SAT 1B story Tupelo Neighborhood Partnership

Tupelo enters new

neighborhood era

By Gary Perilloux

Daily Journal

The Tupelo Neighborhood Partnership, born of a 4-year effort to revitalize residential areas in the city, has chosen a permanent board of directors and a president.

Torris Purnell, who has coordinated the Tupelo effort the past year, is the partnership’s president effective Dec. 1.

“This is a not-for-profit organization, but it’s going to be run like a business, because we’re in the business of revitalizing neighborhoods,” said Purnell, whose salary this year has been paid by the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. of Atlanta, a partner in the Tupelo project.

Four years ago, Community Enterprises Inc. – a division of Journal Publishing Company – invested $1 million in rehabilitating North Madison Street homes near downtown Tupelo.

That effort sparked a partnership in 1998 between CEI and six local banks in which $100,000 in seed money was raised to start a citywide vehicle for restoring neighborhoods.

Three years later, the effort has sparked the creation of the Tupelo Neighborhood Partnership, which has selected Presley Heights in east Tupelo as its first area targeted for revitalization. But Purnell said projects creating homeownership opportunities and neighborhood leadership are under way simultaneously throughout Tupelo.

Until recently, the Tupelo group has carried the name “Neighborhood Development Corporation,” but it selected the new moniker in September and announced a new 21-member board of directors for the Tupelo Neighborhood Partnership at a Thursday meeting.

“It was a really good meeting,” Purnell said. “Basically, it was a changing of the guard and we thanked the NDC board, because they fought to get their 501(c)3 (tax-exempt status) and they partnered with the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. to make this partnership happen.”

Model program

The Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. is a quasi-federal agency charged with spurring neighborhood renaissance nationwide. Tupelo is the first Mississippi city to team up with the agency, though others are applying for assistance now.

The national agency has pledged $50,000 for funding the Tupelo Neighborhood Partnership its first three years. The city of Tupelo committed $40,000 to the partnership last year and this year, while other sources of funding such as the Federal Home Loan Board, the Mississippi Home Corp. and the Mississippi Development Authority will be tapped.

The Federal Home Loan Board already has granted $25,000 to the Tupelo partnership through the Peoples Bank & Trust Company. Meanwhile, AmSouth Bank has donated first-floor office space to the partnership at its main branch downtown.

“I can’t say enough about Eric Canada, the (Tupelo) president of AmSouth, for that donation,” Purnell said. “Because of that we’re going to save money and be able to put it where we need to put it – and that’s into our programs.”

For the next year, the partnership will have a $144,000 operating budget along with a $90,000 revolving loan fund for housing rehabilitation. Banks and other agencies will be asked to provide incentive loans for large-scale projects in city neighborhoods, something Mavis Yerby of the Presley Heights Neighborhood Association eagerly anticipates.

A Lake Street resident for 25 years, Yerby’s three children all advanced through Lawhon Elementary School, but the neighborhood surrounding the school has changed, with more rental housing and declining homeowner occupancy and interest.

“We feel very grounded here,” she said. “But I’m really hoping we can do a lot to improve the area. We’re really hoping that through this program we’re going to be able to make it a neighborhood of choice, that it would be a place that people would want to come in. We want to clean it up and make it a desirable neighborhood: That’s my main goal for being involved in all of this.”

To move in that direction, the Presley Heights association is working in concert with the Tupelo Neighborhood Partnership and meeting the second Tuesday of each month at the Lawhon Cafeteria. The partnership soon will canvass the neighborhood for input about revitalization projects in the area, Purnell said.

Yerby said initial efforts likely will focus on Wayside Street west of Lawhon.

Homeowner input

Those efforts will be duplicated throughout the city, Purnell said, with input from the new partnership board of directors. Representatives from banks, the city, the community at large, and delegates from neighborhood associations comprise the board.

“The difference between the two boards is the NDC board was primarily banks and the private sector, whereas the Tupelo Neighborhood Partnership is more residentially inclusive,” Purnell said. “It’s 51-percent resident led.”

That foundation should provide a good springboard for change, Yerby said.

She sees Presley Heights as a future magnet for senior citizens – banks, drugstores, supermarkets, hair salons, restaurants and floral shops are all within walking distance. And the presence of Lawhon can attract more young families with children to the neighborhood, she said.

“I feel like this project we’ve got going is going to make a big difference,” Yerby said. “I feel like it’s a real reason for hope that there’s going to be improvement.”