Finalized Cornell Complex renderings unveiled today

This rendering shows the front of the Cornell Complex, from Seventh Street and Wall Avenue looking southeast. Courtesy | Connect2Culture

While supporters of the Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex prepare to celebrate groundbreaking, they also have their eyes cast on a future that could allow them to link operations to a renovated Memorial Hall.

The groundbreaking for the Cornell Complex will be conducted at 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, at the construction site at 212 W. Seventh St.

Representatives of the Cornell Complex, Connect2Culture and Spiva Center for the Arts, which will be housed in the complex, will be on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony along with project architects and the construction manager.

Architects for the project are DLR Group/Westlake Reed Leskosky of New York City and Corner Greer & Associates of Joplin. Construction manager for the project is Crossland Construction Co., based in Columbus, Kansas.

"We are thrilled that we have reached this milestone for the groundbreaking of the Cornell Complex," said Sharon Beshore, president of the Cornell Complex. "Our dream is becoming a reality, and at this turning point, it brings optimism about the future of Joplin during these challenging times."

Reaching the construction stage has been a decadelong pursuit by the project's supporters.

"It has been an exciting 10-year journey that has taken the hard work, perseverance and the commitment of many to bring it out of the ground. The possibilities this brings are limitless, and we hope this complex will build bridges needed to support and grow our community and the region through the arts," Beshore said.

Beshore is the daughter of Cornell, the lead donor of the project.

Scheduled to open late next year, the complex will offer galleries for the Spiva Center for the Arts and a 470-seat performance hall that will be convertible for other uses.

With an outdoor amphitheater, festival plaza and rooftop venues, the complex will accommodate up to 2,000 people for a variety of events. It also will offer office space for arts organizations.

Donors recently surpassed a $16 million pledge goal for the Cornell Complex, and a new goal of $17.5 million has been set.

The groundbreaking comes shortly on the heels of the release of a feasibility study for the city's 97-year-old Memorial Hall that recommended a renovation or a renovation and addition that could cost up to $25 million. The complex is being built on land that has served as a parking lot for the hall.

"We will continue to express our support for the great synergy opportunities with the Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex and the exciting prospects for a related and expanded Memorial Hall," said Clifford Wert, president and CFO of Connect2Culture and chairman of a capital campaign for the Cornell Complex.

The Memorial Hall proposal envisions the vacation of Eighth Street for a pedestrian plaza that would connect to the Cornell complex.

There would be repairs inside and outside at the hall. An 8,500-square-foot addition on the west side of the building adjacent to Wall Avenue is proposed. It could be used as a multipurpose space for large and small events from exercise classes to meetings and banquets.

Fixed seating on the hall's main floor would be removed to provide a renovated space for recreation programs and flexible seating arrangements for a variety of functions for theatrical performances, banquets and other purposes. Seating capacity would be 1,175.

New meeting rooms would be built on the mezzanine level on the northwest and northeast corners in place of fixed seating, and new seating would be provided for the remaining fixed seating area with capacity of 575.

Wert said that by bridging what is now Eighth Street, the outdoor plazas of the Cornell Complex and Memorial Hall would provide a continual community gathering space.

"It's just a wonderful tie-in and joining of the brand new with a renovated historical community asset," Wert said.

Lori Haun, executive director of the Downtown Joplin Alliance, said the renovated hall with or without the addition could work to provide spaces for events of all kinds.

"It makes sense to do the addition if the revenues and cost recoup will be better," she said. "It also allows for more opportunities in the space."

Asked if there is a demand for the variety of spaces the hall could provide, Haun said, "We are anticipating around 300 apartments and an estimated $120 million in construction/renovation projects over the next five years in downtown. That makes for a target audience who would be excellent customers for the services and opportunities provided at a renovated Memorial Hall."

The multiuse spaces proposed for the hall would complement the Cornell Complex, Haun said.

"While not a traditional convention center, those two anchor pieces with shared grounds creates opportunity to host larger scale events and activities than we have recently been able to do. Memorial Hall would be a community center of sorts that we don't currently have, and it, with Cornell, would create a sort of traditional town square that will be a great addition to downtown."

An agreement between the city and C2C regarding the location also stipulated that historic landmark status would be obtained for the hall so that it would qualify for the use of state and federal historic tax credits to help pay for renovation of the building.

That work is nearing completion. It has been listed as a local landmark. A study is being finished to seek national designation.

Jill Sullivan, who chairs the city's Historic Preservation Commission, said a consultant hired to do the study to apply for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places will give a presentation on his findings May 6 at City Hall. The application will then be heard July 9 by the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to decide if it can be listed.

"I'm glad to see there is such an interest in the future of Memorial Hall, and I'm glad we are all working together to see what that future should look like," Sullivan said.

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