A plan to remodel the first floor of Joplin City Hall to convert the mezzanine into an enclosed office met opposition from the mayor and a council member at Monday night’s Joplin City Council meeting.
Finance director Leslie Haase said the plan was proposed because space was needed to house two offices for work related to the implementation of the goals of a strategic plan adopted two years ago.
One of the rooms, an office in the northwest corner of the ground floor, would be remodeled to house the city’s neighborhood department, whose work would look at neighborhood improvements. The other would convert the mezzanine into a locked office that could be used by the Police Department’s Community Engagement Team.
That would place an antique stained-glass original of the building behind closed doors and make the grand staircase, which serves as the backdrop for many town hall ceremonies, off-limits to visitors.
Haase said the community engagement team currently works in the building’s basement but could provide security by being on the mezzanine level.
Moving these two offices to the ground floor would eliminate the need for visitors to go to the upper floors, although it was not explained whether these offices would handle all City Hall affairs, such as B. Issuing business licenses and building permits and paying utility bills. Some of these features are available online.
Haase said moving these two offices to the ground floor would free up more space in the building to find future staff needed to work on other action plan items.
The mezzanine currently houses Thomas Hart Benton’s study and documents relating to the mural commissioned for Benton, ‘Joplin at the Turn of the Century’. The mural was a key project to celebrate the city’s centenary in 1973.
Haase said the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau director, Patrick Tuttle, will work with officials at the Spiva Center for the Arts to move the study of the murals to another area on the first floor.
The cost of remodeling, furnishing and moving is estimated at around $300,000. Of that, the neighborhood improvement office would cost about $184,000. Work on the mezzanine is estimated at $116,000. The cost would be funded through use taxes levied in 2022 to support the work of the Action Plan.
City Manager Nick Edwards said the city will not be able to hire more staff without making the changes. He asked Proposition Action Oversight Committee chair Rob O’Brian to speak about the proposal. O’Brian said the committee spent quite a bit of time at its last meeting discussing excise tax financing.
He said there would be an update on the status of consumption tax collections in a few months. To date, just over $1 million in use tax revenue has been received. About $320,000 of that will go to neighborhood improvement and about $160,000 to public safety.
O’Brian said the level of revenue to date is encouraging and validates the potential for city projects through revenue growth.
Councilor Phil Stinnett said he understood the need for more space and a community police force, but was 100% opposed to locking the grand staircase with doors.
“It’s one of the most popular photo spots,” he said, adding that people also like to see and photograph the antique stained glass window that hangs on the mezzanine.
Stinnett said that when he was mayor and the former Newman Building was being converted to serve as City Hall, he was keen to keep as many architectural features intact as possible. He opposes replacing the antique light fixtures on the ground floor with modern lights because he doesn’t want to change the character of the ground floor, he said.
“We’ve talked so much about preserving the character of our buildings” and even spent money protecting historic buildings in recent years. “In my view, you’re going to destroy the character of the ground floor,” Stinnett said.
“I know you have to have more people, but not at the expense of this iconic building,” he added.
The city manager replied that he knew that many people would appreciate the building and would show the council an outline of any remodeling plans.
Mayor Doug Lawson said he hosted many tour buses with people from many countries around the world.
“They like to take their photos on these stairs, so we have more to do,” he said of the remodeling plan.