In party terms, the city of Marshfield is ready for guests to arrive.
The hosts are just waiting for the doorbell to ring at the city’s second front door, an interchange at mile marker 103 on Interstate 44.
“We’ve put a lot of time, effort and money into something that hopefully we’ll see some return on,” said City Administrator Sam Rost, citing opportunities for industrial, retail, mixed-use and housing development to the city’s northwest.
“Hopefully, our kids and everybody down the road will really be able to say, ‘Golly, look at the thought and work that went into that.’”
“That” is more than the new interchange, though the overpass features stonework finishes, decorative antique-style light fixtures and landscaped traffic circles on either end. The investment in the bridge and roadwork was $16.5 million, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Now the city is ready to take development to the next level, with roadwork and water lines completed as part of the initial project. The state General Assembly has appropriated $5 million for the installation of sewer lines, and the city will contribute $2.5 million.
The sewer was not included as part of the initial project, when the interchange construction project installed a water line under the interstate.
“That’s been a very difficult thing to add after the fact, mainly because of funding,” Mayor Natalie McNish said. “We used all of our available debt instruments in the past administration in order to build the water infrastructure and the street infrastructure that is there.”
Sewer is the missing element to make land newly accessible by a freeway interchange appealing to developers. With initial funding for sewer installation in place, work can begin when a development opportunity arises, McNish said.
That answers the question of why earth-moving equipment is not adding sewer lines right this minute. When a developer is on board to build on the land, the sewer project will commence, likely with the use of tax incentives, like tax increment financing, according to Rost.
After several failed grant proposals to fund the sewer work, McNish said city officials appealed to Missouri Rep. John Black and Sen. Curtis Trent in 2022, with the help of government relations firm Hahn DeBoef LLC.
The lawmakers requested funding for their home district and this year, state legislators passed the $5 million allocation to join with local funds.
“Unfortunately, $7.5 million doesn’t go very far,” McNish said. “It doesn’t do near the amount that we would love to do, but it does get it started. It puts the most critical infrastructure in – it gets us under I-44.”
Development of key areas with residential, commercial, mixed-use and even industrial projects can commence, according to McNish.
“When developers come in and say, ‘Hey, I’m interested in this lot,’ we know exactly what needs to happen and we’re ready to do it,” she said.
A waiting game
Though the city has literally paved the way for development, the land surrounding the interchange on both sides of the interstate is not within the city limits. McNish said that if the city initiates involuntary annexation, it will be required to provide infrastructure within seven years, whether or not the parcel is ultimately used.
“It’s in the city’s best interest to not annex in until the landowner is ready to develop the property,” she said. “That way we’re maximizing our dollars and using them in the best way we can.”
Rost said that in conversations with landowners in the area, he has found that most would like to pursue annexation and receive city utility services.
“It’s very important to be transparent with property owners out there and let them know what’s going on,” he said.
If plans seem vague, there’s good reason for that – no specifics have been formulated for the area. Though I-44 is an east-west route, it runs in more of a north-south direction through Marshfield. The west side of the route at Exit 103 is largely rural, with the city’s wastewater treatment plant located there. City leaders believe this area might be appealing for industrial development.
The east side of the interchange is a possible site for retail or mixed-use development or some single-family homes closer to the city limits.
Rost said some businesses that would typically be found off an interchange, like convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, are likely, but other developments are also possible.
“We have the opportunity to draw in maybe one or two box types of retail, and then as you start making your way on down, I think there’s some good business development opportunities there,” he said.
The city will need housing to support new businesses, Rost said.
“We’re going to see a little bit of all types of housing,” he said.
County also strategizing
Marshfield is the seat of Webster County, which Presiding Commissioner Paul Ipock said is also laying the groundwork for growth.
Ipock said the county signed a contract in November 2022 with Birmingham, Alabama-based Retail Strategies, a consultancy that works to attract retailers to cities.
The contract agrees to a fee of $45,000 per year over a three-year term, and it is paid out of the county’s general revenue.
Ipock said company representatives first paid a visit to the county in February.
“They’re looking at retail businesses they can bring in,” he said. “They’ve got some options that they’re thinking are very positive.”
Ipock declined to identify the leads.
He noted the county raises revenue through sales tax, after a 2005 ballot issue that ended the general revenue portion of property tax for the county in favor of a half-cent sales tax.
“The county’s doing good financially,” Ipock added.
He noted the county has saved 30% of sales tax revenue since that measure passed, and that money has been used to fund projects like the construction of the Webster County Jail that opened in 2020.
The county also hired a hotel and restaurant consultant, Core Distinction Group, for $15,000 to conduct a hotel market feasibility study in the county. That study indicated the greatest needs in the county are in the cities of Marshfield and Rogersville, according to a news release from Webster County.
Ipock said the county has a couple of good leads, though he declined to name the hotels that have shown interest. He also declined to say whether the hotels in question were looking at Marshfield or at sites along U.S. Highway 60 in the southern part of the county.
If a city in the county is thought to be a good fit for a hotel, the company would do a more in-depth study for another $15,000, Ipock said, and that would be up to the city to pay.
Asked if the county sees Marshfield’s plans for the interchange area as competition, Ipock said no.
“We always need more jobs – we need more sales,” he said. “The county is growing rapidly; the population is going up. We’re tickled to death with that.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the county’s population at 40,355 in July 2022, up 3.2% from two years prior.
Duane Lavery, president and CEO of economic development agency Gro Marshfield, said he is marketing many properties in the Marshfield area, though he noted his focus is on industrial and large commercial developments.
He noted Marshfield is in a good location in a time of a transformation in national supply chain practices.
“A lot of industries are coming back to the U.S.,” he said. “If they can establish something in the middle part of the United States, being on an interstate allows them to get things in and out. For those industries that have their materials come in and their final products go out on truck, that’s going to be a selling point.”
Rost is hopeful the new interchange area can spur more growth.
“It’s really easy to kind of get excited by what is right in front of you – what the low-hanging fruit might be,” he said.
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