It’s been an answer in the making for nearly three years.
The question: What will be done with the former library building in downtown Joplin?
The Missouri Southern State University Foundation formally acquired the building from the city of Joplin in March 2018.
Reopening the building with a new use might be inching closer to reality after a preliminary concept for a business and economic development hub as well as a remote university campus was unveiled Monday at a City Council work session.
Toby Teeter, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, along with Dean Van Galen, president of Missouri Southern, pulled back the curtain on conceptual drawings that could be used in the renovation of the former public library building in the 300 block of Main Street.
They have named it Project Launchpad, a place where a variety of business and economic development services would be launched.
The proposed hub would have a number of objectives, including providing services for startup businesses and restaurateurs, training in technology and digital jobs, and internships for high school students in Joplin, Webb City and Carl Junction.
Although initial estimates place the cost to remodel the building for Project Launchpad at $10 million, there is no plan yet on how to pay for the renovation, Teeter said.
“That’s where the city’s partnership in this project plays a role,” said Nick Edwards, Joplin’s city manager. “The services and operations are better led by the organizations that Toby has mentioned. We could best help with the renovation and refurbishment of the building.”
Operating costs would be paid by tenants including MSSU, the chamber, the city, the entrepreneurs and restaurant startups. Some grants also are possible.
Not all details are nailed down yet.
“This is early in the process. This is basically an introduction to a concept,” Teeter said Friday of the proposal. “Over the last few months, the conversation between the city, the chamber and the university has been how can we collaborate to solve problems and be more efficient” in addressing community needs and the future of the community.
The launchpad name comes from the programs that could be offered. Teeter said one function would be to launch preliminary startups and incubate culinary entrepreneurs, which would include outdoor seating for food, drinks and entertainment on the lawn outside the building
“We want to launch entrepreneurs, expanding collaboration and supporting innovation,” Teeter said. “We want to launch careers. We want to connect high school students and Missouri Southern students with Joplin-area professionals to demonstrate that 21st century career opportunities do exist here in Joplin.
“We want to launch a digital workforce, accelerating our digital economy and reskilling of our displaced workforce of the pandemic and preparing our workforce of tomorrow. We also want to launch access to opportunities, increase access and diversity to attract minorities, female and low-income entrants into the digital occupations and into entrepreneurship,” Teeter said.
Programs and classes that could be provided at the launchpad include:
- for food startups. Teeter said the chamber and Downtown Joplin Alliance have found a lot of people interested in starting restaurants work from food trucks or at the Empire Market because the downtown is out of available spaces that have a kitchen. “There is a need in our market for ready-made spaces for food startups,” Teeter said.
An entrepreneurial hub
- for seminars and programs such as 1 Million Cups, where people with startup products or businesses share information on their products and solve problems they’ve encountered over coffee.
- which would provide a method for people who have a business idea to get a business plan put together over a weekend.
- and Technology Summit, which also could be located in the building to showcase technology innovations or offer pitch competitions for high school and college students.
- development hubs. These would be shared spaces and conference rooms for a city economic development team to include the city’s economic development staff, MOKAN Partnership, Downtown Joplin Alliance and perhaps Joplin Regional Community Foundation.
A code lab,
- which would be operated by the national nonprofit Codefi, to provide evening classes to adults on how to code computer software.
It also would serve as the Missouri Southern downtown center.
“This would be a new front door to Missouri Southern to engage businesses, prospective students, alumni and the community,” Teeter said.
Van Galen said at the meeting that the proposal calls for the university’s Small Business Development Center, now located in Plaster Hall, to move downtown. He said the SBDC is a critical economic development driver to the region, and its impact would be magnified with a downtown location where other business services could be provided.
One of the programs the university would offer would be the Center for Advanced Professional Studies, a dual-credit program for high school students that would provide internships for them to work with professionals in fields such as engineering, health sciences, business, media and marketing, criminal justice, and education.
Melinda Moss, superintendent of the Joplin School District, said connecting students to professionals is a missing piece in current high school offerings. The dual-credit program is instrumental in encouraging students to continue their education.
“I have seen the power of our students having a few college hours toward a degree. ... It really expands their vision for their future. It is a tremendous opportunity for high school students, and one we are ready to go with and embrace,” Moss said.
Edwards, Joplin’s city manager, described as “heartbreaking” a comment submitted during his listening tour for city needs last year that young people do not see Joplin as a place to have the career they want.
Teeter said the mentoring program described by Van Galen and Moss would help high school students see the potential for careers in Joplin. It’s a topic that has been discussed by public officials for several years: the need to have career choices to appeal to young people and to get college graduates to return here for careers.
The programs that could be offered also would support one of six goals set by the City Council to increase quality of life by increasing financial opportunities.
“I think it’s a pretty powerful thing when you have your university, your chamber of commerce, your school districts and your city linking up. If we are able to do that, we will have a lot of success in the future,” Edwards said.
“This project will be transformative” for the Joplin community, Teeter said.