Joplin city officials were directed Monday night by the City Council to go forward with writing requests to receive proposals from consultants for uses and viability of the Ewert Park pool and Memorial Hall.

Once the details of the requests are developed, they will be presented to council in a formal meeting next month for consideration of any additions council members want to see specified or potential approval.

The council heard presentations from the parks director and city finance director regarding the need for the studies during a two-hour work session.

Paul Bloomberg, the parks director, gave the council a look at attendance figures and uses of the city pools and the hall.

Regarding Memorial Hall, the city's finance director, Leslie Haase, said a study should provide a current structural analysis of the hall and information about what could be appropriate uses of the hall in a community the size of Joplin.

One of the main points to address is whether it is viable as a concert venue in view of the city's agreement with Connect2Culture giving the arts organization first right of refusal on a future lease or purchase of the hall to use for that purpose. Connect2Culture has conducted a capital drive to secure $16 million to build the Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex on the existing parking lot that has served the hall.

Clifford Wert, president of the group, brought a preliminary model of the planned arts center and the hall to show the council.

"We have said over and over again that we see great synergistic potential between the plan for the Harry M. Cornell Arts Complex with Memorial Hall," Wert said. Connect2Culture also supports placing the hall on the National Register of Historic Places for the potential tax credits that could help with the cost of renovating the hall to combine it with the complex project.

"We really want to be a part of this process of speaking into the plan" for the needs of renovating the building so that it would be suitable to bring national touring performances to Joplin as a part of the eventual complex.

"This is going to happen," Wert said of the first phase of the plan for the arts center. He said Connect2Culture will break ground in a year or even before that to construct the new building envisioned on the parking lot site.

Asked by Councilman Taylor Brown what the organization would like to see in the study, Wert said "flexibility. We want to see maximum flexibility for all our facilities."

Both Councilman Doug Lawson and Mayor Gary Shaw voiced support for preserving the hall for future use. Lawson said he would like to see a 2,000- to 3,000-seat venue with the prospect of working out its use by Connect2Culture. He also wants to see the war memorials at the building preserved.

Shaw said, "It can hold large groups of people, and I still think it's viable. It's like anything else, it needs a champion."

The Ewert Park pool, which opened in 1925, was remodeled in 2003 to add water park features with larger deck space and a zero-entry main pool.

Bloomberg discussed the difficulty the parks department has encountered in retaining enough life guards each summer to staff the city's three pools. He suggests that a study needs to look at the question of whether Joplin needs three pools and options for how to use the pool area.

He suggested converting the pool into a free splash park and will ask that the study address how much it would cost to convert or rebuild the pool area into different versions of a splash park with the possibility of a winter conversion for ice skating. The study also could look at removing the pool and expanding the skate park that exists in the park. Another option would be to renovate the pool.

Bloomberg said a splash park could be operated for less money and would not require as many lifeguards as it does currently. It could be that the city could operate the splash park without charging admission, which would give the city a free attraction.

The city officials want to commission the studies so they could use the information provided as a basis for developing ideas for a potential renewal of the quarter-cent parks and stormwater sales tax.

Haase said a slate of potential projects needs to be developed so that the council could consider asking voters next year to renew the quarter-cent parks and stormwater sales tax. The tax was last approved by voters the summer after the 2011 tornado and will be due for renewal next year.

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