By NEMS Daily Journal
An ambitious proposal presented Tuesday night to the City Council to build a new Lee County Library in Tupelo’s downtown Fairpark District raised the visibility of the idea discussed and planned for several years by the professional staff and the library’s most active and vocal supporters.
Library director Jeff Tomlinson described the proposal for the council, which under the idea would collaborate with the Lee County Board of Supervisors in supporting and funding a $27 million, 75,000 square foot structure that would provide almost double the space of the existing building at the corner of Jefferson and Madison Streets.
The Friends of the Lee County Library organization has provided $39,770 for a professional planning firm’s evaluation and a Tupelo architectural firm’s outline of service areas within a new library, including expanded children’s and young-adult departments. Full plans have not been drawn.
The library’s annual use has increased dramatically in the past decade, and one of its major assets is effective use of technology to access information online. In 2011, 250,000-plus visits compares to 117,000 in 2002.
Other cities and counties have built or are planning new public libraries with the dual focus of sustaining an important public institution and strengthening business traffic.
Civic and elected officials can make the valid connection between library use and bringing people to locations where that same group of users easily transition to become shoppers and consumers.
The win-win situation crated by stimulating intellectual and commercial assets is within the formula driving the Fairpark District’s successful redevelopment of downtown Tupelo.
Linking a new library to business enhancement is one of the facts driving a major new branch of the Roanoke County Library System in the city of Vinton, Va. The first commitment by the county’s governing board – more than $500,000 for planning the $10 million project – was made last week.
We believe a commitment by the Lee County Supervisors and the Tupelo City Council to fully, jointly examine the possibilities in a new library could lead to a commitment that would provide return on investment for decades – longer even than the 40 years of the existing, outgrown structure.
A new, sufficient, state-of-the-art Lee County Library could become a catalyst for more revitalization, a revenue plus for the city and county, and a quality-of-life enhancement for every resident and library user.
Obviously, finding the right funding source is a major challenge, but the city and county governments and private sector leadership should begin a serious and sustained look at the prospects.