COLUMBIA — Voters in tiny Clark have taken the first steps toward the approval and construction of a $60 million, 480-acre "recreational tourist destination."
The Junction Project will include a 240,000-square-foot coliseum, a motorplex that includes a quarter-mile drag strip and three other tracks, a nightclub, a hotel and several other establishments. Although it will be built roughly 20 miles north of Columbia at U.S. 63 and Missouri 22, local officials expect the city to feel an economic boost.
Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that she expects a large overflow population from the Junction Project. She expects large numbers of people will seek accommodations in Columbia given that only one hotel with 120 to 175 rooms is planned to be constructed at the Junction.
Steiner said most people who visit the Junction would probably travel to Columbia rather than Moberly because Columbia has 3,600 hotel and motel rooms compared to Moberly's 220.
"There are only so many rooms in the area," Steiner said. "We should get a lot of business from (the project)," Steiner said, also noting that Moberly cannot compete with Columbia's entertainment and restaurants.
The city of Clark, with a population of fewer than 300, has approved a sales tax and annexation of the development site. That will pave the way for tax-increment financing of the project.
Tax-increment financing is becoming a common tool for getting development projects off the ground. Developments as large as the Junction Project boost the value of property. Tax-increment financing allows property owners to reinvest into their projects part of the increased property taxes they normally would have to pay. In the case of the Junction Project, they also will use sales tax generated on the property to help pay for the debt.
The city voted on a 2 percent sales tax that, once the TIF commission is created, will most likely be split 50-50 between the development and the city, Hardin said.
"Once we get the land annexed and a TIF commission created and tons and tons of legal paperwork completed, we can finally break ground," said Curt Hardin, one of the four developers of the Junction Project.
Hardin said little about plans for the project have changed since they first hatched the idea a few years ago. Hardin said the first thing to be built will be a travel center, given that there is virtually no fuel available between Columbia and Moberly. Construction of all the venues could take more than five years.
Hardin said the project started with his longtime friend and colleague Robert Stone.
"It started out as just a small idea," Stone said. A fan of horse shows and related events, Stone saw a need for that sort of venue in the area. But that idea has grown to encompass the larger Junction Project.
Hardin said all the Junction developers are excited about seeing the project through. Not only are they primary investors, but they all are either horse or race fans.
While the massive project has seen little attention, Hardin said there is overwhelming support from residents.
"Anybody who understands how much revenue this can bring is behind the project," Hardin said.
Carolyn Wilhite agrees. She's one of the owners and operators of Crossroads Restaurant, which is directly across Missouri 22 from the proposed Junction Project.
"I think it will bring people off the highway," Wilhite said, noting that the restaurant is barely visible from U.S. 63 and that it cannot afford highway signs.
"It will hopefully be great for business and bring lots of jobs and income to the area," Wilhite said.
Wayne Wilcox, eastern district associate commissioner for Randolph County, said that, at this point, the project is really out of the hands of the county.
"The city of Clark is really the driving force," he said, adding that the county favors the project and looks forward to the tax revenue it will generate.
"The fact that (the project) will bring in jobs is a very positive piece," Wilcox said.
Wilcox, a relatively new commissioner, said he encountered few people during his campaign who opposed the project.
"The few objections were related to noise and dust," he said.