With the opening of Johnny Morris' Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium just days away, the excitement is growing in Springfield.
Just as the community is proud of other local people who are successful and made a positive impact on the community -- the O'Reilly family, John Q. Hammons, the McQuearys, Gordon Elliott, Robert Low and others -- we are so proud of John L. Morris for his legendary contribution to the region and those who visit.
We’re lucky to have Wonders of Wildlife, an attraction other cities vied for when the idea was first proposed but was built in Springfield thanks to Morris’ vision and the millions of dollars he contributed to the nonprofit organization. I’ve had the privilege of touring WOW during construction and can honestly say it is a fairly priced, world-class attraction that will raise the status of Springfield as a premiere tourist destination, and that's good for all of us. Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, in fact, is already the most visited tourist attraction in Missouri.
Besides building the first Bass Pro store in the country in Springfield, Morris keeps the company’s national headquarters here, making the retailer one of the city’s largest employers that will only get bigger once the merger with Cabela’s is complete. Millions in sales tax dollars are also collected at the store, funding a multitude of amenities, infrastructure improvements and services our community and state would not have otherwise.
If you’ve ever met Morris, you know he is soft spoken, humble and, most important, sincere. Springfield is his home and he has done nothing but make it a better place to live and visit. We should be singing his praises as he takes Springfield to the next level when it comes to tourism, an industry that employs more than 20,000 people in Greene County.
Tourism, in fact, is one of the city’s top industries. In 2016, alone, more than $100 million was spent at the city’s hotels to say nothing of the restaurants, retailers and attractions that benefit from the 3 million overnight visitors who come to Springfield each year along with countless day trippers.
Please join me in thanking Johnny Morris, a person I deeply respect and admire. He has built a monument to conservation in the place that made him the greatest conservationist of our generation and all of us should be proud he calls Springfield home.