The Joplin Globe’s letters to the editors and op-ed pages have finally sucked me into their Sunday morning jolt of reality.
For years, I veered from those pages like the snake house at a zoo. I considered their opinions so ill-informed and unprogressive that I simply couldn’t make myself read them. I saw no reason to intentionally anger myself.
But, age has toned down my intolerance. Now, I view the letters to the editor and op-ed pages as just local attitudinal gauges. Granted, sometimes they send me into apoplexy. But, for the most part, I can take them in stride. Sometimes, they remind me that people aren’t always fully informed, or they’re closed to the varying perspectives of an issue.
That’s how I viewed a recent letter to the editor addressing the proposed construction of a downtown arts and entertainment center.
While the writer obviously thought long and hard on the issue, he made at least one statement that was, well, far-fetched. No, I don’t think Joplin needs or could fund an arts center like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art at Bentonville, Arkansas. Sorry, but no one in Joplin has deep enough pockets to compete with the richest woman in the world, Alice Walton, who built Crystal Bridges and keeps it filled with multi-million-dollar world class art acquisitions.
That pipe dream aside, I questioned whether the writer fully understood the project, particularly its funding and its connection to Memorial Hall.
For clarification, the proposed arts and entertainment center would not involve any taxpayers’ dollars. It will be funded entirely with private donations and, presumably, grant funding. By last month, $11.4 million of the $16 million goal had been committed by private individuals and businesses.
The center is proposed for construction on what is now the parking lot of Memorial Hall at Seventh and Wall. It is to be named the Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex, honoring the former president and CEO of Leggett & Platt Inc. who donated $5 million to kick off the project fundraising.
Plans call for 46,000 square feet of space that would include a new home for Spiva Center for the Arts and Connect2Culture, the project leaders. In addition to the exhibiting space for Spiva, it would include a 450-seat indoor multipurpose performance hall and a 1,500-capacity outdoor festival plaza, featuring an amphitheater with a covered stage and canopy area.
None of the plans call for Memorial Hall to be included in the project, which was implied in the letter to the editor. In the C2C agreement with the city for acquisition of the parking lot, C2C has first right of refusal for Memorial Hall should the city decide to sell or otherwise dispose of the hall. But, I’ve heard no C2C representatives express any interest in acquiring it.
“C2C will continue to book large performances there (at Memorial Hall), but it is not part of the Cornell Complex,” Clifford Wert, C2C president and chief financial officer, told the city council in early October.
The letter writer contended that construction of a building on the existing Memorial Hall parking lot “is ridiculous, if not a crazy idea.” He argued that the parking lot did not have enough space for the building. I challenge him to argue that with the architectural firm that developed the project plans. He also claimed there was no visibility there. No visibility on Seventh Street, one of Joplin’s primary arteries that connects with major highways?
He suggested that an ideal location would be close to interstates 44 and 49.
What the writer misses is that art centers are a destination, not an attraction that pulls drivers from an interstate for a break from driving. In any major city, museums are in the urban center, not in busy commercial areas packed with chain businesses, as is the case with the location the writer proposed.
Such cultural centers are meant to drive people to the heart of the city, where locally owned businesses offer rich shopping and dining experiences and reflect a city’s character much more than a commercial thoroughfare does. Plenty of cities have proven that cultural anchors, like the one proposed here, can go far in revitalizing a downtown. They attract enough visitors that empty buildings and store fronts start transforming into restaurants, retail shops and apartments. That’s a financial and tourism boon for any city.
I consider this letter writer to be a bit short-sighted. I agree with him that Memorial Hall has become an albatross around our necks with its continued deterioration. But, this project isn’t associated with Memorial Hall, other than by proximity. And, we need more vision for our city than locating a cultural complex alongside an interstate or on a commercial strip that is little more than a corporate row of chain businesses.
Contact Marta Churchwell with column ideas and comments at [email protected].