Fairpark District rapidly taking shape

WHAT IS THE FAIRPARK DISTRICT?
Fairpark District, once the county's fairgrounds, is a 50-acre urban renewal development started in 1999 by the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency. The city of Tupelo issued $22.7 million in bonds for the purchase of property and development of infrastructure, with a projection that private investment would eventually be three times that amount.

Among Fairpark's dominant occupants are City Hall, the Hilton Garden Inn, Coldwell Banker Tommy Morgan Inc. Realtors and the Renasant Center for IDEAs, with other businesses snapping up the empty lots.

By Carlie Kollath
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Construction is trucking along in Tupelo's Fairpark District.

Eight years after it was started by the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency, Fairpark this summer will get more definition than ever before.

Buildings are going up on either side of Main Street, and building owners who haven't started construction are making haste to ensure they don't miss out on the boom.

TRA Chairman Chris Rogers said lot sales have been so successful in Fairpark that only two lots remain up for grabs.

Gerald Warfield, president of Southland Construction, has his hands full with two projects in Fairpark. While he says he believes the town will start growing west toward Toyota's vehicle assembly plant, he has been surprised at how quickly projects have been popping up in Fairpark.

“That area is really, really growing,” Warfield said. “It's good for downtown.”

Here is a look at some of the key projects and their current status:

Fairpark at Main
The steel is up for Fairpark at Main, which will house two restaurants – Park Heights and The Grill – and up to eight other tenants. Gerald Warfield, president of Southland Construction, said construction crews are putting up fiberglass-faced exterior sheeting board this week and then the bricks will go on.

The construction company is working its way from The Grill on the east side to Park Heights on the west end. Warfield said he expects construction on The Grill to be finished in August or September and then construction on Park Heights will wrap up a month later.

Tommy Morgan, the Realtor for the property, said in addition to the restaurants, the building right now has one retailer and two office occupants, but declined to name the tenants. Fairpark at Main has space for up to three retailers and five office space tenants.

IRS/Homeland Security building
Across the street, Southland is putting up the framework for V.M. Cleveland's building, which will house several tenants, including the IRS and Homeland Security. Warfield said the building will be two stories, with square footage dedicated to retail and office space in addition to the federal occupants. Warfield did not know of any other occupants, and phone calls for Cleveland were not returned.

Warfield said he is anticipating Nov. 1 as the move-in date for the IRS and Homeland Security.

Fairpark Plaza
Moving east on Main Street past Tommy Morgan's building, passersby will soon see construction starting on Fairpark Plaza, a mixed residential, retail and office building. Joey Guyton, owner of J. Guyton Group, is one of three partners in the project. He said the project that was originally slated to be three buildings has now been combined into a single 58,000-square-foot, three-story building.

Guyton said a “couple specialty stores” have signed leases, including a home decor store, and negotiations with other potential tenants are “moving along pretty good.” He said Fairpark Plaza is still on track to break ground in three to four months.

Movie theater
Rogers said TRA is holding the space behind Fairpark Plaza at the end of the roundabout for a movie theater that will be “more than just a movie theater,” adding that it will have some retail component with it.

TRA still is courting a theater that will be right for the space. Rogers said the theater and retail component will play a huge role in Fairpark's nightlife.

Oby's
On the east side of Fairpark Plaza on Main Street will be Oby's, a New Orleans-style restaurant chain that originally started in Starkville. Ayers Spencer, co-owner of Oby's in Oxford and Tupelo, said he and his partner, David Calhoun, own the land, but the building is still in the planning phase.

“We thought we would have been under construction by now,” Spencer said. “Holdups in the planning phase have slowed us down. I would like to say 30 to 45 days until we start construction, but you never know.”

At this point, Spencer said he thinks the restaurant will open by the end of the year. He said the Oby's in Tupelo will have the same menu and atmosphere as the Oxford location, but the building will be a little different, namely in how it will be situated on the lot to put the front entrance facing Main Street.

Kea's building
Next to Oby's is Joe C. Kea's building. Kea, who owns Spectacular Specs/Kea Eye Center, in March said he wasn't sure what he was going to do with the building but tossed around ideas for retail, residential and office space. Kea was not available for further comment this week.

Hilton Garden Inn
Across from Oby's and Kea's building is the Hilton Garden Inn, which on Monday made its expansion plans known. Tom Ricketts, whose Memphis-based Master Hospitality owns the Tupelo hotel, said he intends to add 40 two-bed rooms and eight two-room suites to the west side of the hotel.

He said that if he can get plans from the architect within 90 days, construction will start in early fall and he hopes to unveil the new rooms in summer 2008.

Tupelo CVB
The Hilton's neighbor to the east is the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, which approved expansion plans and hired an architect at its monthly board meeting May 7. The plans will more than double the size of the CVB and will add a welcome center and more office space.

If all goes as planned, the CVB will have the money for the expansion in July and then will put the project out to bid.

Renasant Center for IDEAs
Across Main Street, the Renasant Center for IDEAs celebrated its grand opening in February. The business incubator also has welcomed P.B. Loco Cafe, a premium peanut butter eatery inside the center.

As of Tuesday, the Renasant Center was home to five business clients.

Papa V's
Across Elizabeth Street to the east of the incubator, John Robbins, owner of Verona-based Robbins Oil Co., is working on Papa V's, a gasoline station that Robbins assures will be unlike any other in town. Architectural drawings are still in the works, but plans call for two floors, 40 parking spaces, 16 fueling stations and a deli that serve a variety of food items including smoked meat, barbecue, fried chicken, pizza, salads, wraps and vegetables.

The second floor will be used for office space for Robbins Oil managers and also will have conference space for the company to use.

Robbins said he is shooting to open in December or January.

He said the store definitely will be open until 10 p.m. and the company will evaluate keeping it open 24 hours.

Residential aspect
Another key component of Fairpark is the residences that are sprouting up along the south side of the district. Construction has has quickened noticeably in the past 18 months.

Morgan said he got involved on the residential side about 2 1/2 years ago. “We've made a lot happen in that period of time,” he said.

“I think we've got a good momentum going. I don't see it lessening. The momentum can only get better.”

Contact business reporter Carlie Kollath at 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.