Ward 4 residents push for neighborhood revitalization

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth of a seven-part series about Tupelo’s wards. Each ward elects a representative to serve on the City Council. Candidate responses to an issue questionnaire will be published in a special section for Tupelo readers in Monday’s Daily Journal. Primary elections for this position, as well as for mayor, will be May 5. The general election will be June 2.

TUPELO – The heart and history of the city resides in the culturally diverse confines of Ward 4.
The centrally located district includes most of downtown and several historic residential neighborhoods, including Highland Circle, the Jefferson Street area and Park Hill.
It’s home to the Lee County Courthouse, Lee County Library, Church Street Elementary School and Gum Tree Park. It’s also the chosen district for several city festivals and parades.
Some 4,700 people live here – nearly two-thirds are African-American. It’s one of the city’s two minority wards.
And while the district boasts some of the city’s most historic structures, it also has some of its most dilapidated homes. Residents of Ward 4 said neighborhood revitalization must be a priority in the next municipal term.
“I love living right in the heart of Tupelo, close to everything, and I like the old neighborhoods,” said Jan Willis, a resident of Allen Street. “But I guess one of my biggest concerns is just the transitional nature of part of the Robins-Church Street area, where we always seem to be on the cusp of renovating our neighborhoods, but we never seem to quite follow through with it.”
Willis pointed to the row of unoccupied and unkempt rental houses dotting his street as evidence in the lack of effort.
He said the city should do more to enforce its codes and clean up blight. The City Council, he added, could help this happen.
Park Hill residents feel the same way, said the Rev. Robert Jamison, who presides over the association representing the city’s historic black neighborhood.
“We have a lot of vacant land and a lot of old and dilapidated housing, and we want to revitalize it by bringing in new housing,” Jamison said. “We have to try to attract one or two businesses into the neighborhood, too.”
Jamison, who has lived in Park Hill his entire life, said residents also want the city to renovate the aging C.C. Augustus Pool and Community Center.
Ward 4 currently is represented by two-term Councilwoman Nettie Davis, who is seeking re-election. She faces Democratic challenger Tommy “Jake” Ruff in the May 5 primary.
The winner will meet Republican Rhonda Betts in the June 2 general election.
Whoever wins will tackle not only revitalization, but also be asked to continue keeping the area safe. Crime has plummeted in the past several years and residents throughout the ward have complimented the Police Department.
“They have truly been helpful in keeping our neighborhoods peaceful and quiet,” said Jeanne Lagrone of the Highland Circle/ Oak Grove/ Madison Street Neighborhood Association, called HOM.
But residents said they want the city to stay vigilant so the situation doesn’t backslide. They’d also like to see traffic slowed on some of the main thoroughfares in that area, more sidewalks for pedestrians and more handicap-accessible sidewalks. Finally, they want unity among the top municipal leaders.
“I want a council that can work together harmoniously and intelligently,” said Lagrone. “That’s my No. 1 concern.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/Daily Journal