A city finance committee tasked to review the feasibility study for a renovated Memorial Hall found that revenue projections were realistic but also recommended the city devise a marketing plan.
Committee co-chairs Tom Franz and Russ Alcorn spoke at a Joplin City Council meeting May 10 on the details of the committee’s recommendation and how it was formulated.
The city hired two firms, SFS Architecture Inc. of Kansas City and Ballard King & Associates of Highland Park, Colorado, to prepare the feasibility study.
SFS examined potential uses for the hall and the spaces and then created renderings of what those spaces could look like along with an annex proposed to the west side of the building.
The firms recommended a $25 million plan to repair and remodel the hall. The design calls for flexible spaces that include accommodations for stage performances, meeting rooms, banquets, recreation programs and a variety of other events.
The council this coming Monday will consider whether to approve proposed ballot language that would ask voters next April to approve up to $30 million in general obligation bonds for the project.
The city’s finance director, Leslie Haase, said the city’s bonding consultants recommended that voters be asked for more than the estimated $25 million construction costs because projects can run into unforeseen expenses. She said that the recent 250% increases in the price of lumber is an example of that.
If voters approve, the bond debt would be paid by the assessment of property and personal property taxes. That could produce tax bills of $55.10 per $100,000 market value on real estate and $19.23 for a $20,000 vehicle.
The finance director was also to determine whether business taxes would be included in those that would have to pay. A four-sevenths, or 57.14%, majority vote of Joplin residents would be required for approval.
The two co-chairmen told the council the finance committee concluded that revenue projections for a remodeled hall were realistic and talked about the process they used to make the determination.
Franz said the committee did not evaluate construction and renovation costs. That is something city officials can do, he said.
“And we didn’t address the achievability of the project,” he said “We’re not marketing experts. We have no idea how many people would use the facility, so what we did do was we talked to the consultants who did the study and we talked to city staff. We tried to evaluate the process that they went through, and based on that process, did we think the results were reasonable?
“As a committee, we agreed the driver of the whole renovation was the revenue the project would generate. We focused a lot on whether Memorial Hall, when renovated, would be able to achieve the revenue that the study said that it would,” Franz said.
The project consultants had two different analyses for determining potential revenue from hall operations. They used a conservative and an aggressive approach.
“Both the city staff and the consultants felt that the aggressive numbers were initially not realistic, so we focused on the conservative revenues, which were about $285,000 a year,” Franz said.
The aggressive plan, which could involve hiring a paid marketer, would potentially generate as much $610,000, according to the feasibility study, but the committee was unsure of that because it did not have adequate historical information of the hall’s past revenue collections. In recent years, revenue had been modest, the committee reported. But city staff told the finance committee they thought revenues from operations would fall in between the conservative and aggressive ranges. There is not much information about operating costs because of the lack of activity at the hall in recent years, according to the city.
Committee members then looked at revenue sources listed in the study.
Those show possible programs that could be offered by the parks and recreation department that could generate fees such as dance and fitness classes as well as sports such as basketball, volleyball, pickleball, floor hockey and futsal. A designated meeting room for the American Legion also would be included with the ability to use that executive meeting space when not used for Legion meetings.
Rental spaces that would be available include the stage, kitchen, main auditorium floor, meeting rooms in the hall and in the annex, a dance studio and the full hall or the full annex or all of the building. Those rental rates could range from $50 an hour for a meeting room to $2,500 for use of the stage for a production.
The rental rate for the hall before the city closed it because of a partial ceiling collapse was $1,000 a day and $250 a day for nonprofits. With the remodeling, a rate of $4,500 could be charged for the rental of the full hall and annex, according to the study.
Rental uses could include such things as concerts, plays, after-prom and after-graduation events, youth sports and adult sports, rodeos, circuses, dances, expos, weddings, craft shows and gun shows.
“We had some comfort the city could promote the recreational events,” Franz said. “Our primary concern was with meeting space since the city hasn’t experienced renting meeting space. Both the staff of City Hall and the Conventon and Visitors Bureau offered to develop a rental plan and talk to other cities about that.”
But the finance committee supports the project.
“First, we felt a community center was important for the city. As well as the described purposes in the study, a facility like that is important for emergency use for things like the (2011) tornado,” Franz said.
It was used as a place for treatment of the injured because Freeman Hospital was overwhelmed and St. John’s Regional Medical Center had been so severely damaged it could not be used.
“We felt the conservative approach was reasonable because it could generate revenue in the range of $285,000, at least in the beginning,” Franz said.
The committee also made some additional findings.
If the renovation plan goes forward, the city should develop a marketing plan to provide revenue for uses other recreation programs, the report states. In developing that plan, city officials should talk to other cities that operate event space to determine best practices for marketing the spaces.
In response to the committee’s report, Councilman Phil Stinnett said that after watching the committee work on the assignment, “I think the city needs to respect that we got a legitimate report. They asked a lot of questions. They diligently sought answers. I think the report is legitimate. But this is all based on whether we can market it effectively. It gives me a feeling of comfort that another group has looked at this.”
The finance committee co-chair, Alcorn, said the committee also recommends that the city have a plan for making repairs and updates to the hall after having invested so much, if the proposal is approved by voters.
“We need to have money set aside in a capital reserve fund so we don’t get into this situation again,” Alcorn said of the current status of the hall.
City staff will look into whether any tax credits would be available that could be used to establish an endowment type of fund for that purpose, he said.
City staff also is looking into parking options for the hall. The committee recommends that the council allocate funding as part of the project costs for parking development.
Mayor Ryan Stanley asked where the committee found comparable figures for other cities that rent meeting space.
“We didn’t really find comparables,” Alcorn said. “We asked the consultants, and they didn’t have any.”
Finance committee members surveyed a list of 10 cities that are similar to Joplin but found that none operated buildings where they rented meeting space, he said.
The committee representatives were asked if they knew why the city needed to offer meeting space. They said the Memorial Hall consultants asked in one of the surveys conducted of the public if meeting space is needed “and one of the highest response rates was that it would be usedn and after talking to people, they came to the conclusion we needed meeting space,” Alcorn said.