By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – One of Neal McCoy’s biggest challenges this week has been convincing the rest of the world that Tupelo still stands.
With stories and images beamed around the world of the destruction in the city emanating from Monday’s tornado, it would seem to many that Tupelo was all but decimated.
But that’s not the case, as anyone in the All-America City would attest. Certainly, residential and retail portions of the city were hit, but most of the city was spared.
And that’s the message McCoy has tried to relay.
“We’re open for business, and we want you here; we need you here,” said McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The city’s busiest commercial corridor in the Barnes Crossing District was without power until late Wednesday night. While a handful of businesses were operating with generators, the rest – including The Mall at Barnes Crossing – had to wait until Thursday morning to reopen its doors.
That area was spared from the tornado, as was downtown Tupelo, South Gloster Street, the Midtown District and West Main Street.
Of some concern is the status of Tupelo’s hotels. The city had some 2,000 rooms available before Monday, but at least two hotels are all but totaled and a third suffered heavy damage. Four others suffered minor damage and can accommodate guests, but they lack electricity for now.
“The hotels south of McCullough Boulevard were unaffected,” McCoy said. “Hotels in the Barnes Crossing area – Econo Lodge, Best Western Plus, America’s Best Inn, the Fairfield, the Hampton Suites … they were fine except they didn’t have power.”
The 80-room Comfort Suites suffered significant damage, as did the adjacent 66-room Sleep Inn. Both are located in the hard-hit North Gloster Street/McCullough Boulevard/Green Street area, the hotels are likely total losses. The 93-room Courtyard took some heavy roof damage and windows were blown out, allowing the interior to get soaked. It’s in better shape than the other two hotels, however.
Four hotels can reopen once electricity is running again, McCoy said: Holiday Inn Express, La Quinta, Days Inn and Quality Inn.
One bit of good news is that the 121-room Holiday Inn & Suites is now open, and it was able to absorb some of the guests who were staying at some of the other hotels.
On another positive note, a 90-team baseball tournament begins today and runs through Sunday at Ballard Park, and McCoy said they’ll be accommodated.
However, a 105-team soccer tournament planned for next weekend pulled out, opting for Meridian.
McCoy said he tried convincing tournament officials that hosting the event wouldn’t be a problem, but they decided otherwise.
“It was disappointing, but I can understand some of their reasoning,” he said.
CVB and city officials will continue to work hard to convince those outside Tupelo that the city is up and running, McCoy said.