OPINION: Fairpark growth must include flexible choices

Drive through most micropolitan areas or cities of comparable size to Tupelo in Mississippi and you will likely find a relic of what once was a thriving downtown.
During the nineties and up until the current recession stalled construction and land development, the popular civic movement was to the suburbs and off-interstate shopping centers. The Mall at Barnes Crossing is a great example of this move outside of downtown. And while this retail area is no doubt a tremendous boon for Tupelo, cities are still judged and remembered by their downtowns. And for this reason alone, Tupelo’s Fairpark District cannot and will not be allowed to fail. If Tupelo does not have a successful downtown, we will become just another small ghost town like many once-thriving cities all around our state.
To address the standstill in economic development and the future of Tupelo’s downtown jewel which is Fairpark, a group of citizens with diverse professional backgrounds recently held a retreat (on their own time and at no taxpayer expense). While various ideas came out of this meeting, three that have merit, which could shape the future of downtown and our region, came about with real possibilities.
– First, Tupelo along with Lee County representatives should move to create an Action Group with citizens from various local and professional committees, such as Major Thoroughfare, CDF, the Lee County Board of Supervisors, the City Council and other stakeholders, to see where we can work together to solve much of the long-range planning and economic development issues surrounding the area. Items as simple as finding concurrent and duplicative expenses to eliminate for costs savings to things as complicated as building a new Lee County-Tupelo Library, possibly in Fairpark, could (and should) be explored.
– Second, while studies of varying costs seem to be discussed often these days, we must do our homework before committing the valuable Fairpark entertainment section in front of the Hilton Garden Inn to a certain direction. Ideas ranging from a new high school baseball field to a state of the art swimming facility to an IMAX theater and a “House of Blues”-style location with an Elvis review for tourists, local entertainment for music and even gospel shows on Sundays, have all been batted around. But to truly know what is feasible for our demographic reach, an in-depth study within the economic environment we have must take place. Better to do some research and get it right for the long view than to build something on the quick that is not feasible once the “newness” wears off.
– Finally worth noting is a revisiting of the residential area. Questions of how we price the area for everyone from young professionals to baby boomers wanting to downsize were discussed. And while there is no silver bullet answer, the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency has been charged with looking into some creative ideas and incentives for jumpstarting Fairpark’s residential phases.
With everything from environmental house building competitions through our state universities, to new incentives and creative leasing options that make this area attractive for people looking for a more urban life style, all options that still make good financial sense for the city are on the table. Stay tuned; as the economy thaws we should see some creative actions taking place to bring a larger population cluster to Fairpark.
The economy has flattened and we are waiting for the “up curve” to begin. Fairpark is weathering the storm. The attractiveness of our downtown depends on it – and you as well. As taxpaying citizens and bond debtors of the city, we all have a vested interest in the continued success of Fairpark and its surrounding businesses.
Visit www.fairparkdistrict.com and look around and email your thoughts and ideas. Fairpark is your downtown – be proud and be a part of it.

John Oxford is a banker who resides in Tupelo. He writes every other month as a community columnist. Contact
him at john_oxford@hotmail.com.

John Oxford