Demolition closes chapter for west Tupelo property

The only visible sign remaining of what used to be the Trace Inn is the concrete slab of the structure. The excavator was used to tear it down. (Thomas Wells)

The only visible sign remaining of what used to be the Trace Inn is the concrete slab of the structure. The excavator was used to tear it down. (Thomas Wells)

By Robbie Ward
Daily Journal

TUPELO – With most physical reminders beyond a parking lot and a concrete slab of the former Trace Inn removed this past weekend, little remains of the former blighted and once-thriving part of west Tupelo.

The first commercial real estate just west of the Natchez Trace Parkway on West Main Street, the condemned property was demolished in stages beginning in 2012, ending with the last standing structure removed days ago.

“No trespassing by order of the City Council,” reads the sign posted at the parking lot entrance.

Bought by the city of Tupelo in March 2012 for $1 at a property foreclosure sale, city leaders sought to raze the property considered an eyesore in recent years. A year before the city gained ownership, the previous property owner, JSK

Hospitality, filed for bankruptcy.

West Tupelo neighbors have fond memories about the property’s heyday but most were ready to see the remaining parts razed.

“During the winter months, I’d walk some of my customers out who arrived alone,” said Bill Roberson, owner of Electric Playground, located across the street from the property. “You never knew what you were faced with.”

The property thrived as a business location for decides, beginning in 1961 as a dairy bar and restaurant, later adding a swimming pool, convention hall, a three-story and single-story motels.

The only remaining structure from that period is the former Hall of Fame conference center, now separated from the rest of the property by a fence. Mail Managers business now occupies the building that once held conferences, banquets and concerts, including the Community Development Foundation’s annual meeting.

Vernel Hancock, whose late husband Junior Hancock built and owned the property, recalls the musicians Tammy Wynette and Conway Twitty performing there. Sadly, Hank Williams’ performance never happened after he pushed the piano off the stage, causing a ruckus.

“We refunded everybody’s tickets and canceled the show,” she said.

Joni Cornelius, office manager at Electric Playground and a former employee at the Trace Inn during the early 2000s, said the place had regular customers for many years before multiple changes in ownership and poor finances led to neglect.

“It just broke my heart when it went down,” she said. “That’s just a part of history that feels like it’s lost.”

As for what’s next for the property, the city of Tupelo continue to resolve past disputes related to back taxes with the property.

“I don’t think it’ll take longer than a few months,” said attorney Brannon Kahlstorf, who represents the city on the issue.

City leaders say aren’t exactly sure about the property’s future. BJ Teal, director of development services for the city, said she doesn’t know, deferring to the City Council.

Nettie Davis, Ward 4 councilwoman and council president, called the property that prime real estate that should return to the tax rolls. However, she said the council wasn’t sure what would happen next for the property.

“We haven’t made any decisions for what it’ll be used for,” she said.