By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Forty or so tenants left at Azalea Gardens apartments will have a new landlord on Friday – the city of Tupelo.
City Council members voted 5-1 at a special meeting Tuesday to pay up to $2.15 million for the 7.8-acre property. South Carolina-based Southeastern Development Group recently acquired the apartment complex that accepts low-income vouchers as part of a federal court-approved bankruptcy settlement with the previous owners.
This purchase marks the most recent residential property bought with city tax dollars in the name of neighborhood improvement and revitalization. However, this property will be the first bought by the city in recent memory that’s located outside of the West Jackson Street redevelopment project.
Tupelo city attorney Ben Logan said the city is scheduled to close on the 1518 Ida St. property at 11 a.m. Friday. This purchase will cost taxpayers more than three times what’s been paid for the combined seven residential properties bought since 2012.
Councilman Willie Jennings of Ward 7, which includes part of Azalea Gardens, voted against buying the 220-unit apartment complex and accompanying land. He said the city gobbling up properties in areas with crime and code enforcement problems is the wrong, unaffordable approach.
“I feel strongly that we’re making a mistake in buying this property,” Jennings said before the vote. “We don’t have enough clarity for what we’ll do with it.”
Council members will pay from the land out of the city’s reserve fund of more than $16 million.
Tupelo City Planner Pat Falkner attended the closed meeting with council members and other city staff before the vote and said afterward no specific plan exists yet for the property’s future. However, future plans will likely involve the Neighborhood Development Corporation, the nonprofit organization handling the day-to-day details of the West Jackson redevelopment project, a nearly $3 million project.
However, whatever the future holds for the property, city leaders have said none of the current tenants will be kicked out of the apartment complex, but may be required to relocate to another unit in the indefinite future.
“The only way you’ll get evicted is if you don’t pay your rent or violate some other part of rental agreement,” Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan said after the meeting.
The current apartment manager will likely remain on a contractual basis.
Councilman Mike Bryan of Ward 6 left the meeting shortly before the council voted. Mayor Jason Shelton is attending a conference in Austin, Texas, and did not attend the meeting.
Shelton has said he does not generally support using tax dollars to buy real estate but will not veto this council decision.