Tupelo considers purchase of Salvation Army gym

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – City leaders could invest nearly $1 million in the purchase and renovation of the Salvation Army’s vacant recreational building in a deal both sides call a “win-win.”
Tupelo wants to grow its Police Athletic League program but needs more space to do it; the Salvation Army wants to sell a building it no longer occupies and use profits from that sale to expand its existing homeless shelter.
“I know it’s an expense, but I think Tupelo needs to invest into its community,” said City Council President Fred Pitts at a meeting Tuesday at City Hall where the idea was discussed.
The building, located behind the Link Centre, has a gym and would be perfect for the PAL program, said Mayor Jack Reed Jr.
Though the building recently was appraised at about $300,000, the Salvation Army would sell it to the city for $232,000. It would cost an additional $600,000 to renovate it for PAL’s needs, Reed said.
The City Council first must approve the purchase. It’s unclear when it would come to a vote or exactly how the project will be financed. Reed cited potential revenue sources and said the city can afford it.
As with most major expenditures, this one likely will meet scrutiny and debate before the council votes it up or down.
If it’s approved, the PAL program will be able to quadruple its reach, said PAL Director and Police Sgt. Michael Russell.
“We have so many people that want to be part of our program, but we can’t grow,” Russell said. “Our current facility is about 8,500 square feet. This new building is about 17,000 square feet.”
Some 220 youth are enrolled in PAL’s summer program. They play sports with police and firefighters while fostering meaningful relationships.
“The positive influence that the police have over these kids is just absolutely mind-blowing,” said PAL Chairman Michael Gratz. “The benefit to our society, to Tupelo, is absolutely enormous.”
The deal, if passed, would be a “win-win,” said Salvation Army Advisory Board Chairman Dan Franklin, who called the building a burden on the nonprofit. It used to run an after-school program there but ended it in the economic downturn.
It wants to sell the place and use the profits to grow its core mission of helping the homeless.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com