Project Branson, a private, economic development group and long-time advocate for the 76 Revitalization Program, participated in a presentation on April 6, 2017 at the Branson City Council Study Session as the newest member of the 76 Revitalization Program Team. In addition to being under contract with the City to provide creative elements for the transformation of the corridor, Project Branson works to assure accurate and timely information is available to property owners, businesses and other stakeholders who have interest in the new Entertainment District and its redevelopment.
The following topics have been discussed recently throughout the community and merit additional factual content, clarification and updated information.
76 REVITALIZATION COSTS SO FAR
As of February 2017, the City of Branson has spent $13 million on the revitalization of West Highway 76 from State Highway 65 to Shepherd of the Hills Expressway. Utilizing revenues from the City’s tourism tax (for infrastructure) and the general fund, the City has completed a Master Plan, supported early implementation for private entities initiating new construction on the corridor in advance of the program schedule (Pasghetti’s, Branson Auto & Farm Museum and CiCi’s) and began construction on Phase 1A/Segment 3 of the corridor per the program schedule. Revitalization of Segment 3 is moving quickly toward completion with 80% of the duct bank and utility work and 45% of the surface improvements now substantially complete. This $13 million investment consists of $7.6 million for the Conceptual Master Plan; $1.3 million for early adopters design and construction, and $4.1 million for Phase 1A/Segment 3 revitalization.
WATER LINE UPGRADE
In addition to the revitalization planned for the 76 corridor, the City’s water line in this area required critical upgrades. Increasing capacity with the installation of 12” water lines here, is a vital component of the entire City’s water distribution system and will allow for improved movement of water from the treatment plants to the water towers. Updated lines will also increase pressures and flows to homes and businesses in nearly all areas of the City, according to David Miller, City of Branson Public Works Director. City utility rates have increased to fund these improvements, and the water line upgrade is underway in conjunction with the Highway 76 Revitalization Program, in order to save money, leverage resources and minimize disruption to business activity along the corridor. The water line work is estimated at $16 million which is separate from the 76 Revitalization Program budget.
When Jim Martin began as the 76 Revitalization Program Manager last summer, he soon discovered that program cost estimates had grown from $80 million to $180 million for the full five mile transformation. Since August, the program team (Olsson Associates, Carson-Mitchell, and Boyce Excavating with City of Branson Engineering & Public Works) have diligently value-engineered the construction budget for the program. Now, with actual vendor bids, construction underway, significant completion of Phase 1A/Segment 3, and several months of analysis and revisions by the program team, the construction budget is firmly $80 million once again. Conceptual work in advance of construction ($7.6M) as well as the waterline upgrades ($16M) are additional and independent expenses.
In September, the City of Branson Board of Aldermen agreed to take over this five-mile stretch of Highway 76 from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) in exchange for $5,645,130 in cash. When the agreement was drafted, the $13.2 million low-interest loan from MTFC (Missouri Transportation Finance Corporation) came into play as well. Initially, the loan was being applied for independent of the highway take-over agreement.
Since last fall, the City and Program Team have been investigating a variety of ways to utilize the MTFC loan opportunity, but application of those funds has proven to be impossible due to significant federal restrictions on their use. For example, utility relocations would only be eligible for federal funds where it is absolutely necessary to accommodate a sidewalk. The vast majority of the shared duct bank and costs associated with undergrounding utilities is not possible with federal funding. MoDOT management has further advised that the overall project construction schedule would likely be more than six years, due to the amount of additional reviews, inspections and audits required during construction. Since it appears that utilizing the MTFC loan would seriously impact the original vision and goals of the revitalization, the plan now is to realign the MoDOT take-over agreement independent of MTFC loans, to assure that the undergrounding of utilities, a top priority of Branson citizens and community leaders, can be accomplished and the program can be completed within the planned budget and timeline. Unfortunately, a $19,800 non-refundable fee was paid as part of the loan application process, before the full scope of federal fund restrictions was realized.
Central to the long term finance plan for this revitalization, is the expansion of the 76 Entertainment Community Improvement District established in 2016. Annexation efforts are currently underway to include the full five mile corridor in a 1% sales tax levy to fund project construction and ongoing maintenance.
STUDY SESSION PRESENTATION
The update provided at the City Council Study Session today outlined the 76 Revitalization Program in six layers, with budget detail by layer and by geographic segment. Project Branson Executive Director, Ann McDowell, explained the process and timeline underway for creative enhancements, as well as some implementation examples. Jim Martin, City of Branson 76 Program Manager, and Korey Schultz, with Olsson Associates presented the engineering, design and budgeting portions of the Program.