Experts advise Tupelo to prioritize its downtown projects

TUPELO – National experts on Wednesday encouraged Tupelo leaders to prioritize their improvement projects for downtown Tupelo.
The advice came during a series of national workshops being held in Tupelo this week. The goal of the workshops, which Tupelo was selected to host after a national competition, is to use the principles of placemaking to come up with improvement recommendations for downtown.
Placemaking, according to Steve Davies with the Project for Public Spaces, is turning a neighborhood, town or city from a place you can’t wait to get through to one you never want to leave.
Tupelo residents – including downtown business owners, city leaders, Main Street officials and various interested parties – on Tuesday critiqued seven destinations in downtown Tupelo and came up with suggestions for short-term and long-term improvements.
During the workshop Wednesday, a group of Main Street leaders from around the state did a similar exercise while Tupelo residents rehashed what they learned Tuesday night with experts from the New York City-based Project for Public Spaces and the Washington, D.C.-based National Main Street Center.
Since there were many projects to tackle downtown, experts recommended that residents pick the highest priority projects and dedicate their energy to those.
Nominees for top-priority projects were finishing the Fairpark District and improving the area around East Main Street in east Tupelo. No decisions were made.
One of the take-home messages mentioned was that there were very few people out at night when the groups were sent around downtown Tupelo.
The lack of people at night, a Tupelo resident said, gives the impression that people in Tupelo go to bed early or that there’s nothing to do downtown.
The experts said they hope the placemaking principles, if applied, will help attract more people downtown.
They gave examples of their previous projects in U.S. towns that lacked sidewalk activities and whose streets were focused solely on vehicles.
In an Arlington, N.Y., project, PPS officials were asked to make the specified district more accommodating for bikes and pedestrians and to expand the retail and restaurant space. Previously, the street had traffic delays and vehicle accidents.
PPS worked with the state Department of Transportation and recommended the addition of a roundabout, the reduction of lanes, the addition of crosswalks and the expansion of the sidewalks for cafe seating.
The project took eight years to implement, Davies said.
In the end, Davies said, traffic delays fell 54 percent, traffic speed was down 9 mph, or 24 percent, crashes declined 51 percent and traffic declined 9 percent.

Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal