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Opinion: There’s something to watch in Branson

Eyes & Ears

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The construction numbers are the show in the first half of the year in Branson.

Particularly, it’s the commercial building permits on center stage.

I’ve got a front-row seat via quarterly status reports filed by the Branson Planning & Development Department. Come grab a spot next to me.

You can see the commercial permits raised some eyebrows in the first quarter, hitting a level not experienced since the first three months of 2016. They exceeded 300 permits out of the gate this year. That’s only happened twice in the past five years, according to the city’s quarterly reports.

But the second quarter show was not as strong, comparatively. If this was a theater review, that doesn’t mean it’s a dud – just average. It’s still worth the price of admission.

The commercial count, 299, is in line with the second quarter in each of the last four years.

So, that brings us to year to date through June.

Through June, commercial permits in Branson are beating the count in the first halves of the last three years. Only 2016 had a six-month total, 617 permits, that top the current 601.

Now’s the time for a segue: 2018 was a banner year for building in Branson. That’s when 1,677 residential and commercial permits were issued – a number not even close to being reached since at least 2013, the oldest period cited in the recent city documents. But it was the homes that stole the show last year. Nearly 600 residential building permits were issued, more than twice as many as the 2014 tally. Since then, residential permits had settled in the 300s.

As conventional development wisdom says commercial follows the rooftops, that may be what we’re watching happen in Branson.

Ready for intermission? Let’s take a short break. Refreshments, chit-chat, fresh air – you know the drill.

The spotlight’s back up, and now, it’s time to show us the money.

No time for song and dance here, let’s jump to the punchline: The total value of building permits issued through June this year is a whopping $76.1 million. That’s already more than the full-year totals all the way back to 2013. The only year close is 2014, which recorded $71.6 million in building permit values issued over the 12 month period.

Of all these permits moving through Branson City Hall, we can pull back the curtain to see the biggest new project: the Aquarium at the Boardwalk. It has an estimated value of $27.4 million, according to the city report. It’s obviously the outlier and propelling the record year. The Aquarium at the Boardwalk alone exceeds all commercial permit values issued in 2013, when they totaled $25.9 million.

Two other projects this year are estimated above $10 million: the Wonderworks attraction, at $13 million, on Highway 76 and a Cox utility plant, $10.4 million, on Branson Landing Boulevard.

At this rate, commercial and residential permits are on pace to reach 1,578 this year. For the competitors among us, that’s about a 100-permit gap from the recent high in 2018.

There are six months of data to collect for the final act. Sit back and enjoy the show.

Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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