Ozark Mill revitalization project

Construction workers pause while building a new foundation for the Ozark Mill near the Finley River in Ozark as part of a development plan by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris.

Ozark City Administrator Steve Childers spoke at an Aug. 1 press conference and thanked Megan Morris for her passion for a Bass Pro Shops project to redevelop the old Ozark Mill into a commercial farm, restaurant entertainment site. 

Later, he explained to media what planning is left to do to ensure the Morris family can watch their Finley Farms vision come to life. Childers said Ozark’s Planning and Zoning Commission will discuss the zoning of the Finley Farms property.

“They’re going to be rezoning this property to what is called a PUD—a Planned Urban Development,” Childers said. “And what that means is they are required to write their own set of design guidelines and zoning regulations and things like that.”

Right now, Childers explained, the Finley Farms property is made up of many small lots. The property, in addition, has many planned uses, including shopping, dining, and farming.

“They take (their plans) to the P&Z Commission in August, and they’ll hear comments and they’ll have to go back, make modifications, have more meetings—we’ve had dozens and dozens of meetings—so they can hear what the staff says, either what comments or concerns there are,” Childers said. “We’ll review that and then, probably sometime in September or October, P&Z will be done with that and will send it on to the board of aldermen for final approval.”

Childers also mentioned the property’s planned building permit. Since the property lies on a floodplain, builders need a special permit.

“You can imagine it’s a challenging aspect—you’re moving the mill, you’re in the floodplain,” Childers said. “There’s been a lot of staff time spent on this with engineers and our public works department.”

The Ozark Board of Aldermen approved a redevelopment plan Aug. 6 containing allowable uses for 128.2 acres of land in and around downtown Ozark, potential economic incentives that would be allowed, and potential uses that would not be allowed. Childers said the redevelopment plan for one piece of the downtown area must also align with the overall comprehensive plan for the entire city of Ozark.

“The redevelopment plan to is to ensure that the new uses that are being proposed for an area, in the designated Finley River redevelopment area, are consistent with those uses that are allowed in the comprehensive plan for the city of Ozark,” Childers said.

There are five residential houses in the redevelopment area. Four of those houses fall into the area that was subject to a blight study 10 years ago.

Childers stressed that the redevelopment plan does not give anyone a green light to build anything in the blighted downtown area. It merely gives the city government and any would-be developers some guidelines to follow, especially when it comes to tax abatements and other economic development incentives.

“A project would have to come before the board of aldermen and be judged on its own merit. Basically, each project has to create their own redevelopment plan, bring that forward to the board of aldermen, and at that time the redevelopment plan of that project will be evaluated to determine if incentives, if they are requested, are legitimate and if they are justified,” Childers told the aldermen.

Childers noted his personal appreciation for an Ozark Mill project he hopes to see through to completion as city administrator.

“As a city planner 15 years ago, like I mentioned, I sat in this very building with John Morris and the president of Bass Pro, Jim Hagle, and they said, hey, don’t forget—remember if you go through and put districts in place or you develop your downtown plans and things, don’t forget to include our property in that,” Childers said. “Well, we have certainly done that all along the way and 15 years later, to actually see this happen is pretty exciting for me.”

Childers also noted though Bass Pro Shops or the Finley Farms project has not yet requested property blight or tax abatement, but the developers will be able to make such requests in the future.

“…If it’s going to be a property that does request and is approved by the board of aldermen—the tax abatement—it will be done on a five-year sliding scale basis,” Childers explained. “Meaning the first five years is 100 percent, but year six through 10 is 85.5 percent, and then, you know, 10 through 15 and so on and so forth, and it goes down and down.”

This way, Childers said, after the first five years, once a business is open and running, the tax district can begin to see a significant benefit that much sooner. 

Ward 2 Alderman Ted Smith likes the way Ozark designed its sliding scale for tax incentives. It’s helpful, Smith said, for the city to ensure that the Ozark School District will not lose out on any property tax revenue with the way Ozark’s policies are written to incentivize only future property tax gains.

“We will never go backwards,” Smith said. “We are only talking about future improvements that we don’t even have right now.”

Childers added Finley Farms will be a significant impact to the community, regardless.

“I don’t really mean that in the sense of dollars, but I really think it’s going to be that sense of community, that unique project that everybody sort of looks for to make sure that your community doesn’t grow so big that it forgets where it came from,” Childers said. “When you put the educational component and the teaching kids about farming and the value of what agriculture meant to this town, what the value of this river meant to this town and this whole area, then it’s hard to put a price on that.”

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