Union Depot proposals sought

Mar. 20—Armed with the last piece of information it can offer, the Downtown Joplin Alliance through its Endangered Properties Program is asking interested developers to submit "solicitations of interest" for the Union Depot.

The graffiti-marked 113-year-old depot, owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, is still viable, reports and examiners have said, and could be a contributor to downtown commerce and a recreational draw.

Solicitations can be submitted through May 31.

A collection of studies and information about the former train station built by Kansas City architect Louis Curtiss has been posted online by the alliance as part of the solicitation. It includes all the studies that have been obtained on the building and its site as well as its potential as a downtown location, said Lori Haun, executive director.

'Window of opportunity'The last piece of information is the second part of environmental testing conducted on the grounds where the depot stands, 205 N. Main St.

Results of all the testing and studies can be found in online documents so those with interest in a project can evaluate the potential.

"We are hopeful to hear from several different interested parties" through the online solicitation, Haun said. "Those will be evaluated based on concept, experience and financial backing. Wherever this project goes from here, we want it to get developed. We don't want it to just change hands."

"We want to make sure it is something that is viable and realistic."

The Downtown Joplin Alliance has listed the depot with Joplin's Glenn Group commercial real estate firm.

Asked how the solicitation is different from that listing, Haun said, "This gives a specific window of opportunity so if someone is interested, it gives them a deadline. We all work better on deadline."

"The idea is that this will update the listing" with the broker "and kind of recirculate the listing. We have a list of people who have contacted us over the last 18 to 24 months." Haun said the alliance has sent the latest information to those people.

"What we're doing by pulling all this information together is we're answering the unknowns. Property like that is just a lot of questions, and somebody who is going in to redevelop, they need to know what the environmental condition is and what the structural condition is. They need to know what the community wants and what is feasible. So hopefully with all those questions answered, someone could look at the packet and say, 'Hey, this is something I can do.'"

The depot was declared one of Missouri's "Places in Peril" in 2021 by the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation because of its longtime vacancy. The depot has not been used since shortly after the last passenger train, the Southern Belle, was shut down in late 1969. There were still some mail train stops at the depot, but they soon stopped.

In putting the depot on the "Places in Peril" list, the state organization said it is "threatened by a number of factors, including neglect and deterioration as well as vandalism. The once white walls are covered with graffiti."

Options for useThe Downtown Joplin Alliance has had engineering reports done on the building, and it was assessed as structurally sound within the last two years, though the engineer said it could deteriorate in a few years without maintenance or repair work.

Last year, two university groups were brought here by the alliance to do community and architectural studies. Results of those found community support for a downtown hotel or concept lodging that would use rail cars for lodging with bunk beds for children and deluxe rooms for adults.

A microbrewery or coffee bar were options for the site as was a restaurant or bakery in the east wing. There could be a flexible-use space for party rentals and offices upstairs, according to the concepts outlined by the university research. A rooftop and/or outdoor patio also presented appealing options, according to the public input in those reports.

Other steps in finding a future for the building included bringing an economic expert to Joplin last year, Joe Borgstrom, from Place+Main Advisers of East Lansing, Michigan. He compiled a feasibility study and a gap analysis of what services are needed or could find success in the downtown if the depot were redeveloped.

"We do think the redevelopment is feasible," Borgstrom said. "There may be need for incentives, primarily historic tax credits."

As for its use, Borgstrom said his firm saw "the big draw would be an idea around a brew pub. We think there is draw for that."

Borgstrom said there is a reach for people to come to Joplin for tourism or recreation from all over the Midwest, especially Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. But the main draw is from the greater Joplin area, mostly Southwest Missouri and into Northeast Oklahoma.

Studies also have pointed to the needs of those who live downtown as well as visit. There are about 350 apartments downtown and another 200 in development or planning. There about 5,000 people who work downtown. They would like a grocery store in the district.

Curtiss, who developed a reputation as "the Frank Lloyd Wright of Kansas City," was recognized for his "curtain wall" engineering and fireproof concrete construction methods for buildings such as the 1911 depot. In constructing the depot, he made use of chat in the concrete mix for the exterior that was a byproduct of mining.

Depot packet To view the packet of information about the Union Depot, go to https://www.downtownjoplin.com/ endangered-properties- program/union-depot.