Largely due to some huge commercial projects underway in Branson, the city reported its building permit values in 2019 surpassed $122 million – more than the two previous years combined.
The Branson Planning & Development Department’s quarterly status report indicated the cumulative value easily exceeded building permit values in 2018, at $52.4 million, and 2017, $53.9 million.
Of the 2019 total, $110.7 million, or 90%, was tied to commercial projects, with the remaining $11.4 million for residential building permits. Three projects contributed more than half of the commercial permit value: Aquarium at the Boardwalk, which listed a $27.4 million estimated value in its building permit; Westgate Branson Woods Waterpark, $15.5 million; and indoor amusement park WonderWorks, $13 million.
“This just was an extra big year,” said Branson Planning & Development Director Joel Hornickel. “It will be difficult to replicate this year consistently. Someday, hopefully.”
Hornickel said high-dollar projects such as Aquarium at the Boardwalk don’t come along often. Its permit value was more than half of all commercial projects for 2018. The aquarium project, set for completion in August, has an estimated $51 million construction cost, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
The last time Branson recorded building activity at this level was in the mid-2000s. New construction in 2005 came in at $173.6 million, and in 2006, at an all-time high of $215.9 million, according to SBJ archives. Key developments during that time were Branson Landing, the Branson Convention Center and the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel.
In the cloud
As several of Branson’s large projects move toward completion this year, a new city investment will impact future jobs of all sizes.
Hornickel said the city has invested in Citizenserve, a cloud-based portal for easing processes, including building permits and code enforcement. The city’s Planning & Development Department sought requests for proposals last year to improve the building permit review process, Hornickel said. City officials selected Tempe, Arizona-based Citizenserve, which also operates as Online Solutions LLC, to provide the cloud-computing platform. The initial investment was $80,000, he said, which includes the first year’s subscription to the portal. A decision on a renewal cost of $34,200 will need to be made by June, he added.
While the platform didn’t go live for permit applicants until January, Hornickel said city staff has been working with Citizenserve since mid-2019 to learn the system. Permit requests are customized based on city codes, he added. There’s a staff side of the platform and a public portal side that allows applicants to make requests online and follow the process as it moves through the system.
“It’s really a one-stop shop for them to have access to the request,” he said, adding the platform is designed to cut down on permit approval times.
For 2019, Hornickel said the average turnaround time for permit approval was 9.6 days for commercial and 7.2 days for residential. Applicants now won’t need to make repeated visits to City Hall to deliver or pick up paperwork and get project updates, he said, adding that can waste hours of time.
“The commercial number has stayed pretty steady over the past five years,” he said. “We have every reason to believe those numbers will improve based on what Citizenserve is doing for our processing here.”
Branson Security & Fire has utilized the portal several times a week since early January, said sales representative Chris Gaut. The company regularly seeks permits for fire alarms, hood fire suppression systems and fire sprinkler system installations. He said emails are the primary method of interaction with permitting staff, which has been an improvement in communication and record keeping.
“It makes it nice that you don’t have to make any additional trips to City Hall,” Gaut said. “It’s not like a closed communication loop; it’s always open.”
He estimates Branson Security & Fire has applied for about 15 permits with the city over the past six weeks.
“All of our stuff has been approved,” he said, noting one of the requests was approved within hours of submittal. “We’re not backlogged on anything that I’m aware of.”
In Springfield, city officials updated its permit application and review process in 2018, transitioning to cloud-based software called eCity. However, it ran into challenges in the initial three months, as migrating data from the city’s old system impacted active projects and permits with delays.
“We had to spend a lot of staff time manually fixing that and getting data corrected,” said Springfield Building Development Services Director Harlan Hill, noting there were over 300 cases to review. “We were fairly operational within a three-month period.”
However, Hill estimated only 20% of contractors are utilizing eCity. Many still regularly call staff for updates in the permitting process.
For Branson, even if the city doesn’t surpass the $100 million mark in 2020, Hornickel said there’s nothing wrong with permit values north of $50 million.
“If we hit $50 million, it’s a solid construction year,” he said. “Anything more than that, we’re really happy.”
Web Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.
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