A single project and a new mindset have shaped the city of Republic the last three years, according to officials in the town southwest of Springfield.
The 15-square mile city struggled with development negotiations prior to 2016, they say, until a shift in policy came on-line. In early 2017, city staff members began to look beyond the city and focus on the region in its mission, vision and values.
David Cameron, city administrator, said City Council ratified the revised outlook on development and helped change the trajectory of the town. Following the code changes, officials began developing its 20-year comprehensive plan, dubbed Strategic Opportunities Advancing Republic 2040.
“The best marketing you have is a true message,” Cameron said.
Garrett Tyson, Republic’s community development director, said after the city brought contractors in for comments and suggestions to codes, the city loosened up its stance during building regulation talks.
The code changes led to Garton Business Park, a 152-acre industrial development. And the land came from an unlikely source: Drury University.
The university received a land endowment in 2000, said Drury trustee Bill Ricketts, and school officials wanted to honor the donor by using a portion of the land for development.
Located southeast of the James River Freeway and Highway MM interchange, the development started in October 2016, just before the code changes were ratified.
“We felt that one piece along MM was developable as an industrial site because of its access to the highway system,” Ricketts said, adding the rest of the endowment remained for agricultural use.
Cameron said the city partnered with Tom Rankin of Rankin Development LLC and Drury on a cost-share development agreement, where infrastructure would be built out as lots were sold.
“Basically, the city was serving as the investor,” he said.
Rankin’s company, Garton 3 LLC, completed construction on the third building in the park, a $5 million, 8.5 acre speculative warehouse.
“Tom Rankin was the first one to buy in to give us a shot,” Cameron said.
Rankin said he approached the city on behalf of Drury to find a way to fund infrastructure to sell lots and allow the city to increase its employment base.
To date, Rankin said he’s invested $20 million in the park, and he isn’t done. He’s planning another 100,000-square-foot building and construction is scheduled to begin in the spring.
For the city’s part, Tyson said Republic has invested $800,000 in park infrastructure.
“Garton Park was a pivotal move,” Cameron said. “What we’re doing now, we have skin in the game. So it forces us to reevaluate our own processes.”
Ready to develop
Garton Business Park currently has four open lots, each in the 8- to 13-acre range and priced at $70,000-$80,000 apiece. Located in an enhanced enterprise zone, the park has three tenants: ROi, a new division of HealthTrust acquired from Mercy earlier this year; Lew’s Fishing, a fishing equipment distributor; and the Rankin warehouse spec building.
Ozarks Technical Community College is in the midst of building an education center in Frisco Square, with an opening date scheduled for August 2020. The 30,000-square-foot development, made possible by a 7.69-acre land donation from the Bussey-Cox-Lipscomb families, will feature classrooms, study spaces and labs.
Tyson said the Route MM corridor between Interstate 44 and U.S. Highway 60 has one of the brighter futures.
“This has high logistical value and a bit of development potential,” he said. “I think long term, this could be a regional employment center.”
Tyson also envisions a residential development on the east side, across Wilson’s Creek Boulevard from Republic High School and affectionately called the “doughnut hole” by staff.
“We see this filling in quickly over the next five to 10 years,” he said of the roughly 400 acres, mostly owned by individuals and trusts, though Turner Residential Holding LLC has 48 acres.
Tyson has worked in Republic for 11 years, and in that time he said he saw the need to inspire confidence within the development community. He said prior to 2016, there was an adversarial relationship between the city, government and developers.
“I would characterize it as a lot of sitting across the table and seeing your adversary – that’s somebody who’s out to get me so I have to stop that,” Tyson said.
He said previously, the city was rigid on development and permitting.
“There was defiantly a lack of trust,” Cameron said.
Tyson said regulation changes, like revising building codes, helped establish trust with developers.
“It’s now much more an atmosphere of trust and reliability where the person across the table, we want them to know and to feel and to trust the information we’re giving them is 100% reliable. And that we can back that up,” Tyson said.
As a result, single-family building permits have increased 46% to 155 in 2019. Total residential building permits hit a four-year high in 2018 with 226, and this year’s count of 179 isn’t too far behind.
“I don’t see us slowing down anytime soon,” Cameron said. “It’s only going to speed up.”
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