By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A decision by the Joplin City Council authorizing a resolution of intent to move forward with the first of $806 million in tornado redevelopment projects and an agreement to provide a new $25 million building for the Joplin Public Library drew applause from supporters on Monday night and celebratory remarks by proponents.
Leslie Jones, the city’s finance director, told the council that the city staff recommended approval of the resolution of intent, a measure needed to ensure further consideration of a $20 million grant from the Economic Development Administration toward the cost of the library. The city would provide $5 million in financing and property as the matching money for the deal. It is tied to the construction of a $13 million movie theater on the second floor of the building, making the project cost a total of $38 million.
Bonds issued in connection with the newly created tax increment financing district would pay for the construction beyond that provided by the federal grant. The city would lease the theater space, and the TIF bonds would be paid off by lease payments. The entire project would be owned by the city, but the city’s credit would not be used, the City Council was told.
Councilman Bill Scearce said the library originally was projected to cost $20 million, and he asked why the cost had increased to $25 million.
David Wallace, CEO of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, the city’s contracted master developer, said the original proposal was based on a smaller library size. He said that after consultations with the library director and board, the size was enlarged. He said the EDA also wanted some additional streetscape work included that added to the cost.
Councilman Mike Seibert asked if Joplin could support two movie theaters, the proposed new one and the existing Hollywood Theaters Northstar 14 near Northpark Mall.
Wallace said that looking strictly at demographics, Joplin itself could support the sale of 200,000 tickets a year, but the sales at the existing theater are 600,000 a year, attributed to the city’s attraction as a regional entertainment hub. Additionally, a theater could be used for corporate and community events, such as broadcasting a big football game when local teams travel.
City Attorney Brian Head said that if the council authorized the resolutions, there could not be any changes as there were when the council voted to remove the 15th Street viaduct project from a $12 million federal highway grant.
“If we get this EDA grant, you will issue the TIF debt,” Head said. “There’s no second-guessing. This is a very important vote on this issue. You’re giving assurance to a federal entity that you will go ahead” with the project.
Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean asked if the city has sufficient insurance to do the property transactions that will be required. The land will have to be purchased by the Joplin Redevelopment Corp., which last week hit a snag when it learned it was not covered by the city’s public risk and liability insurance. Head said he thought he would have that resolved in a few days. Additionally, the agreement requires the library to transfer ownership of the land at its existing site at Fourth and Main streets to the city when it moves to the new building.
The council passed both resolutions with eight votes in favor and one councilman, Jack Golden, absent.
Members of the audience who worked with the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team gave a round of applause to the council votes.
“This is really a big step in implementing the economic development sector part of the plan,” said Jane Cage, the team chairwoman who led the formation of a plan for recovery from the 2011 tornado based on community input. “The plan called for a multi-use anchor project on 20th Street, so this fits that bill perfectly.”
Wallace said his firm has been working the EDA weekly to develop a plan that would result in the grant approval. He said the resolutions “are extremely important as they complete the application” for the grant. “We’re hopeful the EDA will make a decision within the next 30 days.”
FOUR RESIDENTS and a building contractor addressed the City Council on Monday night about property speculators failing to repair or make safe some lots in the Sunset Ridge addition that were damaged in the tornado.
CITY MANAGER MARK ROHR told the residents that in response to their concerns, he has asked the chairman of the city’s Building Board of Appeals to step up enforcement of city requirements on investor-owned property regarding fencing off basements and swimming pools, and condemning property for demolition if repairs are not made.