By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The fate of the former Carnation Milk Plant rests uncertain after the Oren Dunn City Museum abandoned plans to relocate its collection to the 85-year-old building.
Museum Advisory Board members told the City Council on Tuesday they wanted to expand their current property at Ballard Park.
It pulled the plug on nearly six years of effort during which the city had acquired the massive building, funded inspections and nominated it to the National Register of Historic Places.
“Naturally, I’m disappointed,” said former At-Large Councilwoman Doyce Deas who had strongly advocated for the move at the time. “I don’t see why the Oren Dunn Museum … couldn’t go down there. You could save a historic building and at the same time put something together that people really want to see.”
A 2006 plan called for an estimated $2.8 million worth of renovations to the old plant and $3.6 million for a proposed addition. Officials also anticipated spending $4.9 million on new exhibits, including $1 million for an interactive display for the 1936 Tupelo tornado.
JBHM had provided the estimates.
Although the building’s appearance on the National Register of Historic Places opens the doors to an assortment of grants and tax credits, funding for the project has remained elusive. As a result, it had sat on the shelf for years.
“The biggest thing scaring the board was how to find money to develop that building,” said Don Lewis, director of the Tupelo Parks and Recreation Department, under which the museum falls.
“I don’t know where the property stands now,” he said.
The museum now envisions a new 12,500-square-foot building to house its collection while preserving the current, 5,000-square-foot facility for classrooms and other educational uses.
It also would continue housing the Veterans Museum and War Memorial.
Council members on Tuesday voiced support for the plan, although its cost remains unknown.
Lewis said estimates could be available by the end of the year and that the city could potentially fund it in its five-year capital projects budget.
In the meantime, the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission might take up the cause, said Deas, who is a member of the commission.
Built in 1927, the Carnation Milk Plant symbolized the area’s entry into the then-lucrative dairy business and provided numerous jobs for the region.
It operated for 45 years and churned out some 100,000 pounds of evaporated milk daily.
It has been vacant for years.