TUPELO – The City Council approved an $11.5 million contract for a long-planned project to transform aesthetics and infrastructure from downtown to Elvis Presley’s birthplace in east Tupelo, at a price tag more than 20 percent higher than expected.
Officials anticipate the unanimously approved project will enhance tourism, encourage economic development and generally improve aesthetics from downtown to the state’s top tourist attraction.
The city’s share of the project is expected to be $575,000, with other funding provided from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Major Thoroughfare Program, which will cover the $2.5 million difference between the project estimate and actual contract.
The project will make Main Street’s temporary two-lane configuration permanent. Its change from the previous four lanes was met with high expectations from city leaders.
Madison-based Key LLC construction company will complete work on the project, which has been in the works more than five years. The idea stemmed from a site visit to Greenville, S.C., during former Mayor Ed Neelly’s administration and was approved during Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s term.
“It’s the opportunity for us to try something new and better for what we think will be a great economic development tool,” said Debbie Brangenberg, director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association.
With an estimated construction time of 15 to 18 months, the project should end by summer 2015. John White, an engineer with Engineering Solutions Inc., the firm leading the project, said the Mississippi Department of Transportation would likely approve the project within a month.
The project also will add bike paths and sidewalks from downtown to the birthplace, increasing safety for non-motorists traveling between the areas. It also will include improved landscaping.
Mayor Jason Shelton said he’s heard various opinions from residents, ranging from worries of traffic congestion to excitement for potential quality-of-life improvements.
“At the end of the day I think it’s going to be good for the city,” he said.
Council members hadn’t originally planned to approve the contract this week but proceeded after having a work session Monday on the project with the members of the Major Thoroughfare Committee.