Tourism group eyes Renasant Center space

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A Tupelo-based heritage tourism group would one day like to see the former P.B. Loco space being used to greet tourists and to teach them about the history of the region.
The board of the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance voted last week to move forward with a proposal that would convert the Fairpark restaurant space inside the Renasant Center for IDEAs into a heritage center, which is described as a combination of a welcome center and an exhibit space.
The proposal still needs approval from the National Park Service and the Renasant Center board before it can move forward, according to Kent Bain, the project coordinator for the alliance, a regional tourism group founded in 2004 to market and develop the region’s historical tourism offerings.
Bain expects to make a proposal to the Renasant Center board in the next two to four weeks.
The plans are still being formulated, but right now they call for the heritage center to be open during the weekdays to promote the history, heritage and attractions in the alliance’s 11 member communities, Bain said.

Exhibit space
The center in Fairpark also could be used as exhibit space for the member communities. For example, Bain said, if Columbus would like to promote its pilgrimage, as a member community it can place a pilgrimage-related exhibit in the center.
“Even thought it’s based in Tupelo, we would seek to market it as a regional destination,” Bain said. “It will complement the efforts of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau and the other member communities.”
Bain said the board also hopes to incorporate a retail component into the space by selling books, CDs and DVDs related to the history and heritage of the Mississippi Hills.
The proposal calls for the heritage center to be built in phases. The first phase is mainly the conversion of the interior of the building, with following phases calling for the development of a covered outdoor seating area.
Bain said early estimates call for the first phase to cost about $55,000.
The group hopes to fund the project through federal money designated for national heritage areas, which now includes Tupelo. In 2009, the Mississippi Hills region was designated as a National Heritage Area, which is a program through the National Park Service.
The hills heritage area is bordered by Interstate 55 to the west, the Tennessee state line to the north, the Alabama state line to the east and Highway 14 to the south. It includes 19 full counties and portions of 11 others.

Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.