EDITORIAL: Preservation pact

By NEMS Daily Journal

A probable legal agreement involving the City of Tupelo, Calvary Baptist Church and the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission offers optimism and promise of resolution in a long-running disagreement about the fate of the landmark Spain House.
Under terms discussed Tuesday, the city would take ownership of the imposing former residence on Main Street at North Madison Street near the central downtown district. A two-year window of opportunity would be created for the commission and city to find a buyer and a site to relocate the century-old structure so that it could be preserved for its historic architectural and cultural value.
Some preservationists want the house to remain on Main, but the church will not agree to sell or maintain the house on the site because it has no use for the structure. The property was purchased before it was designated a local historic landmark, a status which blocks demolition except by the city’s approval.
If no buyer is found and the relocation has not been accomplished by April 1, 2012, Calvary would be authorized to raze the structure, remove the debris and move forward with whatever plans it has for the property. Calvary also purchased most of the other structures on the block bounded by Madison, Main, Magazine and Church streets. The church’s sanctuary building and other facilities are in that block on Main at Church.
The agreement, which would require a vote of the City Council for enactment, has the support of church officials and a majority of the preservation commission, whose chair is Karen Keeney, a Tupelo architect.
Keeney and church spokesman Greg Pirkle, a Tupelo attorney, both said they support the compromise.
The structure, which housed Spain Funeral Home and was the Spain residence, also was the business office of a Tupelo real estate company.
Keeney said she expects to move persistently and quietly toward finding a buyer, a site, and to seek the building’s designation on the National Register of Historic Places.
She said a non-profit corporation is in formation to receive funding to help with the Spain house preservation and to identify and preserve other historic properties in Tupelo.
The pending agreement and the formation of a non-profit both are good ideas.
Preservation also might be helped with a 48-hour notification requirement for all demolition permits issued by the city. A century-old industrial building recently was razed without comment by the city or the commission.
Preservation is a recently empowered official function; the methods and process are still being perfected. The proposed agreement represents progress.