Work on Wynette park and museum nearly complete

Tremont’s Tammy Wynette Legacy Park is almost ready to opening day. Construction of the park’s main building, which will feature a gift shop, museum and restaurant, is largely complete. It now awaits being filled with photographs of and items that once belonged to the country music singer. (Photo by Adam Armour)

Tremont’s Tammy Wynette Legacy Park is almost ready to opening day. Construction of the park’s main building, which will feature a gift shop, museum and restaurant, is largely complete. It now awaits being filled with photographs of and items that once belonged to the country music singer. (Photo by Adam Armour)

By ADAM ARMOUR
News Coordinator

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of opening an attraction that could bring visitors from around the world to the tiny town of Tremont was, to many, borderline preposterous.

What a difference a handful of months and $2.5 million in state funds can make.

“It’s a little bit different from the last time you were here, right?” asked Robert Don Whitehead, a member of the eight-person committee that spearheaded work on the Tammy Wynette Legacy Park, located just off the town’s main drag.

When it opens — tentatively set for April — this main room of the Tammy Wynette Legacy Park building will be home to a gift shop. The open room on the far side will house some of Wynette’s personal belongings. (Photo by Adam Armour)

When it opens — tentatively set for April — this main room of the Tammy Wynette Legacy Park building will be home to a gift shop. The open room on the far side will house some of Wynette’s personal belongings. (Photo by Adam Armour)

Whitehead stood near the entrance to the park’s main building, in a room that in a few months will, if all goes according to plan, be packed with antique items and all manner of Wynette-related merchandise. He referenced the previous visit from The Itawamba County Times, conducted while renovations to the former home of Itawamba Manufacturing were still underway.

That was in August 2016, and the space did indeed look quite different. Whereas the building was previously a mess of skeletal wall frames, naked concrete and clouds of sawdust, the space Whitehead now motioned to was a perfect example of simple, elegant modern design with just a touch of rustic charm. Walls lined with irregular wood wrap a space filled with dim lighting cast from dozens of hanging lights. Stained concrete, polished so that the person standing atop it could conceivably use it to shave, flows from corner to corner, front to back. To the left of the entrance, just beyond a small reception desk, stands a second room, which will eventually host a collection of the country music singer’s personal belongings. On the far side of the entrance room, sliding barn doors open to reveal another large space. When the building opens to the public, this will be a restaurant. In the far corner lies a small, wooden stage. Committee members hope it will one day play host to musicians from across Mississippi and beyond. The entire space is rigged with automatic lighting, so that each room illuminates and dims as people move about.

And then, there are the bathrooms.

“People are going to drive 500 miles just to use our bathrooms,” he said as he stepped inside a ladies room lined with no fewer than seven stalls. It was huge.

“When you have a tour bus pull up, you don’t want people waiting to use the commode,” he said, punctuating this assertion with a chuckle.

For most purposes, work on converting the one-time garment factory into a tribute for the Tremont-native country music legend is done.

Over the past few weeks, the building has been undergoing the necessary series of inspections and safety checks to ensure it’s up to code, meets state guidelines and won’t spontaneously catch fire or collapse. Those are going well, Whitehead said. By the end of this week, he plans to have all of the kitchen equipment fully-installed.

Asked if any construction remains, Whitehead shook his head.

“Just a few little odds and ends, touch-ups here and there,” he said. “We have a punch list, so to speak. But nothing major.”

In theory, the place could open by the end of the month. But the space is empty, the group currently is in a holding pattern while awaiting several major next steps that will fill the building with all the reasons people will come to see it. That includes, Whitehead said, finalizing some arrangements that will secure a number of Wynette’s personal belongings. Before the gift shop can be filled with T-shirts and other memorabilia visitors might like to purchase, any potential vendors will have to have their items approved by Wynette’s rights holders.

Whitehead said this process is taking longer than anticipated, but he hopes it will move forward relatively soon.

Staffing, for the most part, has been taken care of, Whitehead said.

Despite the holdup, project leaders are still aiming for an early spring grand opening.

Work on the project began in 2012 and is funded mostly through state bonds. In 2014, the state borrowed approximately $230-million for various projects, including $2.5 million for the Tammy Wynette Legacy Park. That money was used to fund the renovations; it can’t be used to pay for the everyday operations of the park like employees, utilities, merchandise, etc. Funds raised by the group through the sale of merchandise and food will be used to support general operations.

“We’re going to have to survive off tourists,” Whitehead said.

Other funds that furthered the project have come through personal donations and a number of fundraisers hosted by the group over the years.

Traffic passes the front porch of the Tammy Wynette Legacy Park’s main building. Town officials are hoping the park will attract visitors from all over the country. (Photo by Adam Armour)

Traffic passes the front porch of the Tammy Wynette Legacy Park’s main building. Town officials are hoping the park will attract visitors from all over the country. (Photo by Adam Armour)

Once opened, the building and its adjoining park, both of which will be owned and operated by the nonprofit Tammy Wynette Legacy Park Committee, will serve several functions. The museum will hopefully attract country music fans from around the world, driving much-needed tourism dollars into the small town and county. The restaurant will serve both visitors and locals, plus act as a concert venue. One side of the building features a large, outdoor patio, which can be used for additional restaurant seating or to host community events. Because only half the building is being used for the park, the remaining half — just empty space right now — could potentially be rented to host parties and other events, another source of revenue for the group.

At some undetermined point in the future, the group also plans to renovate a second, nearby building and relocate the empty Shady Valley Church building, where Wynette used to perform, to the park. The building is currently located on Cotton Gin Road.

The whole thing is awash with possibility, which is what made Whitehead excited to contribute to the project in the first place. Even through setbacks and frustrations, it’s kept him motivated.

“When people were claiming this would never happen, it just gave me more motivation,” he said. “I’m so proud of this. I’m really overjoyed.

We have weathered a lot of storms to get to where we are.”

Now, comes what is arguably the most difficult to weather storm of all: The uncertainty of the calm before it.

adam.armour@journalinc.com
Twitter: @admarmr

The Tammy Wynette Legacy Park Committee is currently seeking donations or loans of old decorations, equipment, signage, photographs and other items for display inside the park’s main building. Donors will be recognized by having their names engraved on plaques near their donations.

According to committee member Robert Whitehead, the group will consider any antiques from Wynette’s childhood era.

“I’d love to have an old cotton pick sack, for sure,” he said.

About Adam Armour

Adam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 18 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.

, ,

  • Perry Newton

    I’m glad to see it happen! Would like to play music on that stage someday.