3Qs: Karen Keeney, Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission

By Emily Le Coz | NEMS Daily Journal

The Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission made headlines recently by nominating the Rogers Home as a designated historic landmark in an effort to save it from demolition by First Baptist Church, which owns the house and wants to use the site for parking. Karen Keeney, who chairs the commission, answered questions from Daily Journal reporter Emily Le Coz.
Q: What is the role of the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission?
A: Our ordinance states that we are called to protect, enhance and perpetuate resources which represent distinctive and significant elements of the city of Tupelo’s historical, cultural, social, economical, political, archaeological and architectural identity. Through this, we are trying to help ensure efficient growth and development of our city and strengthen the civic pride in what makes Tupelo unique. We hope to generate stability in the city’s economy through the continued use, preservation and revitalization of our resources. The THPC also serves as a review body for the properties that are locally landmarked, to bring about appropriate development. The Preservation Ordinance also establishes Tupelo as a Certified Local Government (CLG). This designation makes some projects within the city of Tupelo eligible for various grants annually. We have been asked to perform a very challenging and complex role within our city.

Q: Why is it important to preserve historic structures?
A: There are two answers: hard numbers and soft numbers. Studies have shown that retaining your historic structures will increase the amount of tourism attracted and retained. Preservation also helps maintain and even increase the values of properties and neighborhoods, which helps keep tax revenues on the rise. Also, historic properties can be eligible for state and federal tax credits that can total up to 45 percent of your rehabilitation costs, not to mention the local tax abatement that is available through the city. On the soft side, preservation allows our residents to be able to retain pride in the history and beautiful fabric of our city’s core. Which again, the more pride in the community, the more people live and spend money in the community. Sadly, Tupelo has lost a vast inventory of structures due to the 1936 tornado, and many others to neglect and progress. This makes our current inventory even more precious.

Q: What is the process of designating a structure as a Local Historic Landmark?
A : The THPC recommends and nominates to the City Council a structure, district or site that we believe meets the Department of the Interior’s standards for a National Register property. Some of the criteria includes age of the structure, architectural style, cultural significance, and significant events or people attached to the structure. The THPC can not landmark a property, we can only recommend. After recommendation/ nomination, a public hearing will be set … After which, the City Council will either affirm the nomination or reject it.