Neighborhoods welcome city’s plan

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – West Jackson Street’s neighbors to the north and south are cautiously optimistic about plans to revitalize the neighborhood.
“The West Jackson Street area of Tupelo has experienced many challenges for a long time,” said Keith Kantuck, the new president of the Joyner Neighborhood Association, which is located north of West Jackson Street and is considered one of the city’s most desirable older neighborhoods.
“We know this attempt by the city to revitalize this area is made in good faith.”
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. proposed the city begin a three-year pilot project to revitalize an older neighborhood in early January as the culmination of months and years of work to make Tupelo more attractive to middle-income families. The Tupelo City Council on Tuesday approved the use of nearly $1.4 million from the city’s unrestricted reserve funds and a total of $1.83 million in 2013 for the project on West Jackson Street.
“We appreciate the things they are trying to do,” said Meredith Tollison, the new president of the Gravlee Neighborhood Association, which is located south of Jackson Street, where the city has already purchased and demolished a set of blighted apartments and is planning to create a park. “We would like to encourage very family-friendly areas.”
The project calls for the purchase of blighted properties, demolishing buildings that can’t be salvaged and improving the neighborhood’s utility infrastructure and streetscape. The open lots would be sold to private developers who would build homes aimed at middle-income families.
A citizen-driven committee backed by the city’s professionals would oversee the revitalization effort, including developing guidelines so the houses built along West Jackson blend with the cottage styles that dominate Joyner and Gravlee.
The first step in the city’s plan – the purchase of the apartment building at the corner of West Jackson Street and Clayton Avenue approved by the council Tuesday – has been largely welcomed.
“We will not be sad to see those apartments go,” Tollison said.
In addition to the money from the unrestricted reserves, Reed has proposed using just more than $1 million from the capital projects fund for infrastructure improvement – money already earmarked to demolish blighted properties – over three years. He is proposing to use $500,000 from Tupelo Water and Light reserves to move utility lines underground in work slated for 2014.
“The city just can’t push the delete button and do away with blighted properties,” Reed said. “You’ve got to invest.”
A 1996 housing study warned that Tupelo’s historically high home ownership rates would erode if trends remained unchanged. One of the issues cited by the study was that high land and development costs were making it difficult to build homes for middle-income families in the city.
“Our biggest challenge is having attractive places for middle-income families to live,” Reed said.
People will be the real key to success for the revitalization effort.
“We lend our support to the city in this process, but it will take more than money to solve the challenges facing this area,” Kantuck said. “We would welcome people and families in the region to consider moving into our area of Tupelo which is rich with history and has access to all of what Tupelo has to offer.”
michaela.morris@journalinc.com