By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Experts say Tupelo can fight a declining middle class and competition from thriving Lee County suburbs by becoming more attractive.
Among the strategies pitched at a Friday morning development workshop were better building design standards, mixed-used development and pedestrian amenities preferred by young professionals and their families.
“Attractive communities that provide a unique sense of place and experience will steadily rise on the list of location selection factors for the new work force,” said Joe Fratesi, project director with Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government.
Fratesi and others from the institute were featured speakers at the Development in Tupelo workshop, which drew about two dozen participants to the Renasant Center for IDEAs.
Tupelo needs to be aggressive in its efforts to draw and retain residents, especially with new industry like Toyota entering the marketplace and creating jobs, said Judy Phillips, an institute research analyst.
Those opportunities will spur growth in the region, Phillips said, but it will happen elsewhere unless Tupelo has an organized effort to make the new residents feel at home here.
“People are choosing where to live based on how they feel in that community,” Fratesi said, clicking through projected photos of different cityscapes – some showing rows of big-box retailers and fast-food chains, others featuring tree-lined boulevards dotted with tidy brick-facade stores.
Tupelo has a combination of both scenes: Fratesi displayed a picture of downtown Fairpark with its bricked, mixed-used development before showing the North Gloster and West Jackson Street intersection with older signs and buildings and a lack of landscaping or sidewalks.
“Where would you rather live?” he said, toggling between the two images.
The city’s new comprehensive plan, adopted in 2008, favors the Fairpark look with more compact development and pedestrian-friendly amenities.
A comprehensive plan is a policy to guide the city’s growth and development until 2025. It was created through community input and is re-adopted annually by the City Council.
But it will take time to reverse a decades-long trend of urban sprawl.
“We have, on the one hand, the residents who told us they really want to see a different form of development,” said Renee Autumn Ray, senior city planner. “And we have the builders and Realtors who need economically viable projects. Our job is to create a code that gets the results residents want without imposing cost burdens on the developers.”
Recent census data created an increased sense of urgency in implementing the plan. Population figures released in February showed Tupelo growing by 1 percent in the past decade versus 40 percent in Saltillo and 76 percent in Guntown.
Those communities also saw larger increases in median household incomes than did Tupelo.
Business reporter Carlie Kollath contributed to this story. Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.