Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Town That Could!

“Someone is going to write about us someday as The Town that Could!” Mike Rankin, head of Economic Development in Branson, MO (population 6,050) was telling us at a presentation in city hall prior to our tour of the town and new Branson Landing. I was there for a behind the scenes tour of the incredible $435 million Branson Landing project that was built adjacent to Lake Taneycomo and Branson’s historic downtown. Rankin and city engineer Dave Miller were our tour guides.

This is the only town of its size in not only the USA but probably the entire world that could pull off a project that includes: a 220,000 sf convention center, a twelve story Hilton Hotel and adjacent boutique hotel with a combined 525 rooms, a $7.5 million water fountain (which required 130 miles of wiring to build), a $4.5 million one-of-a-kind outdoor lighting system, 3 condo towers and 85 new stores in 466,000 sf.

Miller explained how the project came to fruition, “We started on Branson Landing over five years ago. We had more than 100 public meetings, had to overcome several lawsuits, assembled over 100 parcels of land on 95 acres along 1.5 miles of the waterfront and set up the largest TIF project in the history of the state. It required a paradigm shift on the part of the city to utilize state and federal funds to accomplish.”

Rankin chimed in, “Now that it’s very successfully opened and people can see what it is, we’ve found that success has many fathers. The naysayers of the past several years have become very quiet.”

The project started in early 2001 when an Australian developer who had vacationed in Branson approached the city about the development of a convention center. “It was the ninth proposed convention center that we had looked at as a city, but the only one with a vision to look at putting it next to the downtown. Everyone else had looked at Greenfield sites,” Rankin told me.

The properties were quickly optioned but 9/11 made hotel developments questionable and the city took the project over late in 2001. A developer from Topeka, an architect from Atlanta and the original consultant from Australia worked through a number of hurdles including the US Corps of Engineers to break ground in May, 2004.

The $54 million TIF District required legislative approval, but the bonds for the project were sold in only 20 minutes.

Other incredible projects on Branson in tomorrow’s blog.

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