Fairpark's come a long way, baby

BY CARLIE KOLLATH
Daily Journal

Nine years ago, the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency was charged with reviving what was once the county's fairgrounds.

And when it comes to commercial development in what is now known as the Fairpark District, TRA Chairman Chris Rogers is pleased with what’s happened.

“We've accomplished pretty much what we wanted to accomplish, except for the entertainment venue and we're still looking,” Rogers said. “We still have great hope.”

The Fairpark District is a 50-acre urban renewal development started in 1999 by the TRA. The city of Tupelo issued $22.7 million in bonds to buy the property and to develop the infrastructure, with a projection that private investment would eventually be three times that amount.

The boundaries are loosely defined, but the district is generally the land east of the railroad tracks, south of Main Street and bordered on the west and south by Elizabeth Street.

Yet, Rogers said projects north of Main such as the Hilton Garden Inn and Fairpark at Main, which includes the Fairpark Grill and Park Heights, are considered part of Fairpark because they were built as part of the initiative.

Change of scenery
Before TRA came along, the district housed a few businesses and warehouses, but Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association Executive Director Debbie Brangenberg said the district was mostly vacant land, the fairground buildings and a vacant strip of buildings.

Now, the district is home to more than 25 businesses and several more are in the works. Notable business occupants include the Hilton Garden Inn, Park Heights, the Fairpark Grill, Coldwell Banker Tommy Morgan Realtors, Renasant Center for IDEAs business incubator, Fairpark Salon, Hodges Orthodontics, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi, an Edward Jones office, Joe Joe’s Espresso and Renasant Financial Services.

Three more buildings are in the works near the Renasant Center. New Orleans-style restaurant Oby's owns a lot on Main Street, next to the Renasant Center and across from the Hilton. The eatery was original slated to open in fall 2007, but was delayed. Co-owner Ayers Spencer said he is still soliciting bids for construction and doesn't have a timeline to start construction.

Joe Kea of Spectacular Specs owns the property immediately behind Oby's. He is in the preliminary stages of drawing up plans for the building, and said at this point it will be strictly retail, restaurant and office space with the possibility of condos for sale or apartments for rent.

Spectacular Specs is in Tupelo Commons, and Kea said he will not be relocating to Fairpark or opening a second location in his downtown building.

Next to Tommy Morgan Realtors is the planned Fairpark Plaza. The developers, Clay Short with TRI and Joey Guyton with J. Guyton Group, are marketing it as a residential, retail, office and restaurant space.

And, on the outskirts of the Fairpark District on the east side of Elizabeth Street, John Robbins of Robbins Oil has plans for a Papa V's gas station. The store will be two stories and include a deli.

The missing link
The only thing that's missing is an entertainment venue to draw crowds at night, Rogers said. TRA has been pitching the property south of the roundabout at Troy and north of the planned extension of Clark to various movie theater companies. None have signed a deal so far, but Rogers is optimistic.

“Nobody's said no,” he said. “As long as I'm here, which may not be a whole lot longer, I'm willing to hold that property until we find the right venue. When they realize what we already know, then we’ll sell it to them.”

But even without the movie theater, Rogers and Brangenberg said the hard work of a lot of people over the past decade made Fairpark a viable business option for developers.

“Nine years ago, Fairpark wasn't an option. It is an option now,” Rogers said. “They're going to look at west Tupelo. They’re going to look at the mall and they are going to look at Fairpark. We're just as strong as the rest … It's a place on the map now without a doubt.”

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

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