It’s Morning Edition on KRPS. I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. Tonight at its meeting, the Joplin City Council is expected to decide whether or not to place a question on next April’s ballot that would ask the city’s residents to raise 10 million dollars to renovate the former downtown home of the Joplin Public Library. The funds would be raised by increasing property taxes.
Last week, Missouri Southern President Dean Van Galen hosted colleagues from Joplin Schools, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, and the city of Joplin to discuss Operation Launchpad. A collaboration spearheaded by JACC President Toby Teeter would bring together parts of the four organizations under one roof. Teeter described the need for Operation Launchpad in Joplin.
“We’re competing against other communities in our area. Other communities are already taking these steps, towards these things. Our best hope is to collaborate and come together and really close this loop and introduce 21st job opportunities at an earlier time.”Toby Teeter
Southern President Dean Van Galen, approaching the first anniversary in the position, also expressed optimism about the project.
“I think Joplin is at a critical point in its future. It’s so important to attract and retain talent; we need to keep and educate students from this area in this community, and Missouri Southern is committed to playing an important role in that.”Dean Van Galen
The university can trace its origins to 1937 when it was Joplin Junior College when it shared building space with Joplin High School. MSSU permanently relocated to the Mission Hills Estate part of Joplin in 1967. If the City Council decides to place the question on next April’s ballot, Van Galen says the organizations involved will have to explain how it will benefit residents.
“I think the key is, to help the voters, the citizens of Joplin, what is Launchpad. What benefit it will provide for everyone in this community, especially in the long term. Projects like this have the opportunity to change the path and trajectory of a community.”Dean Van Galen
This isn’t the first time Missouri Southern has been involved in renovating the former library. In March of 2018, Southern’s Foundation purchased the library from the city. At the time, the Joplin Globe reported that MSSU’s Foundation had had six years to raise 10 million dollars to renovate the building. Brad Hobson, the university’s executive vice president, currently and at the time announced that a capital campaign would commence raising funds to renovate the former library. This time around, three public entities and one private business are asking Joplin residents to foot the multi-million dollar cost. JACC President Teeter explains it in this way.
“This is a public, private partnership to solve a community need. The city of Joplin’s role and the voters financing of is limited to the facility improvements.”Toby Teeter
Once the renovation is complete, it will be up to the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and Missouri Southern to manage the former library’s day-to-day operation. According to Teeter, the commitment from the city and it’s residents is fixed, the benefits of the project will outlive the repayment of the debt.
“The cities involvement and the voter’s involvement is finite. Yes, it’s asking for investment. Yes, it might be hard to articulate the benefits to Joe Consumer.”Toby Teeter
Feeling about the project from members of the Joplin city council was mixed. However, Mayor Ryan Stanley voiced strong support for the public, private collaboration.
“I really like Project Launchpad. I think it’s going to be a great asset to the community.”Ryan Stanley
Council Mayor Pro Tem Keenan Cortez also voiced support for Operation Launchpad. Saying that it was time to write the next chapter of Joplin’s history.
“I’m excited about this opportunity, and I’ll tell you why. It’s time to close the chapter, if you will, not forget but kind of move past the tornado and start something new, different and exciting in our community.”Keenan Cortez
The meeting was not without a dose of reality from Council member Phil Stinnett. He says that he’s had constituents contact him to inquire about why their tax dollars and not the foundations of the entities involved should pay for the overhaul.
” I’ve already had citizens ask, ‘they’re the ones that are going to utilize the building, why don’t their foundations raise the funds’?”Phil Stinnett
If the city council decides to place the question on the April ballot, it would require approval by 57.14% of Joplin voters to pass. And to repay the debt to rehabilitate the library, Joplin residents would pay an additional $30.88 in property tax for every $100,000 their home is worth. Or $10.83 on a $20,000 vehicle for the next ten years.