Joplin leaders to consider tornado recovery plan

Thursday, January 19, 2012 | 7:20 p.m. CST

JOPLIN — Nearly eight months after one of the country's deadliest single tornadoes hit southwest Missouri, elected leaders in Joplin are preparing to endorse a long-term recovery plan that includes new business districts and promotes home ownership.

The Joplin City Council, school board and Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Board of Aldermen in neighboring Duquesne, will meet collectively Thursday night to discuss a recovery plan developed by a citizen advisory panel after the May 22 tornado that killed 161 people and destroyed thousands of buildings. Each governing body will individually consider whether to endorse the 21-page document.

The panel's recommendations include creation of four new business districts that would also allow residents to live and shop nearby. The citizens also want to establish a city committee that would ensure new construction meets certain design standards, including more landscaping to offset commercial projects and parking lots.

The Citizens Advisory Recovery Team also is recommending greater enforcement of nuisance codes, stepped-up efforts to encourage homeowners to buy property insurance and the construction of a medical school. And they want the city to hire a "master developer" who would oversee the rebuilding plan. The report does not include specific details about how to pay for most of the projects.

"Our biggest goal is to get houses built," said Jane Cage, a Joplin business owner who helps lead the advisory panel. "If we can stay united, we can make remarkable progress."

Signs of the recovery are slowly emerging in Joplin, thanks in part to a comparatively mild winter that has allowed construction to continue uninterrupted. The city has issued nearly 4,000 building permits to homeowners, and the Missouri Housing Development Commission has committed about $100 million in tax credits and loans over the coming decade to spark the construction of low-to-moderate income rental units and single-family, owner-occupied homes in the Joplin area.

Chamber of Commerce President Rob O'Brian said Thursday that 420 of the 530 local businesses that were either destroyed or heavily damaged have since reopened. The local group hosted a delegation of national business executives Thursday from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as UPS Inc, Shell, Speedco, Toyota and the Discovery Channel.

Joshua Barnes, a disaster recovery specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce, said the group was impressed with Joplin's resilience and the community's work ethic.

"One of the biggest things that distinguish communities that can thrive (after a disaster) are those that can organize themselves, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps," he said. "Joplin has really demonstrated that capacity."

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