Special report: Promises and problems with Joplin's future - KOAM TV 7

Special report: Promises and problems with Joplin's future

Updated: Nov 27, 2013 06:54 PM

Rebuilding Joplin better than ever.  That was the goal voiced by many residents after the May 22, 2011 tornado.  Workers with one development company said they could rise to those expectations.  But so far, none of their proposals have been completed.

Officials with Joplin's master redeveloper, Wallace-Bajjali, say it takes time and money to rebuild.  But some residents and city officials worry both time and money are being mismanaged.

Joplin resident and commercial real estate agent Gil Stevens says for a seemingly important project of rebuilding parts of Joplin destroyed by the tornado, there's not been enough progress reports.

"If the city is involved, I think we have the right to know," says Stevens.

Before the city signed a contract with Wallace-Bajjali in July of 2012, the redeveloper presented 18 proposed projects.

"They were good projects," says city councilman Bill Scearce.

"One of the things they've given, they've helped us dream a little bit, they've helped us come up with some ideas to how we may take our city into the future," says city councilman Gary Shaw.

Wallace-Bajjali solicits land that's then paid for and owned by the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation.

"We're here to be profitable," says Gary Box with Wallace-Bajjali.

The Joplin Redevelopment Corporation pays for the land with Tif monies, a state-approved finance plan specifically for Wallace-Bajjali, that reroutes some Joplin property tax revenue away from public institutions.

"Ultimately, we're talking about taxpayer money," says Scearce.

Taxpayer money has covered more than $400,000 in commission fees from Wallace-Bajjali.

"The process of identifying it, being able to come up with a negotiated price, a fair market price with each other, then we have to do land studies on this, soil studies, environmentals.  And then, of course, the closing.  So it's not a rapid, you just go out and buy a piece of property today.

The city's contract with Wallace-Bajjali also allows the redeveloper to collect another 5.75% commission fee on land that's sold from the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation to Wallace-Bajjali.

Tif money is used, once again, by Wallace-Bajjali to buy land for their developments.

But city records show so far, Wallace-Bajjali hasn't bought any of the 36 properties available by the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation.

"Making money without working for that money is the problem," says Scearce.

City councilman Bill Scearce is measuring Wallace-Bajjali's success on work he believes should've been done by now.

"We've been going on 16 plus months, and we haven't done anything except buy land.  We haven't turned a spade of dirt.  We don't have any designs for any projects that are out there now," says Scearce.

Council members like Gary Shaw are more willing to give Wallace-Bajjali the benefit of the doubt.

"One of the things we have to realize is that, if you're going to do something, and you're going to do something right, than you have to lay a firm foundation," says Shaw.

Some residents are wondering if the city can get out of its contract with Wallace-Bajjali and hire another company instead.  According to council member Bill Scearce, the master redeveloper's contract with the city includes a five year buyout.  If the city would discharge Wallace-Bajjali without an agreed on cause, Joplin would pay the redeveloper $5 million the first year, decreasing to $1 million at year five.

There are two specific properties in Joplin.  One used to be under the control of Wallace-Bajjali.  Land for the other project has yet to be bought.

Kevin Sadler lives near one project that was proposed by Wallace-Bajjali:  A new movie theater and library.

"You don't know what's all going on until it's already done," says Sadler.

Recent developments have lead Sadler to wonder if Wallace-Bajjali will be successful in Joplin.

Sadler says, "Now a days, you always have that feeling, are they doing this the right way?"

The master redeveloper wanted to build a library and movie theater at the corner of 20th and Connecticut.

Sadler says, "I have no problem with a library, but I don't understand the movie theater.  The one we have now...with all the new stuff out like Netflix and all that stuff...most people don't go to the movie theaters anymore.  So we don't fill that up.  Why would you include the movie theater in the package?"

"The study that we did showed that the movie theater at the Northpark Mall was extremely successful, and that the market would bear more," says Gary Box with Wallace-Bajjali.

"Those same thoughts have crossed my mine.  Is our city large enough for another movie theater, and so forth?  But I've found most generally in the past that competition improves things, and it's not you're going to put one person out of business because somebody else comes into town and does something similar," says city council member Gary Shaw.

Wallace-Bajjali has not dropped the movie theater and library project.

"We relinquished that project off our list and it became a city project," says Box.

The federal Economic Development Administration declined giving grant money for the project to Wallace-Bajjali.

"We have some things that we researched on our end, in terms of performing our due diligence before we actually present something back to council," says city manager Mark Rohr.  "We're on the verge of completing that process and then we would schedule a work session with council to make that presentation and get feedback from them before we actually proceeded."

One project still under development by Wallace-Bajjali:  A new senior citizen housing complex at the corner of 26th and Maiden Lane.

But some council members say there are still problems.

"One of his co developers was the O'Reily group out of Springfield, Missouri.  They came forward, and after doing an analysis of the project, found that the project would not be successful if $11.8 million of public funds were not put into the project," says Scearce.

"As far as the public money, this is all grant money for the disaster.  This is not anything out of the general fund of Joplin.  There will not be any of that used," says Box.

City officials say they don't know many details about the other projects Wallace-Bajjali is still proposing.

"He hasn't made a report to us in 3 or 4 months.  It's unacceptable to me," says Scearce.

"We've kind of shifted from a general, overall 20 project type discussion to actually launching the first two," says Rohr.

Only time will tell if promises by the master redeveloper to rebuild Joplin rise to expectations.

"Hopefully, our city council has found out all the information before they hired him to begin with," says Joplin resident Kevin Sadler.

Officials with Wallace-Bajjali say they are also working on proposals around the new Mercy hospital.  However, Wallace-Bajjali wants to center its focus in areas that were hit by the tornado.

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