Tupelo mulls obligations of Spain House relocation

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The city has six months to move the historic Spain House off its current site before a two-year deadline expires and reopens the possibility of demolition.
Tupelo secured both the funding and a new location to accomplish the task, but the mayor first must sign an agreement with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History promising to maintain the house for 25 years.
It’s a stipulation of the $175,000 matching grant MDAH awarded Tupelo in December to move the house and stabilize it at its new site. But municipal leaders are leery of the commitment, saying it poses an unknown financial risk to the city.
“It’s an old house, there’s no way of knowing how much money it will cost to maintain it,” said City Planner Pat Falkner in response to questions from the City Council on Monday.
The council must approve the agreement before Mayor Jack Reed Jr. can sign it. “We need to go into this with our eyes open,” Reed said.
Although the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission initiated the house relocation and will oversee its renovation, the city ultimately is the responsible party – both legally and financially.
The commission, however, soon could establish its own nonprofit arm to raise funds for the home’s maintenance. It also plans to continue seeking grants; it had identified the MDAH grant.
But Tupelo won’t receive that grant without signing the 25-year agreement. If it doesn’t, it could jeopardize efforts to save the house.
Tupelo signed a contract 18 months ago with Calvary Baptist Church, which owns the property where the house sits. Calvary wanted to demolish the aging structure, but it agreed to delay action while the Historic Preservation Commission sought funding and a new site for it.
The contract sets an April 1 deadline with an automatic six-month extension in the case a site and funding had been secured by that time. Since it has, the new deadline is Oct. 1.
“If we just ignore it, the church tears it down,” said council President Fred Pitts.
Council members will hold a work session Tuesday to discuss the matter at length and will invite members of the Historic Preservation Commission to the table.
The century-old Spain House currently sits on the corner of West Main and Madison streets. It has served as a home, a funeral parlor and an office suite before being purchased by the church several years ago. It’s now vacant and in disrepair.
If it’s moved, the structure will be placed on a city-owned lot at the corner of South Church and Carnation streets, just a few blocks away.
Tupelo also must provide a $35,000 match as part of the grant agreement.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com