TUPELO – Three years ago, Robert Watkins had grand plans to transform the former Blue Bell factory into luxury condominiums.
But those plans never materialized, and Watkins said the economy had much to do with the delay in the project.
“I put it on hold,” he said. “The building has been sitting empty for three years.”
The project has been canceled, but the 108-year-old historic building by the railroad on Green Street won’t stay empty.
A furniture store – similar to what was in the building before it was closed to make way for the original project – opens this week in the first floor of the 52,000-square-foot building.
Watkins also plans to turn the second and third floors into “artists’ lofts” and maybe a flea market that will be open six or seven days a week.
“It’s going to be turned into Mill Town Market,” said Watkins, paying homage to what was once the bustling downtown industrial area.
The new furniture store is called The Ugly Chair Furniture Outlet. Formerly it was the Downtown Furniture Depot.
The building sits in Mill Village where textile mills once thrived and where factory workers and their bosses lived.
In January 2006, Watkins announced plans to build 22 condo units each with an average of 1,800 square feet. He hoped to sell the condos for between $200,000 and $250,000 each.
Several years earlier, real estate developer Tim Hester had envisioned a similar plan for the 52,000-square-foot building, but the city did not approve the required zoning changes because of public objections.
In July 2006, Watkins received approval from the Tupelo Planning Committee to rezone the 1.58 acres upon which the building sits from industrial to residential.
Watkins hoped the Blue Bell’s proximity to the Fairpark District residential and commercial development and The Belfry luxury apartments would enable him to market the building.
But the multimillion-dollar proposed project, which was slated to take four years, was a casualty of a national recession that began nearly two years ago.
Instead of sitting on empty property, though, Watkins decided to go a new route.
Watkins said he’s “doing it out of my own pocket” to finance his latest project.
Watkins said he was waiting on an electrician and hopes to open the store this week.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal