The continuing progress in downtown Tupelo’s Fairpark renewal district and substantial investment in the once-blighted Mill Village Local Historic District prove that determination and capital can achieve goals that only a few years ago seemed unlikely, if not impossible.
Mill Village was the first neighborhood developed with Tupelo’s early-20th-century industrial boom, anchored by textiles and, later, cut-and-sew clothing operations.
Employees of the industries and many of the managers/owners lived south of the BNSF railroad tracks and close to its crossing with the Kansas City Southern – the heart of Tupelo and the preferred location. Spring Street, not Main Street, was the chief business artery, especially after it became U.S. Highway 45, and Spring Street was and remains the east boundary of Mill Village.
Times changed, as they did across the nation, when the original industries declined or moved, rail transport became less essential for the immediate neighborhood, and Tupelo grew commercially and residentially in a different direction.
Similar changes brought an end to the Mississippi-Alabama Fair & Dairy Show, the chief tenant of the fairgrounds that’s become Fairpark.
Creativity and vision see potential for renewal and renaissance where it’s not always obvious.
First, residents of the Mill Village neighborhood rallied to stop the decline of the mostly modest houses that still were homes to families, retirees, and significant numbers of renters.
The city empowered the historic designation, new investment improved many existing structures, and homebuyers began taking a new look at the possibilities.
When Californians Don and Pati Simon saw condemned houses on Magazine Street on the market for $1 because of Calvary Baptist Church’s expansion plans, a deal was struck. Three houses were moved from Magazine to Chestnut, and a meticulous refurbishing began. Two of the three houses are on the market, both listed at less than $90,000.
That is the kind of affordable housing many Tupelo leaders have hoped to stimulate in existing and newly developing neighborhoods.
Similar renewals have been undertaken in many other American cities of varying sizes, and many of the renewal neighborhoods have histories strikingly similar to Mill Village.
Mill Village has tremendous natural assets, including some of the largest hardwood tees in the city which form an appealing canopy.
It is near the downtown business and retail area, which is undergoing its own rebirth, including upper-story residences.
We of course hope the houses on the market in Mill Village sell, but we also hope seeing what can be done with structures away from their original sites stirs more entrepreneurial interest.
The Fairpark development has a wholly different character: New construction rising from a disused large tract of land.
However, it is accomplishing the same goal as reviving Milll Village: a new, diverse downtown, eventually re-attracting the amenities and conveniences that moved out of the city center since the end of World War II.
We hope Mayor Reed and the City Council become even more strongly focused on making the best use of seemingly lost-cause structures, especially if they are surrounded by viable, occupied buildings and houses.
The Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission holds the potential to work with the city’s planners and developers in identifying multiple properties that are prime for redevelopment, not just for preservation.
The potential for profit is a powerful motivator, and we believe success with a relatively small number of properties can lead to wider and more sustained renewal.
Redevelopment and preservation ideally should work in parallel, with significant flexibility to make structures of all kinds marketable while preserving essential integrity.
Downtown Tupelo is reinventing itself as the heart of the city. We believe progress will continue, especially if all the interests learn to work together and follow a carefully devised plan, as have so many other communities.
NEMS Daily Journal