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Special report: Progress & Promises - KOAM TV 7

Special report: Progress & Promises

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Part One

Nearly three years after the Joplin tornado, parts of the city remain undeveloped.  Some of those areas are reserved for Joplin's master redeveloper.  

The city's master redeveloper classifies itself as a public/private developer, meaning Wallace Bajjali uses funds from both private and public sources, such as the government.  But there are some in the community who say had all of Joplin been open to just private redevelopment, there would've been more progress.

A diagram of progress from Wallace Bajjali shows the first nine months have involved financing 19 projects worth a total of $800 million.  Workers of Wallace Bajjali say all projects should be completed within five years.

"There's no motivation for the master developer to get aggressive in buying properties and buying them at market rate, when he's getting a commission just for buying it.  He's motivated to do the exact opposite," says James Pinjuv, a private developer.

Pinjuv is talking about a five and three quarter percent fee Wallace Bajjali collects when land is bought for development.  One of the men in charge of Wallace Bajjali says this fee is necessary.

"What we are doing is, on behalf of the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation, spending time to find land, secure the land, contract with the land, put in the title company, work with outside counsel as well as the city's counsel to make sure that the title issues are clean," says David Wallace of Wallace Bajjali.

The Joplin Redevelopment Corporation is a subsidiary of the city that holds bought land for Wallace Bajjali.

"The price we are paying to buy back that property includes that five and three quarter percent," says Wallace.

"Every dime that I've ever invested has been mind, or one of my investors, and I was responsible for that money," says Pinjuv.

Wallace Bajjali's funding for development includes $42 million in taxpayer money from a tax increment financing district, and grants from both local and national governments and organizations.

"The dollars that we feel we've been very instrumental in helping to secure is somewhere approaching 100 million dollars," says Wallace.

But none of that money has constructed any of Wallace Bajjali's projects, so far.

"It's bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy moves very slow," says Pinjuv.

David Wallace agrees.

"Any type of delay that has been out there has been solely as a result of bureaucratic issues we're having to overcome," says Wallace.

Walllace says a new Joplin is worth the wait.

"It's using that public sector capital so that you can build back to a higher quality, a higher level," says Wallace.

Wallace says construction will start on projects this year.  Meanwhile, Pinjuv wonders if the wait has already hurt the local economy.

"Developers are aggressive and they tend to be sheepish and flock to a community when they see an opportunity.  And had one developer come in and done well, there would've been dozens of others come to copy him," says Pinjuv.

David Wallace says one other benefit of having a master redeveloper over just private developers is that there's more assurance a needed asset in the community is built according to what the community wants.

Part Two

Workers of Wallace Bajjali say they've overcome many challenges so far in the effort to rebuild Joplin.  The redevelopment firm says there will be construction this year.

David Wallace, of Wallace Bajjali, admits one of the questions he routinely hears is, why hasn't there been any construction on any of his projects?  Wallace credits his organization with already helping to rebuild Joplin.  But it seems it's going to take more work to gain the attention of some residents.

Cathey Chaney lives near 20th Street, a busy corridor still being rebuilt after the 2011 tornado.

"It's a little depressing, at this point, just because you look out and you're kind of reminded of the tornado every day.  Because there's not a lot going on," says Chaney.

There's also open land in and near this area for the city's master redeveloper, Wallace Bajjali.

"We've closed on 67 parcels of land, over 50 acres of land," says Wallace.

There were 19 different projects proposed by Wallace Bajjali, worth a total of $800 million.  None of those projects have been constructed so far, 19 months after the city signed a contract with Wallace Bajjali.

Chaney wants to know why.

"A lot of homes, initially.  But it's definitely died down.  There's not a lot happening anymore," says Chaney.

"We're ready to move forward.  Any type of delay that has been out there has been solely as a result of bureaucratic issues we're having to overcome," says Wallace.

Issues like having grounds tested by the EPA, and properly applying for grant money.  But Wallace Bajjali promises this year, people will see construction.

"One will be the villas, which are the patio homes right behind the Elks Lodge.  The second would be the independent living, which is on the southwest corner of 26th and Mcclelland.  You would see assisted living, which is more doctor's orders, and then memory care.  All of those in a senior transitional housing," says Wallace.

This would be the development firm's greatest success to date, outside organizing the financing to help rebuild Joplin.  

But some of Wallace Bajjali's ideas are being realized by other builders.  One example was creating a multipurpose sports venue to attract minor league baseball.  Earlier this year, the city, on its own, signed a relocation contract with owners of a minor league baseball team from Texas.

"I think the plan that we had, from a minor league baseball perspective, was something that we were not envisioning opening until 2017.  But it's clear that the city and another private developer wanted to do it sooner.  Some other items that we were working with, The Salvation Army.  They decided to move forward with those projects themself," says Wallace.

Workers of Wallace Bajjali still credit themselves.

"These are assets that the community indicated they wanted to see, through other public input sessions that we've had," says Wallace.

Residents like Cathey Chaney don't give Wallace Bajjali credit.

"I don't know very much.  I've heard the name several times, but I don't hear the details about it.  I know they're the city's master redeveloper.  That's about where my knowledge ends," says Chaney.

Chaney says her measure of true success for Wallace Bajjali will come with construction of their projects.

David Wallace talking about his organization's plans for this year is especially well received by some members of city council, who said after a recent presentation by Wallace Bajjal they didn't know about the redeveloper's recent progress.
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