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Government plaza in the works in Ozark

Christian County breaks ground on 39-acre campus project

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In a project they say is years in the making, Christian County officials broke ground Sept. 14 on the Christian County Government Plaza at 2701 W. Jackson St.

Water and sewer infrastructure will be expanded throughout the site as the first step in developing a 39-acre parcel purchased by the county in January 2020. The Christian County Commission has contracted with K&B Equipment LLC to begin installation of utility infrastructure at the site, according to an announcement from the county.

Todd Wiesehan, the county’s resource management director, who is serving as public information officer for the project, said via email that the project cost for the infrastructure work is budgeted at $1.1 million.

The project’s first phase calls for buildings for the county’s operational staff, recycling center, maintenance and storage.

A municipal campus will occupy half of the property, and officials say the remaining areas will have a frontage road reserved for commercial development. Future phases will construct a centerpiece structure to house the offices of elected officials and develop a parking area.

A full cost estimate is not available for the project, Wiesehan said, as design work is underway.

“The goal remains to move forward to the extent possible without financing any new long-term debt,” he said.

Quality of place
The initial phase also includes the development of a half-mile walking trail and the establishment of an outdoor performance venue at one of the stormwater detention basins.

“The geography of the property is an area that basically is kind of wooded with water that drains through it,” said Wiesehan.

County officials also noted that one of the detention basins on the property does not contain water year-round.

“We thought if we were to create a terrace on one side of it, it would be a nice opportunity for another community gathering spot,” he said.

Quality of place is a much-touted priority for Christian County’s neighbor to the north, but the principle isn’t just for Springfield, as Wiesehan made clear.

“We’re emphasizing what makes Christian County a great place: our people, the natural features that we have down here, our schools, our workforce and just a lot of opportunity,” he said.

Commercial development
Wiesehan said the project would preserve road frontage near the intersection of West Jackson and North 25th streets.

“We will be able to have five essentially shovel-ready sites, which is, I think, a very valuable economic development opportunity,” he said.

The property within the city of Ozark is zoned C-2 commercial, he said, which means a wide variety of things could happen there. He noted the site is near a Mercy clinic, as well as entertainment venues Big Whiskey’s restaurant and a B&B theater.

Kristen Haseltine, president and CEO of Show Me Christian County, expressed enthusiasm for the project.

“The Christian County Government Plaza will not only be beneficial to the operations of the county government, but the investment also encourages economic development within the community,” she said. “As the economic development organization for the county, we are appreciative the commission decided to strategically invest in developable sites to be used in business recruitment and retention.”

Haseltine said she believes the five sites will be attractive to companies with the capacity to increase both the daytime population and the average county wage.

“I am happy to see Christian County proactively respond to the need for developable commercial sites,” she said.

In a news release from the county, Commissioner Hosea Bilyeu said he was excited to be part of the project.

“Christian County is a wonderful place to live as demonstrated by our population growth,” he said. “Our goal has been to create a new and welcoming government facility appropriate to serve the needs of future generations.”

Commissioner Bradley Jackson noted the historic courthouse on the Ozark square is a symbol of the city’s and county’s heritage and has served its people.

“With that said, trying to meet all the needs of our continually growing population within the downtown square is no longer realistic and presents ever growing access and parking problems for the businesses nearby,” he said. “My hope is that over time this transition will support vitality here on the square while also expanding economic development opportunities near the future campus.”

Wiesehan said it was too early to speak to the fate of the historic courthouse, as replacement of the building may be a decade in the future.

“Certainly, that is a good question,” he said. “I don’t know for sure that the county government would not have some sort of presence still in that building, depending on how the county grows. When we start moving down that road, the commission will want to have quite a bit of community input to see what the best thing is to do.”

He expects the county would never give up ownership of the historic building.

“If you look around at other communities, many have already gone through this experience, and there have been some interesting uses that places have done to keep it vibrant,” he said, citing office spaces, shops, museums and centers for the arts. “It may even be a positive thing for the businesses around the square.”

Christian County is a growing community, gaining over 11,400 residents – a 15% increase – in the 2020 census, compared with the previous count in 2010.

Digital Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.

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