Editorial, Wednesday, March 10, 1999

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Some members of Tupelo’s City Council want more information about taxpayer-guaranteed assistance in building Cross Creek shopping center on Barnes Crossing Road.

That request caused a postponement in Tuesday’s scheduled work session meeting between the Council and the Jackson-based developer.

The extra time should work to the taxpayers’ benefit if the information sought by Council members is laid on the table in full public view.

Mattiace’s shopping center on Barnes Crossing Road east of U.S.. Highway 45 is the announced site of a Cracker Barrel Restaurant, Home Depot, and several other widely popular chain businesses.

Mattiace wants on-site improvements and widening of Barnes Crossing Road that would cost $1.2 million. The developer says the promised investments won’t come to Tupelo unless all the improvements are made with public backing. The proposal would use tax increment financing, a complicated formula that involves the city guaranteeing bonds issued to finance the projects, collecting taxes on the property, and using the taxes to pay off the bonds.

At least three Council members Tommy Doty of Ward 5, Danny Barrows of Ward 7, and Perry Thomas III of Ward 6 publicly have raised questions about the wisdom of investing tax-guaranteed funds on private property and the precedent that would set for other developments. We share those concerns.

Council members should use the delayed work session with Mattiace to gather all the information about Cross Creek and requests made to the city to Mayor Glenn McCullough, to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Council and to the Lee County Board of Supervisors. The sequence of events leading to obvious confusion and legitimate questions about what Mattiace seeks and what the city could or should do needs to be laid out.

The city’s obligation to taxpayers includes ensuring smooth traffic flow on public streets. Barnes Crossing Road is in that category. The city should control all expenditures under a tax increment financing plan, even it means changing rules currently on the books. Council members should develop a policy requiring developers, before projects begin, to go to the Council when tax increment financing is sought, with the Council then moving the issue through proper channels.

Confusion about the city’s role could have been avoided if the process had started with the body whose vote is required to approve what Mattiace seeks.

Editorial 2

Tupelo’s growth pains sharpen when new development runs smack into inadequate old streets.

Drivers will feel the pain for several months on North Gloster Street/Mississippi Highway 145 after the opening of the new Lowe’s super store and before major thoroughfare work is complete.

The problem isn’t unique to Tupelo. Any growing city from time to time comes up against fast growth and slower street improvements. That’s the temporary, bad news.

The good news is that Tupelo’s Major Thoroughfare Program and the Mississippi Department of Transportation, in about a year, will open a five-lane section of North Gloster. The old street, formerly U.S. Highway 45, often backs up from near Barnes Crossing and Big Oaks retail developments all the way to the North Gloster-Green Street-Lakeshire Drive signal light.

Lowe’s new store undoubtedly will increase traffic volume on that stretch of North Gloster. The solution, until the five-lane thoroughfare is completed, is patience and planning. Drivers who plan their trips can use other approaches to the Barnes Crossing area, use an entrance to the new store by the Jameson Inn, or shop during off-peak hours.

City officials, civic leaders and retailers wish a magic wand could be waved, creating overnight thoroughfares.

That won’t happen, so forebearance and forethought are the options for everyone who shops in the Barnes Crossing/Big Oaks retail/commercial district.