Friday, September 22, 2017
City Council approved arts center plan after study done by group that promotes the arts
The study made glowing recommendations on the prospects of minor league baseball in this town with wild estimates of how many people would attend the games.
The study, it is clear now, was comparing apples and oranges. It wasn't minor league baseball that arrived in Joplin when the transplanted El Paso Diablos management blew into town, but a cheap operation that never had a chance to succeed.
Don't we ever learn?
The City Council Monday night approved a memorandum of understanding to turn over the Memorial Hall parking lot to Connect2Culture to build an arts center for Joplin. Connect2Culture has promised to raise the money for this undertaking, so at least city taxpayers won't be hit with another $4 million boondoggle. The Council decision was made following the presentation of a study showing the economic impact of the arts on Joplin.
The study, though, was just as suspect as the one that launched independent baseball in Joplin and the results were always going to end up positive because that's what Americans for the Arts, the group that conducted the "Arts and Economic Prosperity" study does.
The organization's stated mission is to "support the arts in America," and certainly there is nothing wrong with that.
The Wikipedia page for Americans for the Arts notes that the organization's purpose is to "motivate and mobilize opinion leaders and decision makers "who can ensure the arts thrive in America."
One way the organization does this is through its Arts and Economic Prosperity studies. Joplin was included in the most recent one.
Naturally, the results come back showing a strong support for the arts in Joplin, something that appears to be accurate, though the results themselves can be interpreted in different way.
The study showed the arts generated a $5.4 million impact on the City of Joplin, including $1.8 million from non-profit arts and cultural organizations and $3.6 million in "event-related spending."
The study provided absolutely no information on which a reasoned decision could be made to give the go-ahead for the arts center project using land surrounding Memorial Hall as the site and it was done by a group that has never released a study that did anything except encourage investment in the arts.
The study examined the support for arts and cultural organizations that are already here, not the support that might or might not be generated for an arts center in the downtown district. The study did not examine the impact such a center might have on the currently existing cultural organizations, nor did it examine the effects that traffic might have on the downtown area.
The Chamber-commissioned study on minor league baseball glossed over the abundance of nearby baseball, including a St. Louis Cardinals' minor league farm club in Springfield and teams in Tulsa and northwest Arkansas. The same questions, maybe to an even greater extent, exist with bringing musical and artistic attractions to Joplin. The study that seemed to hold such sway with City Council members did not address that subject.
The study showed there is support for the arts not in Joplin, not for a multi-million dollar center that, no matter what anyone says, will eventually wind up causing harm to Memorial Hall.
I might suggest that City Council members are forgetting history in their zeal to bring something bright and shiny to Joplin, but some of those council members are the same ones who sat at City Hall seven years ago as then City Manager Mark Rohr talked to the council about the origins of the Connect2Culture group, which was created an an offshoot of a Chamber of Commerce arts and cultural committee and spoke of the need for an arts center.
Rohr also talked about coming up with a "master plan" for the area."
An opportunity for the master plan and an arts center arose following the May 22, 2011 Joplin Tornado. In Rohr's book, Miracle of the Human Spirit, he talked about how he and Chamber President Rob O'Brian formed the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team and it was made up primarily of people who had already been meeting to plan the city's future.
While CART made a big deal of holding meetings and collecting ideas from the entire community, the ideas that were eventually presented were primarily ones that had been goals for those people, including leaders of Connect2Culture.
The state auditor's report on the City of Joplin detailed the shenanigans that took place to ensure that Texas con artist David Wallace, who had been meeting with Rohr and O'Brian and eventually hired two people from the Chamber as full-time employees, was hired as master developer, creating the position, which appears to have been unnecessary, and then stacking the deck to make sure Wallace Bajjali was hired..
One of the projects approved by CART and promoted by Wallace Bajjali was an arts center.
Rohr is gone, but city officials should be extra careful in providing a gift of valuable free land to people whose questionable actions in the past have had such lasting repercussions for this city.
Maybe an arts center is exactly what Joplin needs, but at this point, there is no evidence to indicate that is the case.