By NEMS Daily Journal
Tupelo has a history of being open to new ideas, of seeking out models of success and attempting to emulate them.
What works elsewhere isn’t always transferable, but often it is, and one area where there are success stories to find if you look for them is in downtown rejuvenation.
Tupelo’s Fairpark District is a concept borrowed from the New Urbanist movement of mixed-used development that has as its central objective to bring people back to the center city – to live, to work, to shop and to play. Harbortown in Memphis and related downtown developments there were the model most closely studied as the Fairpark concept was implemented, but there are dozens of similar successes around the country.
While Fairpark development has slowed during the recession, the public investment has already been recouped and the infrastructure is in place for continued evolution and growth of the area as the economy improves. One thing is certain – the new central gathering place downtown that Fairpark provides has helped create a stronger sense of community and given Tupelo a fresh new face to present to outsiders.
The pending plan to improve Main Street, detailed elsewhere in today’s paper, is an example of Tupelo’s initiative to borrow from other communities to improve itself. While much of the attention has been focused on reducing the portion of Main downtown between Green and Elizabeth Streets from four lanes to three, there is much more to the project. The beautification envisioned with plants and decorative lighting and the spruced-up sidewalks, crosswalks and more pedestrian-friendly environment are more than frills; by making the area more attractive, they serve to enhance the atmosphere for business and the overall downtown experience.
Aesthetics, any economic developer will tell you, are a vital component in this day and time for attracting investment. A community that isn’t concerned about its appearance starts with a disadvantage in pulling in people and dollars, and the look and feel of a community’s downtown is crucial in that equation. Witness the Community Development Foundation’s interest in and assistance with the project.
Tupelo also committed with the Fairpark development to a more pedestrian-friendly environment downtown, which is another hallmark of many successful downtown revivals. The slowing of traffic envisioned by reducing the number of lanes on Main Street would contribute to that pedestrian emphasis, and the bike lanes envisioned will add an extra dimension to getting around downtown.
It’s hoped that synchronization of traffic lights will get drivers through downtown in the same or less time than is now the case. Again, the experience in other communities – notably Greenville, S.C., which is frequently mentioned as a model – bears that out.
But the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association isn’t asking Tupelo citizens to take that on faith, which is why there will be a test soon in which the four lanes are “restriped” into three with tape to experiment for several weeks. That will demonstrate, one way or another, the accuracy of the projections.
While a final design has not been approved, the City Council has committed to the Main Street project a sufficient sum to draw down 80 percent of the $2.9 million cost through state and federal matching funds. It won’t be the be-all and end-all for Tupelo, but it will be an important part of the overall effort to ensure the city stays attractive, healthy and prosperous in years to come.