Fairpark triumph Hilton Garden Inn opens as proof of new downtown

Today’s opening of the Hilton Garden Inn and the BancorpSouth Conference Center fulfills a major portion of long-held dreams and plain hard work for development of the Fairpark District: downtown Tupelo’s reshaping of a disused former fairgrounds into a thriving business, entertainment, residential and government center.

The $10.5 million hotel and $4.5 million conference center – built under the experienced and successful eye of developer/hotelier Tom Ricketts – combine with the BancorpSouth Arena to make a blockbuster package for attracting conventions, conferences, concerts and sporting events in a revitalized downtown district.

The new hotel and conference center also will help other hotels because the largest conferences in the new center and BancorpSouth Arena will far exceed the customer capacity of the 110-room Hilton Garden.

In addition to today’s festivities for the Hilton, the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency soon will announce additional new development deals for commercial businesses and additional restaurants. Contracts and details haven’t been finalized, but it appears the new, additional development could push investment near or past the $40 million mark. In addition, two additional residential lots, 14 commercial lots, and a larger commercial lot soon will be ready for development in the 50-acre tract.

Once the next commercial real estate deals are sealed, all the lots on Main Street in the development will have been sold.

Tupelo’s City Council voted in 1999 to issue $22.67 million in bonds – part tax-exempt and part taxable – to develop the site’s infrastructure for a mixed-use development.

Skeptics abounded, but success has proven those doubts unfounded.

Noted Memphis downtown redeveloper Henry Turley, a management consultant to Fairpark, has said from the beginning that a 10-year-long development window is expected in fully realizing the potential of enterprises like Fairpark. Everything out of the ground and complete, under construction, or in final stages of planning and purchase sustain that judgment.

Additional, major investments are under pursuit by TRA and its contracted sales experts.

TRA Chairman Chris Rogers noted that Fairpark’s development has paralleled and at least partially driven a roughly doubled square-foot value of property sold or rented in the downtown area.

Bookings and reservations for the new hotel and conference center are strong. They can only improve, because Tupelo’s heart is stronger than ever, even though its strength is more diverse and in some ways very different from the retail-dominated downtowns of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Some cities lost the battle for their downtowns’ economic health and resilience. Tupelo acted with vision and commitment, and the payback for the risk is strikingly visible from BancorpSouth Arena south to the BNSF railroad.

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