25 June 2018

Business Owners, Non-Profits Joining Forces to Improve Memorial Hall

By David Mink

"After nearly four years as a temporary facility for the Joplin School District, Memorial Hall is once again becoming a home for events in Joplin.

The city has approved two August events so far for the party on Aug. 20, 21 and 22, and 4-State Franchise Boxing on Aug. 29.

However, age and disrepair have taken their toll on the facility, and a crushed sewer line has shut down much of the restroom capacity inside. Repairing the line will cost around $40,000, according to Joplin Parks and Recreation director Scott Garrie, but that's only part of the problem. The line runs under the main ramp into the building, and the cost to demolish the ramp and replace it after the line is repaired could add an additional $20,000 or more to the cost.

This isn't a cost that city staff budgeted for, and Garrie says their hands are tied.

"We don't have it in the operational budget to take care of it," Garrie said. "The extent of the sewer issue, we started discovering that last fall and we'd already been through the budget process."

That's where a group of concerned citizens, downtown business owners and nonprofit agencies are stepping in. It all started when Jon Buck - co-founder of Livejomo, the organizer behind Zerkapalooza, and owner of JB's Piano Bar - got in touch with Downtown Joplin Alliance director Callie Hudson about using Memorial Hall for the weekend event.

"We realized there were these problems at Memorial Hall, but Jon was excited," she said. "As we researched, we discovered there's already a movement with Connect2Culture to make some things happen, so we really wanted to join that movement and support in any way possible."

Buck started an online crowdfunding campaign to raise $60,000 for the repairs, and pledged to donate proceeds from Zerkapalooza's alcohol sales to the effort. He gathered other downtown business owners around him, as well, all just as eager to jump in and help.

"Once that conversation begins to happen on multiple levels, then we get really excited, because we see a community of people who are saying, 'I don't even care who owns the asset; we just want to have nice things in our community," Hudson said. "That's something we get very excited about, (because) those kinds of things just don't happen very often."

In fact, groups looking to raise funds for public projects generally have to compete for grants or rely on municipalities to cover costs, she said. That can be a long and tedious process, and the longer it takes, the more public interest wants.

"We have to count on basically hitting a lottery with a grant of city funding," she said. "So when someone like Jon Buck comes along and says, 'I don't care what it takes; let's find a way together,' we're definitely interested in that conversation."

Buck is tackling a concept of public-private partnership - a concept that has notably soured for most in Joplin following the exit and dissolution of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners LP, the city's former master developer. But it's a new take on the concept, according to Johnson, Vorhees and Martucci pricipal Scott Vorhees.

"To me it's really turning around that public-private partnership that's been kind of maligned," he said. "We have community members that want to step up and accomplish things. ...We have a lot of good-hearted people in the community who are willing to donate time, money and efforts. And when they can see that it will have a direct impact on the community...we can get local people involved and get them to contribute in their own way."

That, Vorhees said, is the key to a true public-private partnership. In the Wallace Bajjali model, public funds were married with private funds that came from investment firms and capital partners. In Buck's model, public funds are being married with funds from concerned neighbors, friends and community members.

"That's part of the beauty of it," Vorhees said. "This is not an agenda by an organization, it’s not anybody's project exclusively. It's a mechanism for private donors to dedicate funds to specific problems. It's not putting all the money into a big budget pot. These people can donate to people that they know who don't have a private agenda, and they can see where their money goes."”

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