Joplin’s seventh fire station is one of the projects 2023 will bring as the city pushes forward on more than three dozen initiatives and building plans for parks, streets, stormwater drainage, trails and other city improvements.

Construction started last fall on the $4.5 million Fire Station No. 7 due to be completed in late summer. Local contractor R.E. Smith Construction Co. is building the station at 6720 E. 30th St., near the Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park.

The station is the last of the original projects that were to be built with the half-cent public safety sales tax that voters approved in 2006.

In addition, Joplin city staff will continue to pursue numerous grants through the American Rescue Plan Act that could bring funding up to $57 million worth of for local infrastructure construction and other projects, said City Manager Nick Edwards.

“Overall, I think these next couple of years are going to be really transformative for us,” he said. “I have to give credit to the City Council. They’re a visionary group that are interested in taking on some of the difficult problems and leading change in the community.”

The city manager said that in early talk about ARPA, it was compared to the Works Progress Administration. That was President Franklin Roosevelt’s mid-1930s New Deal program in which the effects of the Great Depression were countered by a federal infusion of money to fuel jobs and public projects and turn around a dismal economy.

“I think we’re just now seeing glimpses of that,” Edwards said, in the ARPA grants now being sought by city administrators. “These are really impactful projects that we’re pursuing, things that shouldn’t have another financial impact on the community, meaning we won’t have to necessarily look for (local) tax revenue” to fund.

Street projects

Dan Johnson, public works director, said one of the big projects for the city this year is the final push to complete the $8 million widening of West 32nd Street as scheduled by the end of summer.

That work involves adding a center turn lane and construction of a sidewalk and shared-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists. It includes increasing sight lines along the hills of the route. Smoothing the road and intersections from Schifferdecker Avenue to Central City Road to make it a safer corridor is an important part of the project.

“We are really excited because it’s such a big project,” Johnson said. “It’s very rare we get that much earth moving and a completely new road where the improvement will be so obvious to anyone who uses that road. It will be much safer and just a dramatic improvement. and it’s going well. There’s a lot to see on that project right now.”

In addition, the city will soon send out request for qualifications to seek the design and management of Main Street streetscaping from Eighth Street south to 15th Street to upgrade the look of that district.

Also in the works is a Missouri governor’s cost-share grant application for the widening of the Zora Street from Range Line Road to Missouri Highway 249, commonly known as the Range Line bypass.

New trails coming

Design work continues for a future revamp of the intersection of Fourth Street and Murphy Boulevard. There will be a meeting coming up for public questions and comments about the project design.

“It’s not just an intersection realignment; it’s not just improvements there that will help make it a safer intersection and easier to drive through,” Johnson explained. “But it’s also going to be a more attractive intersection. It’s not just an intersection, it’s one of the main entry points to Landreth Park.”

Landscaping of city property around the intersection will be done and the 1930s rock wall on the northeast corner will be repaired and landscaped. It is one of the projects being done as one of the city action plans to accomplish council goals. Parking will be added for those who want to walk or bicycle the trail through the park. This is part of a city initiative to improve community appearance.

Also, new trails through south Joplin, the Tin Cup and Grand Falls trails, are being planned for completion.

Johnson said a recent walk with project consultants along the routes offers numerous scenic vistas. The Grand Falls area close to McIndoe Park on Glendale Road and south Jackson Avenue is one of Joplin’s most visited spots for both local and out-of-town visitors. The falls are the largest on a continually flowing stream in Missouri.

“We kept catching ourselves saying ‘this is so pretty here,” and “what nice scenery here,” Johnson said. “This Tin Cup and the Grand Falls trails, I believe, will be more popular than our most popular current trail. The highest count of visitors right now is on Frisco Trail. But I believe that our Tin Cup Trail and Grand Falls Trail, when they are completed, will surpass the amount of users on the Frisco Trail.”

Visitors will be able to park at McIndoe Park and walk down to the trails to take a walk or a family outing.

Trail construction will go out for bid later this year. Johnson is uncertain when the work will be done because the city will have to obtain special permits to do work in a flood plain as well as obtain state and federal environmental clearances. If the permits come through timely, construction could start as soon as fall, he said.

Parks upgrades

Officials are working toward hiring two park rangers as part of the plans for Parks and Recreation, and the city action plan to make the community safer.

Edwards said applications have been taken to fill the jobs.

Also, a consultant will be sought this year to oversee a future construction project at Ewert Park.

The $5.9 million project will remake the existing pool into a free splash park as well as construct a covered basketball court, add a small amphitheater and erect signs detailing the history of Ewert, one of Joplin’s oldest parks. It was dedicated to the use of the African American residents.

There also is a grant application to the cost-share program offered through Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s office to help pay for the Dover Outdoor Recreation Area bike park that was included in the most recent parks master plan.

Neighborhood plans

The effort to launch the city’s neighborhood improvement work has started and involves renovation of part of the first floor of City Hall to house an office for the purpose.

The City Council will be asked in February to formally authorize the addition of seven positions for that operation, which is one of the action plans in the council’s strategic plan adopted two years ago.

Those positions will largely restaff the city’s planning, development and neighborhood improvement department which lost several positions in 2016 when staff cuts were made because of a deficit budget.

The department head, Troy Bolander, said, “We really hope to get back to the neighborhood improvement work rather than focus on code enforcement but have the capacity to enforce code violations” when necessary. Previously the city repaired infrastructure such as streets and sidewalks as well as stormwater drains and wastewater systems while working with neighborhood leaders to clean up yards and repair houses.

Part of the grant applications being issued for ARPA funding involve those types of projects.

While the city has been criticized for hiring consultants and conducting studies before making final plans to pursue projects, Tony Robyn, the assistant city manager, said those studies have put Joplin a step ahead in the application process for the ARPA and state grants.

The process for applying for those grants involves resident input, public hearings and City Council authorization, all of which have been obtained through the effort to conduct studies and put together master plans for the city’s various divisions, Robyn said.

The need to show that those steps have already been done in the planning for the projects has put Joplin ahead because many cities do not have those steps already in place in order to be ready to apply for ARPA and state grants, Robyn said.

Library, broadband

Another goal in 2023 will be to see if a buyer comes forward for the former Joplin Public Library building at 302 S. Main St.

Proposals from those interested in acquiring the building are due by Feb. 1. Robyn said three group tours of the building have been given to a number of interested people. He said he hopes to have some offers on the building when the application period for proposals closes in a couple of weeks.

Another major project in the works this year is the effort to bring more access to broadband internet service to Joplin.

Access to affordable, reliable and widespread broadband internet service in Joplin is a big need, according to a 2021 study obtained by city officials.

A broadband analysis report developed by CCG Consulting of Ashville, North Carolina, and Finley Engineering of Lamar points to gaps in service that the consultants and city staff say must be resolved to keep Joplin competitive.

“Connectivity is one of the most important and transformative things we can do and work on right now,” Bolander said in a previous meeting about looking for a broadband provider who is interested in providing service here.

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I am the City Hall reporter but I cover many other stories in our community as well including historic preservation and feature stories about people and places of interest. You can email me at dwoodin@joplinglobe.com or call me at 417-627-7262.