Big day at Fairpark

BY M. SCOTT MORRIS

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Some 250 people listened as a name was changed, then watched a pair of ribbons get cut in downtown Tupelo on Friday.

It might have sounded like a routine day, but the events marked a significant step forward in the city’s downtown development.

The new name went to the former Tupelo Coliseum, which has been the BancorpSouth Center since 1999. It’s now known as the BancorpSouth Arena.

The first ribbon to get cut was for the new BancorpSouth Conference Center, a 10,000-square-foot meeting space located between the BancorpSouth Arena and a newly opened 110-room hotel.

That hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, had its own ribbon cutting on Friday.

It all combined to make a busy, if chilly, morning in Tupelo’s Fairpark District.

Aubrey Patterson, chairman and CEO of BancorpSouth, said he expects the arena, conference center and hotel to each provide part of the puzzle that will help the city grow.

He said Friday’s events represented an “opportunity for all of us to build something stronger and better for the future.”

Linda Butler Johnson, executive director of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the two new facilities will make it easier to attract conventions and meetings to Tupelo.

Seeing is believing’

“The goal is to get some of the meeting planners to come in for a site tour,” she said. “Seeing is believing.”

Tom Ricketts, president of Master Hospitality and owner of the new Hilton Garden Inn, thanked members of the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency and city leaders for their decision in 1999 to invest some $22.7 million in improving the 50-acre site now known as Fairpark District and for selecting his proposal for a hotel anchor.

“They took some pretty hard blows from some of the naysayers,” Ricketts said.

He said the decision to build the Hilton and conference center involved taking a “deep breath and a leap of faith” on his part. His wife, Jane, said the risk was worth it.

“She thinks this is the most beautiful facility that we’ve done,” Ricketts said, “and I’ve got to agree.”

Contact M. Scott Morris at 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com

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