The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 15, 2012

Joplin's master developer says land purchases to start soon

By Debby Woodin

JOPLIN, Mo. — A new housing program for Joplin that helps buyers build equity while keeping payments low will be rolled out within the next two months, Joplin’s master developer told the City Council on Monday night.

“We are well under way with this,” said David Wallace, president of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners of Sugar Land, Texas. It is a program developed by the firm and the Salvation Army to help homebuyers with moderate income restrictions buy a house and keep payments at about $450 instead of $700 to $800. The buyers also will receive assistance in paying down the home loan so that they will accrue $30,000 to $40,000 in equity in about five years as an incentive to buy a house.

Wallace said it is one of the facets of the firm’s $800 million redevelopment plan to help Joplin recover from the 2011 tornado. One of the hurdles in repopulating the city is providing affordable housing for some of the people whose modest homes were destroyed by the tornado. The incentive to build equity fast with a low monthly payment also might be attractive to recent college graduates or young workers who might come to Joplin rather than other cities because of the homebuying opportunity, Wallace told he council.

He said the firm has developed a communications program that will start soon. It will put out the word throughout the Four-State Area about the Principal Reduction Program to try to attract buyers to Joplin.

The houses are to be built by contractors who are members of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Missouri or contractors who agree to comply with the organization’s standards, Wallace said.

City Manager Mark Rohr said that while the city has been tracking building permits — 79 percent of the housing units damaged by the tornado have been repaired, rebuilt or are under contract — city officials believe tracts along 20th Street lie vacant because owners are waiting to see what else will be built there.

Wallace said the firm will be trying to assemble 8,000 pieces of property ranging in size from residential lots to several acres on which to build housing, and for retail and commercial development.

“We are starting to get ready to buy land” through the city’s Joplin Redevelopment 353 Corp., he said. The land will be bought, sold or developed, with the proceeds deposited with the 353 operation for future projects.

Wallace said one project he anticipates locating somewhere on land along 20th Street is a new Joplin Public Library and movie theater complex. That project has now become intertwined with the proposed SPARK project as the result of funding. SPARK — Stimulating Progress through Arts, Recreation and Knowledge of the past — is a development plan aimed primarily at the downtown area that was introduced by Rohr in 2010.

The city has applied for a $40 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, but it is likely that the agency will have $20 million available to award Joplin instead, Wallace said. The developer had proposed using the $40 million toward the construction of a $68 million arts and museum complex downtown.

Wallace told the council that he is changing that plan to use the $20 million for the library/theater project. That means Joplin could have a new library at no local cost, he said, while the money generated by the lease of space in that building to a movie theater chain would be applied to the debt to build the SPARK project. Some of the seating and theater screens could be used for seminars conducted by the library, enlarging the space it would have for educational and entertainment programs. The SPARK project calls for a performance and visual arts center of about 150,000 square feet to be built at First and Main streets. It also would have an amphitheater and could involve the restoration of the Union Depot.

The council voted to authorize the city manager to submit a letter of support and a revised application for the Economic Development Administration funds reflecting the change in the funding amount.

So far, the firm has identified sources for about $300 million in capital for the $794 million it proposes in projects, Wallace told the council.

In addition to hearing the Wallace update, the council passed a number of ordinances to put in place the fiscal 2013 city budget.

Sewer, trash billing

THE JOPLIN COUNCIL on Monday approved a series of ordinances setting in place contracts for the city to take over sewer and trash billing from Missouri American Water Co. beginning Dec. 1. The water company earlier this year notified the city that it would no longer provide billing services for city sewer and trash services, as it has been doing.