OUR OPINION: Tupelo can take first renewal step

By NEMS Daily Journal

The political process has determined that Tupelo won’t have a multi-pronged approach to address neighborhood issues affecting the growth of the city and the erosion of its middle class for the coming fiscal year.
The Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan developed by civic and business leaders convened by the Community Development Foundation earlier this year failed to generate a City Council consensus.
Continued discussions on appropriate policy initiatives are necessary, even if it means going back to the drawing board altogether. Without a well-conceived plan, the issues contributing to Tupelo’s stagnant growth will only get worse.
Nevertheless, the seeds of initial action have been planted in the budget that’s scheduled for a council vote Tuesday. A $3 million allocation is in the five-year capital budget – $600,000 annually – to make neighborhood improvements, including not only new amenities like sidewalks and landscaping and necessities like better drainage but the demolition of blighted properties as well.
It’s a far cry from the $15 million recommended in the reinvestment plan for a variety of initiatives, but it’s a start. As Mayor Jack Reed Jr. suggested, successful use of these funds can demonstrate to citizens the value of a broader neighborhood revitalization effort.
Three years ago, Tupelo – after receiving considerable public input – adopted a comprehensive plan that is to govern the city’s growth and development in coming years. It heavily emphasized reclaiming older neighborhoods from decay, encouraging dense development rather than more outward sprawl and targeting attractive mixed-use developments akin to the Fairpark concept. It has the official imprimatur of city policy, but it has never been funded.
The council is expected to include the funds in the upcoming budget, and that will be a first step forward in getting the plan back off the shelf.
The comprehensive plan – called Tupelo 2025 – is not to be confused with the neighborhood reinvestment proposals that stalled this summer. But it shares the goals of eliminating blight and making the city’s existing neighborhoods more attractive and livable. Neighborhood improvements can serve as a magnet to both draw and keep people in the city.
With the contentiousness that sometimes marked the last nine months of debate on the earlier proposals, it might be assumed that the debate accomplished nothing. Yet it has obviously raised awareness of the challenges the city faces, even if there remains disagreement on how to address them.
But consensus does seem to have emerged on the neighborhood improvements fund in the capital budget. Its adoption will signal that the city doesn’t intend to stand still.