Union Depot Update – Sorta

Joplin Union Depot

East Facade of Joplin Union Depot

We haven’t heard much about the Union Depot lately, be it its renovation or moving the Joplin Museum Complex to the Depot. Finally, last week, we received a small update in the form of a $48 million dollar proposal on establishing an arts center on North Main Street, which would incorporate the Union Depot (pretty much the same plan City Planner Marc Rohr announced earlier this year).

From the article by the Joplin Globe on the plans:

“The plan calls for a performing and visual arts center of about 150,000 square feet to be built at First and Main streets. It could house a 1,200-seat auditorium for touring shows, a 500-seat theater for Pro Musica concerts, the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. It could include spaces that could be used as classrooms, for convention and meetings, and for receptions.

An amphitheater could be built at the base of the hill north of the Union Depot, and the depot renovated for use as the Joplin Museum Complex, according to the North plan. Green space for use as a park or for outdoor events is proposed down the hill alongside Main Street, and another green space is envisioned between the depot and the amphitheater.”

The overall plan sounds both ambitious and a great improvement and addition to North Main Street. It’s a plan that would have been immediately accepted and lauded by the Joplin City Councils during the heydays of the City that Jack Built. The Joplin Globe, in an editorial, likes the idea and noted the extended helpful hand of the Walton Arts Center of Fayetteville, Arkansas, which has pledged assistance in booking shows and other events. The Walton Arts Center, located in downtown Fayetteville, is probably ten minutes away from the nearest interstate, and succeeded greatly in bringing rejuvenation to Dickson Street and surrounding area. Last we heard, the arts center current problem is not filling its seats, its having enough seats.

We support the plan as well. Joplin’s greatest moments occurred when the city took the bold steps of building a better future. It measured progress in the monuments of art and architecture that rose above its expanding streets, not by shying away or tearing down its former accomplishments. It’s wait to see if the funding is there to achieve the plan, but if it can be gathered, then by all means, full steam ahead.

HJ Joplin Union Depot

Be Bold, Joplin!

Globe Overview of the Union Depot

Joplin Union Depot

East Facade of Joplin Union Depot

This last weekend, the Joplin Globe offered up a summary of the present situation with the Union Depot.  In addition, the Globe put together a short timeline of events for the Depot from its opening over 99 years ago.

The summary covers in brief the past attempts at restoring the Union Depot, including an offer in 1973 by the Kansas City Southern to deed the Depot to the city.  That proposal was nixed by the then head of the Joplin Museum Complex, Everett Richie.  The excuse given then was the danger that the active train tracks posed to the museum and its collection should it be moved to the location.

The Globe managed to speak briefly with Nancy Allman, who was the lead in the effort to restore the Union Depot in the 1980’s.  Allman did confirm that she still had in her possession some items from the Union Depot.  This is good news for the restoration of the Union Depot.  Even if Ms. Allman may not want to donate or sell the items, perhaps she would at least allow the restorers to photograph and measure the items for reproduction purposes.

Joplin Union Depot

West Facade of Joplin Union Depot

The article also brings us via Allen Shirley the 3 Key Issues for the JMC about a move to the Union Depot.  Let’s look at them one by one:

1) The Union Depot’s structural integrity.

Reports indicate that the work done in the prior restoration attempt went along way toward reinforcing and repairing structural integrity issues.  In the walk through by the Joplin Globe with David Glenn, who was part of the restoration team from the 1980’s, Glenn comments on the strength of the building.

2) There’s less than 400 sq foot than the current museum.

As we’ve pointed out in previous coverage of the Union Depot question, there are two measurements being offered of the Union Depot’s space; one from the JMC and company, and one from Mark Rohr.  It really boils down to the basement.  One side counts it and the other side doesn’t.  The basement also brings about another issue, as we’ll address below.  There’s no reason more space cannot be constructed to supplement the Union Depot and done so in a simple, elegant and complimentary manner to the Union Depot.  Here’s an off the cuff idea: enclose the concourse extending from the depot with glass, creating a beautiful glass hallway, and have the end of the concourse connect to a secondary building.  There’s plenty of space available for such an addition.  None the less, an addition may not even be necessary.

3) Environmental Control

Appropriately, the JMC Board is concerned about the presence of environmental control in the Union Depot.  It seems that it would be a matter a fact element of any renovation of the Depot, particularly a restoration performed with a archival purpose in mind.  In many ways, as photographs will often attest, the Depot is a blank canvas and now is the time where such improvements can be made and without the cost of tearing out existing material to replace it.  (That former material has already been torn out!)   Again the basement and the standing water.  Here’s a simple answer: pump any water out, replace any water damage and effectively seal the basement walls.  We’re not contractors here at Historic Joplin, but this solution does not seem to be one of great complication.

Mr. Shirley claims that the JMC board has not taken a position about the proposed move.  We would disagree.  No member of the board, or JMC Director Brad Belk, have not once said anything positive about the idea.  In the summary, Mr. Shirley does note they support the preservation of the Depot, as we would hope of those who are charged with protecting the city’s history.  However, supporting the saving of the Depot does by no means equate to supporting the idea of moving the museum.  Fearfully, three members of the City Council appear ready to allow the Board to do as it wishes, which means doing absolutely nothing.  The Board wanted Memorial Hall for a new home, turned down the offer by the Gryphon Building, and will have to be dragged into the Union Depot.

This is not the time for inaction.  Joplin has embarked on a push of re-establishing itself as a city of beautiful buildings and one engaged not only with its past, but with an active present focused on its increasingly vibrant downtown.  The relocation of the museum to the Union Depot would not only give more people a reason to visit downtown, but its better accessibility than the remote location by Schifferdecker Park would mean more would take the time to learn about the city’s glorious past.

The leadership of the city has proven itself innovative and bold by the successful and ongoing restoration downtown, we hope that the leadership does not back down at this important juncture.  The City holds the purse strings of the JMC and if the Board of the JMC is not willing to play a part in the revitalization and the new beginning of Joplin in the 21st century, the City should tighten those strings.  The Board of the JMC needs to accept that they will not always get what they want and assume a much more forward thinking position, lest they end up as dust covered exhibits they profess to preserve.

HJ Joplin Union Depot

Be Bold, Joplin!

Tepidness Reigns Supreme at Museum Board Meeting

Joplin newspaper cartoon

Don't Let the Obstructionist Win!

This last week’s meeting of the Joplin Museum board was a showcase in tepid response to bold planning for the future.  The topic of the meeting, covered by the local news station KODE, was the possible relocation of the museum to the Union Depot.  The news segment featured interviews with board member Allen Shirley and City Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg.

Shirley continued what is now becoming a two month long hem haw of expressing a cautious disapproval for the idea of moving to the Union Depot.  The main point expressed by Shirley in his interview was the lack of exhibit space, a point raised by Museum Director Brad Belk previously.  The matter of sufficient space appears to be growing into the banner to be waved by the Joplin Museum Board, we expect to hear it raised again and again as their argument against the move.

From even before City Manager Mark Rohr’s presentation, the Joplin Museum Board has not wanted to move to the Union Depot, and since the presentation, have protested as much as possible without appearing reactionary.  It is clear that if the Joplin Museum Complex is to be moved to the Union Depot, the board will have to be dragged kicking and screaming.  The angry child who did not get its prized relocation and taxes to take over Memorial Hall now just want to take their ball and go home, rather than settle for something less than they desired.

Disconcertingly, the meeting was attended by three city council members, which as the news report explained were there in support of the museum board.  Of the three, only Benjamin Rosenberg opted to speak with a reporter and offered a fascinating rebuttal against Mark Rohr’s well grounded plans for Joplin’s growth over the next five years.  Rosenberg, when asked about the plan declared, “I had no part in the city manager’s vision.  I had no pre-warning. I had no consultation with the city manager.”  By all appearances, it seems Mr. Rosenberg does not like or agree with Rohr’s plan that was presented earlier this summer.

Rosenberger also told the reporter that he strongly believed the fate of the museum should be left in the hands of the museum board and not forced by the hand of the city.  This would be a rational position to take were the museum lead by forward thinking, competent and experienced individuals, but that is not the case.  The only imaginative thinking the museum has displayed in recent years has been to spring an idea that was overwhelmingly disapproved of by 75% of the city’s voting residents.  Meanwhile, the popularly supported plan of moving the museum to the Union Depot languishes because neither the museum board nor apparently some of the city council are willing to take bold steps for Joplin’s future.

Is Joplin anymore the city of Thomas Connor, Charles Schifferdecker, or Thomas Cunningham?

We say nay!

Where is the vision?  Why the desire for mediocrity?  Where is the leadership that has helped to restore downtown?  Joplin became the city that is resplendent with beautiful buildings and good people because its leaders in the past were unwilling to quietly abide.  It would do the museum board well to remember this, a lesson they should learn if they are at all familiar with the history they have sworn to safe keep.

HJ Union Depot image

It Is Time To Be Bold!

Museum Expert Visits Joplin

As reported in the Joplin Globe today, the Joplin Museum Complex in Schifferdecker Park was visited yesterday by Mary Frances Turner, of Synergy Design Group (a museum design firm) and a museum expert.  Ms. Turner was invited by Chad Greer, the architect hired by City Manager, Mark Rohr, to oversee the expected costs of restoring the Depot.  The purpose of her visit was to evaluate the collection of the museum and to offer her analysis on whether the Union Depot would be a suitable home for the museum.

Of note is the fact that the museum houses an extensive photographic collection of early Joplin, not to mention an amazing mineral collection.  The Globe quoted Ms. Turner as responding, “This is it,” Turner said of the photographs and other historical documents, some of them portraying life in the lead and zinc mines that underpin the founding of Joplin and much of the region. “This is a gold mine” for research, she said.”

Per the condition of the Depot, the matter of the standing water in the basement was raised as an issue toward the climate controlled nature that will be demanded of the new home for the museum. There was also the question of parking.

For those of us closely following the situation, we will have to wait another 4 to 6 weeks for Ms. Turner’s report.

Needless to say, here’s our rather passionate response!

The article also states,

“[Museum Director Brad] Belk has used the materials in some local history books he has written, but the public is largely unaware of the photographs because there is no space in the current setup for them to be accessed or viewed by visitors.

Belk and Shirley listed the mineral collection and mining machines, the local history exhibits and archives, an 8,000-item presidential collection, a collection of World War II-era uniforms, fashions and textiles, Civil War items, and dolls as among the collections that need display space. Some have never been viewed by the public.”

First, as we have repeatedly discussed in the past, Brad Belk has refused access to the photograph collection to visitors (including us). Will this really change if the museum relocates to a new building? If there is a new facility, will Belk finally allow the public to view and obtain copies of photographs, use them in books, or other publications?

To be honest, we’re skeptical. It appears as if he treats the collection as his own personal fiefdom. If Belk was smart, he would model the photograph collection like the one at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, Arkansas, one of the finest small museums in nation.

If you want to see what the Joplin Museum Complex should be like, then visit the Shiloh Museum. It has the largest photograph collection in the state of Arkansas that is lovingly and professionally cared for by trained, expert staff.  The museum features an art collection (artwork is frequently rotated on a regular basis), permanent exhibits about life in the Ozarks, rotating exhibits on topics of local, regional, and national interest, a superb museum collection, and outdoor exhibits. Its staff have years of museum and public history experience with actual degrees and training in the museum field. Its director is very active (committee and board member) in the American Association of Museums (AAM) the lead organization in the field. Supported by the city of Springdale, Arkansas, and private donors, it operates on a small budget every year, less than $500,000.

Can Brad Belk run a museum like that?  It is yet to be seen.

Here’s our view: Get a new building, get a new director, and dump the cookie cutter/doll collection. Museums cannot and should not collect every item that comes in the door. Cut the excess and focus on the true gems of the collection.

However, even if the Joplin Museum Complex does not move into the Union Depot, its collections of Joplin’s history must be made available to the public.  Such historic treasures should not be relegated to the private fiefdom of the museum to be made available at the whims of the museum’s leadership.  We at Historic Joplin have been to a number of research centers and a research area may only consist of a table and a couple chairs.   It is not a difficult matter to take up.  In terms of organizing the collection, it is amazing what earnest volunteers are willing to do and organize if only given the proper direction.

Second, this has not been the first time the issue of water has been raised concerning the Union Depot as a home to the museum.  We can only hope that it does not represent a barrier to the decision to move the museum.  While we are not experts in restoration or plumbing, it would seem that waterproofing a basement is not high on the list of complex restoration work.  The cost of this fix should be considered with the benefit to restoring and saving an architectural masterpiece, as well providing the collections of the Joplin Museum Complex a worthy and admirable home. We Missourians are known for our tenacity, our resourcefulness, and our resiliency.

Finally, this is an important moment for Joplin and its history.  The chance exists to save a building that has been neglected for too long and to provide the museum a home with roots nearly as deep as the city itself.  The Union Depot is more accessible to those lured to the rehabilitated downtown area than the Joplin Museum Complex’s present home and it is a beautiful building that need not be viewed from Main Street to be admired for its style and design.

We hope that Mary Frances Turner can overlook the weak complaints about water at the Union Depot and will recommend that it should serve as the new home of the Joplin Museum Complex. Make a bold leap of faith and save the Union Depot and provide the citizens of Joplin with a credible museum.

If you want to voice your support for the Union Depot, why not contact the Mayor Mike Woolston, City Manager Mark Rohr, and Museum Director Brad Belk? Tell them what you think. Let your voices be heard.

Joplin Union Depot

Save the Union Depot!

It’s a Matter of Space

Questions

As you may have noticed, we’ve been following the latest developments regarding the proposed Joplin Museum move to the Union Depot.

After reading some of the comments on the Joplin Globe’s website and in its “Letters to Editor” section over the last few months, we have questions.

As one Globe reader, posting under the name Av-I-tar, asked,  Why are visitors not allowed to take photography in the Joplin Museum Complex?

We here at Historic Joplin hate to brag, but we’ve been in a few of the world’s finest museums. We’ve also visited some pretty crappy ones. The kind filled with arrowheads, poorly preserved stuffed animals moldering away, and a bunch of junk that the “curator” decided to take lest he or she offend the donor. Oh, wait. Sound familiar?

So what’s the big deal? Afraid that professional thieves might take photographs to aid in robbing the museum of it’s “rare” mineral collection? Fearful that someone will attempt to profit from photographs of the exhibits? If you are going to enforce a nonsensical policy, you should at least provide a rational explanation to visitors.

Another issue that keeps popping up and one that we are familiar with: Brad Belk will not allow the public to access, view, or study the museum’s photo collection. We presume his salary is paid by the city. Why is a city employee allowed to deny the public, Joplin taxpayers in particular, access to the photograph collection? The answer given? “No space.”

The museum exists for the benefit of the public. The public should be accommodated, but it seems that Belk has established his own personal fiefdom and serves as the gatekeeper who perpetually denies the public an opportunity to review the city’s photographic history. It will probably remain this way until he retires which will probably be decades in the future because he is firmly entrenched.

Perhaps if we wrote a big enough check we could get access. Instead we hope the folks who sign his paycheck read our comments and those expressed on the Joplin Globe’s website and ask him to reconsider his obstructionist  behavior. We’re curious to see if, once he gets all the museum space he desires, he will continue this absurd policy.

At least we have enough time to save our nickels and dimes to write that big check.

Museum Boards Meet to Discuss Depot Plans – HJ’s Response

Today’s Joplin Globe reported that the Joplin Museum and Historical Society boards met to discuss the Gryphon Building and Union Depot as potential locations for the Joplin Museum Complex. Both boards voted against a proposal to purchase the newly renovated Gryphon Building. The cost of the Gryphon Building was far too high for the museum.

Joplin Museum Complex Director Brad Belk then discussed the Union Depot. After noting, “It is better laid out than the current museum location” he claimed the size of the depot is smaller than the current museum facility and that it has water issues in the basement.

Gee.

The depot is almost one hundred years old and has been sitting empty since the 1970s. With no windows, no doors, and no maintenance, it’s not surprising that it has a few issues. At least one architect and one contractor have expressed their opinion that the structure is sound and built to last.

It seems Belk and the museum/society boards are dragging their feet when there is a golden opportunity before them. They could be heroes! Imagine – revitalizing the Union Depot, a beautiful structure that stands on the site of the lead strike that led to Joplin’s very existence – and helping anchor and rehabilitate north downtown Joplin. Instead, they are letting a few puddles of water and space concerns constrain them.

Look into the water issue. Talk to architects about the cost and design of an addition to the current structure that would bring needed additional space that would, at the same time,  preserve the architectural integrity of the depot. The Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City managed to do this.

Now, we realize that the museum complex is poor as a church mouse and that its board members are unable and/or unwilling to cough up a significant amount of funds needed to bring in a renown architect and build a modern addition like the Nelson-Atkins. That isn’t necessary. What is necessary is that the boards and Belk seize this opportunity. A local architect can be found who can create a tasteful and aesthetically pleasing addition.

They have no concept of vision. But, then again, it seems that the museum and society boards are populated by good old boys who know very little about museums and historic preservation.

Why not look into Mark Rohr’s proposals of grants and other funding methods to make the dream come true? It certainly would be better to try and fail in this case rather than just sit and do nothing but complain and grumble.

Let’s face it.

In April the voters declined to support the museum’s pathetic takeover of Memorial Hall. Memorial Hall is over. Move on. Move on to what people are actually voicing support for. Museum attendance across the nation has been declining for years. Either you march into the future or you wait to be swept up into the dustbin of history and irrelevance.

What will it be?

In memory of the feisty Joplin Globe and News-Herald editors of yesteryear who never failed to express their opinion whether popular or not.

Historic Joplin - Support the Union  Depot Proposal

Don't Let The Museum Board Balk at A New Home!

Joplin Museum Officials Are Clueless

Don't Let the Joplin Museum Complex move to the depot be blocked!

An editorial cartoon from before the Union Depot was built, which implied others were trying to obstruct its construction. Now is not the time to balk at renovating the depot as a new home for the Joplin Museum Complex.

Today’s Joplin Globe has two articles on Joplin’s Union Depot and its proposed renovation for use as the new home of the Joplin Museum Complex.

Isn’t it funny that the Joplin Museum Complex howled and yowled earlier this year that the Union Depot was in too bad of shape to restore? Remember all that talk about “water in the basement” made it unusable? It’s mind-boggling that an organization dedicated to the history of Joplin would just turn up its nose to restore one of Joplin’s architectural crown jewels, isn’t it?  Particularly after a contractor has stated the depot is in sound shape for renovation.

It’s time to be blunt.

If you have ever visited the Joplin Museum Complex, you know that it is not impressive. One of us visited it as a third grade student years ago and on a visit last year found that little, if anything, has changed. (Creepy mannequins, anyone?) The exhibits were pretty much the same. Rocks and minerals lay spread out with labels but no interpretive information. Rusty old mining equipment is outside exposed to the elements without meaningful information for visitors. There are cheesy exhibits on the Empire District Company, the National Cookie Cutter Museum, and the Joplin Sports Hall of Fame.

Why has the museum board seemingly failed to financially support the museum over the years?  Trustees are expected to support their institution through their own financial generosity as well as lobby individuals of influence and wealth to give financial, legislative, and/or other support to the institution. At the very least, can they not pony up enough money to pay for a grant-writer to bring in money for new exhibit materials?

A move to the Union Depot would present the chance for the Joplin Museum Complex to reevaluate its exhibits and pare down those like the Cookie Cutter Museum that simply have nothing to do with Joplin or its history.  It’s an opportunity to redesign and improve relevant exhibits that as well for the trustees to step forward and act to help improve the museum.

Board member Clair Goodwin (a sports columnist for the Joplin Globe) was quoted as saying, “The good thing is, people are concerned about the museum.” Mr. Goodwin mistakes the enthusiasm of the public for the renovation of the Union Depot and the north end of downtown Joplin as support for the museum.

In April it was clear that the public did not support the museum’s aggressive attempt to take over Memorial Hall. It is doubtful that the public has had a change of heart. What is clear, however, is that the public supports the continued renewal of downtown Joplin and the Union Depot. Anyone who appreciates architectural beauty, as many do in Joplin, that the Union Depot is a gorgeous building that deserves to be restored and preserved. Moving the Joplin Museum Complex to a restored Union Depot will kill two birds with one stone.

When board member Allen Shirley says, “The Joplin Historic Society wants a larger museum, but also ‘has an obligation to protect and preserve the exhibits that have been placed in our hands,’” he and the rest of the board need to jump on this opportunity while it exists.  This is not the time to twiddle one’s thumbs.

Allen Shirley has been described in the Joplin Independent as a “pharmaceutical sales executive” who was appointed to the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (MACHP) by former Governor Matt Blunt (we assume  that as a long time Republican Mr. Shirley was placed on the MACHP by Governor Blunt as a political patronage position and not for extensive historic preservation experience/expertise).

Shirley apparently likes to collect old newspapers that he wants to one day dump off on the Joplin Museum Complex. This is absurd for two reasons: one) newspapers from France’s Reign of Terror do not fit the mission of the Joplin Museum Complex, and, two) the Joplin Museum Complex will not be equipped to care for his newspaper collection. Once again, a collector with eccentric taste tries to dump off his collection on a museum to take care of once he’s dead, i.e. Let the taxpayers of Joplin pay for the care and preservation of old newspapers that have nothing to do with Joplin history.

Perhaps he just wants to make sure there will be enough space for his newspapers in the Union Depot?

The museum board must realize that the will of the people, whom the museum is designed to serve, is for the museum to move to the depot.  When their dream of taking over Memorial Hall failed, those who voted against it voiced support then for a move to the depot.  If the museum board chooses to balk at this proposal, then the City Council should step in.

We here at Historic Joplin think the only person with vision is Mark Rohr. We have never met him, have never spoken with him, and have never e-mailed him. But from what we can tell, this man is dedicated to improving Joplin. His vision for the north end of Joplin’s downtown would be serve as an anchor and impetus of revitalization for an area that was once populated at the turn of the century with brothels, saloons, and shanties. Keep going, Mr. Rohr! Onward and upward!

Support the renovation of the Joplin Union Depot as a new home for the Joplin Museum Complex!

Support the renovation of the Joplin Union Depot as a new home for the Joplin Museum Complex!