We encourage Joplin residents to line up and show support for the possible renovation and expansion of Memorial Hall. The plan laid out during the Joplin City Council meeting Monday seems like a good one and the best we have seen in a long time for the historic building.
Support now would mean it could be completed in time for the building's centennial in 2024.
It could mean a $25 million investment by the city, but we think it would be a worthwhile investment, paying dividends for the city and the downtown.
The council on Monday heard from Brian Garvey, of SFS Architecture, who presented a feasibility study that, among other things, found the building has promise, despite problems with the roof and front entrance.
“All in all, the structural assessment of the building was not as bad as some folks may have thought it to be,” Garvey told the council. “It’s actually a very solid building. There’s just some things that need to be stopped in their tracks with any project that occurs in the future to make the building safe and prepare it for another 100 years of service to the community.”
Once rehabilitated, Memorial Hall would have potential for all kinds of uses — meetings, banquets, theater productions, shows and classes. A market study found "cost recovery" will be a challenge. Depending on usage and fees, the city could expect to recover half to three-quarters of its operating revenue. That is a concern, but we don't expect what is at its heart a war memorial honoring veterans to necessarily break even, anymore than we expect all other city services for residents to always pay for themselves. Parking will be another concern, but one that we can overcome.
Right now, the downtown is seeing some of its most dramatic investment in decades, and even if the city loses money on Memorial Hall's annual operations, that will be offset to some degree by the energy and money it will help bring to the rest of the downtown.
Ground will be broken soon for the Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex, which will connect to Memorial Hall perhaps via a plaza where 8th Street is now, with exterior war memorials moved to that plaza. A block north, a $30 million courthouse is being built, on the heels of the $8.5 million Jasper County Juvenile Center. A little farther north, a group has announced a $5 million plan to renovate the old Downtown Y for apartments. It is one of many private projects underway, with locals committing to saving other historic downtown buildings and opening new businesses.
This is an exciting moment for downtown Joplin, and Memorial Hall should be part of that.