Tupelo could soon own seized building

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A downtown warehouse formerly used to store contraband cigarettes now belongs to the federal government and is one step closer to becoming Tupelo’s new police station.
The old Milam Manufacturing building on the corner of Franklin and Front streets was officially forfeited Monday to the United States of America by U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock.
She entered the order 18 months after federal agents seized the facility as part of an investigation into contraband cigarettes. On May 26, 2009, agents raided the warehouse owned by Benham’s Globe Distributing and discovered the illegal goods. Another Tupelo location had been raided April 14 of that year in the widespread investigation.
The roughly 100,000 square-foot building is valued at about $1.6 million by the Lee County tax assessor. And Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said last year it’s the ideal location for a new police station.
Tupelo’s police department currently operates from two locations, one on Court Street and the other on Front Street. Neither were designed for police activity, and the department has outgrown both.
Plans for a new police station began five years ago under then-Mayor Ed Neelly’s administration, and it was part of a multi-million bond issue at the time.
But those plans consistently got delayed by city officials’ inability to agree on a suitable location. Reed said the old Milam building makes sense due to its size, central location, highway accessibility and proximity to the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and jail.
“It sure seems on the face of it a wonderful opportunity,” Reed told the Daily Journal on Tuesday. “It could be an attractive corner on Front Street, which is one of the entrances to the city.”
Reed is expected to meet with federal officials today in Oxford to hammer out the details of the building’s anticipated transfer to the city. He’ll be joined by Police Chief Tony Carleton and Tupelo CFO Lynn Norris.
Reed said he doesn’t expect the transfer to take long.
Chief Deputy of the U.S. Marshall’s office in Oxford, Jeff Woodfin, said he hadn’t been briefed on the situation and therefore couldn’t comment.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.