By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Despite concerns about safety and loitering, residents in an aging downtown neighborhood hope a new park restores vitality and interest to an area worn by time.
Some three dozen neighborhood residents, most of them homeowners, met with city officials Monday at Inspirational Community Baptist Church to brainstorm plans for the future park, which will be constructed on a six-acre lot purchased earlier this year with municipal funds.
A cluster of vacant apartment buildings now occupies the site, straddling Clayton Avenue and Blair Street, but the city will demolish them this summer to begin the redevelopment.
Tupelo already had demolished two single-family houses it had purchased on adjacent Chapman Drive. One of them fell Monday, just eight hours before the meeting. The two lots will connect Chapman to the new park.
“A lot of us wouldn’t be here if we could sell our houses, but we can’t,” said Rhonda Franks, who has lived on Rankin Boulevard for more than 20 years. “Our only hope is to improve the neighborhood.”
Franks and the other residents split into groups, each led by city officials, and generated wish lists for the park. Ideas included playgrounds for small children, basketball courts for teens and a walking track for adults.
Many also wanted fencing, landscaping and lighting. Some suggested picnic tables and benches, but others worried those amenities would attract loiterers and gangs.
“I think it will cause a lot of problems with folks hanging out late at night,” said Chapman resident Larry Richey. “It’s a quiet area. You put a park back there and it’s going to be noisy.”
Most residents, however, expressed optimism that the park would attract families into the neighborhood and encourage more home ownership as opposed to renters.
Reese Bradbury, who lives on Magnolia Street, said the city should install sidewalks around the park and extending into the neighborhoods so children could walk safely to and from the playground and courts.
“It’s so dangerous,” she said. “Cars go fast down all these streets.”
Richard and Stephanie Frederick, Blair Street residents with a toddler son, said they want fences around the playground to protect young children from both street traffic and the nearby train.
Several congregants of the Baptist church, which abuts the development site, also attended the meeting and offered their own ideas for the project.
The Rev. Cordell Phillips said he would like to see a three-way stop sign installed at the intersection of Clayton and Blair.
The city will compile the suggestions and try to integrate the most popular ones into the final plan. Reed said not all will make the cut due to limited funds – it has about $600,000 for the effort this year – but that more amenities could be added later.