While the city of Tupelo’s purchase of the Azalea Gardens Apartments raises an assortment of immediate challenges, the big picture is this: Mayor Jason Shelton’s administration and the City Council did the right thing in buying the property.
Yes, there are unanswered questions. No, there is no firm plan on what will be done with the 7.8 acres of rundown buildings.
But what is absolutely certain is that the city would not have benefited from a return to the former population density in the 220-unit apartment complex that is now down to about 20 percent occupancy.
The city made a mistake many years ago when it allowed such a heavy concentration of apartments in a crowded area along Ida Street near Lawndale Drive. There were predictions that it would lead to crime and blight – predictions which were fulfilled a long time ago with the conditions persisting.
Azalea Gardens was recently bought by a South Carolina company as part of a bankruptcy settlement. That company was planning to rehab the apartments enough to get them up to code, then start renting them out again.
No one – not the residents, not the surrounding area, not the city as a whole – would be better off had that happened. Indeed, it would have likely jump-started another round of problems the city is trying to counteract.
The city was facing a very tight time frame, a brief window of opportunity to gain control of the property. It has the resources in its ample reserve fund. Reducing blight and revitalizing neighborhoods has been identified as Tupelo’s top priority. This area has been among the most problematic in the city for decades. The purchase made sense, even if time didn’t permit all the details to be ironed out.
Now a plan must be developed, but because there’s not one immediately on the table doesn’t mean the purchase was a mistake. There is time to consider what will be done to make the city’s investment what it’s intended to be: a jumpstart for making the area a better place for people to live, work and play. If that means simply tearing down most of the buildings and opening up green space, that will be an improvement, although there are certainly other options.
It will take time to determine the best course, and many details remain to be worked out, including the long-term management of the property. But the city did what it should have done – indeed, what it had to do – if Tupelo is really serious about eliminating blight and turning around neighborhoods.