arts center of about 150,000 square feet to be built at First and Main streets. It could house a 1,200-seat auditorium for touring shows, a 500-seat theater for Pro Musica concerts, the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. It also could include spaces that could be used as classrooms for convention and meetings.
An amphitheater would be built at the base of the hill north of the depot. A town green gathering spot would be part of the complex.
It would be managed by Connect2Culture, a local arts organization based in the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.
The center would allow the Spiva Arts Center to have a climate-controlled space with modern security systems to hold visiting art exhibits that it now has to decline.
Broadway shows could be performed in the big auditorium, with Joplin Little Theatre, Heartland Opera Theatre, dance and other groups using the stages too.
Clifford Wert, co-chairman of Connect2Culture, a committee formed by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said that organization signed a letter of support for the proposal.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity for our community to reshape its future, and we look forward, with the unified efforts across the community spectrum, to see these possibilities become a reality.
“It’s all of us working together to find the best for our community and even in the subsequent projects that come,” he said.
Rohr had proposed that the city’s historic Union Depot be restored as a possible site for the Joplin Museum Complex but there had been no commitment by the museum’s governing board and the Joplin Historical Society board to move there. Museum directors in the past had rejected the depot as a place to move because of concerns about the nearby Kansas City Southern railroad line.
David Wallace, chief executive officer of Wallace Bajjali, met recently with the boards of the two organizations and offered to construct another building for them at the location if they did not want the depot.
Museum Board Chairman Clair Goodwin said there was not a quorum of the board present to make any decisions with Wallace, but that museum officials still have concerns about the depot location. Goodwin said he personally would prefer to relocate the existing historical and mineral museum to 26th Street and McClelland Boulevard, where Mercy Hospital has offered land for a tornado museum after St. John’s Regional Medical Center was destroyed by the twister.
For that reason, Wallace has left the depot proposal open to change.
“We haven’t received an indication 100 percent that the museum truly wants to be down in the depot,” Wallace said. “Rather than being presumptuous, until we get more clarity from the museum board as to which direction they would like to go, we kept the plan open.
“If their decision is to move forward and move the museum to this area on Main Street, we know a site where it would go,” he said, referring to a separate building in the area, but that’s a decision the museum directors will have to make. If they do not want the depot, Wallace said interest has been expressed to put two restaurants in the renovated building.
Asked if there would be funding available to build a new museum building at the hospital site, Wallace said, “From the (museum) board’s perspective, if they need to move to another location, we want to do all we can to help them, but we haven’t really focused on that particular site.”