Tuscaloosa Ala. Mayor Walt Maddox is taking issue with two professors' contention, published in the Wall Street Journal that Joplin is doing a better job recovering from its tornado. Maddox' response is printed below:
The Facts of Tuscaloosa’s Recovery
Mayor Walter Maddox
Recently, in the Wall Street Journal, I read an op-ed piece by David Beito and Daniel Smith
which reminded me of a quote by former United States Senator Daniel Moynihan when he said,
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
I believe that Beito/Smith were absolutely on target regarding the spirit of both Tuscaloosa and
Joplin. Our respective cities have endured heartbreak on a magnitude that is hard to imagine;
however, our citizens have demonstrated resiliency and determination that have inspired a
nation. Beyond that, Beito/Smith’s statistics and assertions are simply opinions and not facts,
and although space prevents a full response to each misrepresentation, the facts below
demonstrate two cities on the same road to recovery.
On April 27, Tuscaloosa had 2,493 homes damaged, 1,612 homes severely damaged and 1,257
homes destroyed (not the 2,000 stated in Beito/Smith). Since that time, Tuscaloosa has issued
2,048 repair permits and 206 new construction permits in the affected residential areas. In an
economic environment where 61 percent of the homes damaged were rental with a median
income of $28,000, Tuscaloosa has issued over 2,254 permits to 42 percent of homes impacted
by the tornado. According to the Joplin Globe, Joplin has issued nearly 3,641 repair and new
construction permits to the 49 percent of homes impacted by their May 22 tornado.
As for commercial rebuilding, Beito/Smith asserts that 8 out of 10 businesses in Joplin impacted
by their E-5 tornado were now re-opened for business. This is not even remotely
accurate. According to statistics released by the Joplin Globe on March 27, Joplin had issued
nearly 250 commercial permits in their recovery zone to 50 percent of the businesses affected
by the tornado.
In Tuscaloosa, 242 commercial structures were damaged and 114 were destroyed. Since April
27, 92 percent of the 242 commercial structures that were damaged have received repair
permits and 34 percent of the destroyed structures have received new construction permits.
Unlike Joplin who lost major retail centers (i.e. Home Depot, Walmart), Tuscaloosa lost very few
national big boxes; therefore, our small businesses are dealing with issues such as availability to
credit, insurance and non-conformity to existing zoning.
This fact alone is why Tuscaloosa passed new urban zoning to provide more flexibility and mixed-uses. Further, the private sector is working as property owners are deciding whether to acquire or sell their property.
Tuscaloosa never implemented a moratorium and building permits were issued immediately
following the storm. Beito/Smith must be referencing the temporary building standards
established after the storm for the recovery area only which suspended the current codes and
allowed rebuilding to begin under certain conditions while debris removal commenced and
infrastructure was assessed. In addition, to assist businesses, Tuscaloosa enacted new laws to
allow modular structures outside their damaged/destroyed businesses to allow commerce to
As for using consultants, Joplin recently entered negotiations to hire Wallace Bajjali
Development Partners of Sugar Land, Texas as the master developer in their recovery plan. It is
my understanding this firm has crucial expertise valuable to their rebuilding. Tuscaloosa sought
similar services from BNIM located in Kansas City, Missouri and we paired them with Almon
Associates, a Tuscaloosa engineering firm, during the first few months following April
27. Today, Almon Associates is the lead consultant and they are working to implement the
Tuscaloosa Forward Generational Master Plan.
Tuscaloosa Forward is a transparent and strategic approach to rebuilding that is citizen
driven. Nearly 3,000 citizens have participated in dozens of open meetings and over 70,000
users visited our virtual town hall website. From infrastructure to housing, Tuscaloosa’s
approach is to focus long-term in every aspect of recovery and our proposals for rebuilding
were generated by those most impacted on April 27.
In closing, I have traveled to Joplin and stay in close contact with their officials, and their
response has been impressive. Truly, Joplin and Tuscaloosa have demonstrated that you can
conquer the worst of Mother Nature by fighting back with resiliency, generosity and hope.
Although we both are down to a few dozen structures remaining to be removed, the scars of
our respective tornados are beginning to vanish. While we have shared approaches to many of
the issues, we have also traveled different paths. In five years, when honest and accurate
research is performed on the facts of recovery, my belief is that Tuscaloosa will have rebuilt in a
way that honors all those who lost so much.