JOHN OXFORD: Downtown Tupelo's prospects gaining momentum and interest

Next time you stop by Papa V’s gas station and convenience store in Fairpark, take a look at the floor inside. If you are the type to notice small details, you will pick up that the scored concrete is worn out and could use some refinishing. That’s not a criticism of the floor or a problem with the finish, that’s a sign that business is good at their register.
In fact, I’d bet most businesses would love to have to refinish their flooring because of overwhelming foot traffic. You know you have a successful business model when your only advertisement is a billboard that says, “Papa V’s – we have clean restrooms.” How simple and brilliant at the same time.
The reason to discuss Papa V’s is because it’s just another Fairpark and downtown Tupelo success story. For business owners or entrepreneurs looking at the Tupelo area now is the time to revisit locating in Fairpark as our downtown economy is beginning to pick up steam. Call it the Toyota effect, the green shoots of a hopeful community or our local leadership working well together but good things are happening in the heart of Tupelo. I often remind people that even though things have slowed down over the past few years due to the economy, no business has ever failed because of being located in Fairpark.
Take a walk outside of Papa V’s and look to your left to see fast moving construction beside the Renasant Center for IDEAs of the new Community Development Foundation building. This project is coming along and should greatly improve that side of Fairpark. A calculated risk to expand during what many hope is the end of an economic downturn but with Toyota coming along, having this facility ready to recruit new industry into our area is very important.
Go across the street to the Fairpark at Main Building and three new businesses, two retail and one management office, just this past week announced their arrival to join many other thriving businesses and restaurants. While not at full capacity yet, this block of businesses looks enticing to shoppers who want more than the big box retail mall experience.
Joining in this, on any given day, there is something going on in the Fairpark fountain and park area. Whether it’s the Down on Main concerts, Elvis Festival, hula hoopers, movies, art shows, political rallies, or children simply splashing in the fountain to keep cool in the heat, there is plenty to do with choices for just about anyone and everyone.
And in all honesty, while the recession probably put Fairpark back about three years from where it should be development wise, things are starting to look, well, a little “fairer” especially if you have been keeping up with announcements in the media.
From enhancements to Main Street and the Birthplace soon to begin, to the designation of an official entertainment district for downtown offering tax incentives, new events on the Fairpark lawn and two successful St. Jude Homes having been given away – the vision of Fairpark as an urban mixed use location for all is coming into its own.
As chairman of the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency, the agency that oversees the development of Fairpark, I often receive calls about projects and ideas that sound great but are not feasible or the cost is just unrealistic. However, recently we’ve had some calls and proposals from private entities that look a little more realistic. I only share this as evidence that again, things are beginning to pick up steam.
And while access to capital, business knowledge and risk are all part of the entrepreneurial experience, the iron is hot to revisit any ideas. We’re literally an entertainment entity, two prime commercial properties and some residential development away from just about completing the original vision of Fairpark.
Now is the time to get off the bench and take another look at Fairpark if you’re considering moving or starting a business in Tupelo. Yes the mall has more traffic, the big box retail and is great for our city’s tax receipts. I’m very thankful we have this regional draw, and our family shops in the Barnes Crossing area often.
But downtowns are what define the image of what most people think about when remembering cities and places they’ve visited. Fairpark has transformed our downtown to a more desirable place over the past 10 years. So here’s a shamelessly obvious sales pitch: Come to Fairpark, invest in Fairpark, shop and dine in your downtown and get ready to enjoy the next decade because it appears we may be turning the corner on getting our downtown development moving forward again. Pun intended.
John Oxford, a Tupelo banker, writes as a community columnist. Contact him at JOxford@renasant.com.

John Oxford