OUR OPINION: Neighborhood renewal moving on West Jackson

Continuing work on the renewal of a declining neighborhood on West Jackson Street will lead to the best assessment of how buying and razing blighted properties followed by new private-sector development accomplishes the goal of reversing declining value and related crime.

Tupelo’s nonprofit Neighborhood Development Corporation, provided with public funds in a working partnership with the city of Tupelo, has purchased some of the blighted properties on West Jackson and on Chapman Street, but others are slated to be purchased for razing. The property values, because of the neighborhood’s decline and poor marketability, have been in the $17,000 to $20,000 range, a fraction of what they would have brought little more than a decade ago.

The NDC, which must draw down its funding in increments, has requested an additional $250,000 from the available money, and it has hired The McCarty Company to complete an architectural masterplan for redevelopment of the neighborhood. The goal is family homes priced in the $90,000 to $120,000 range. Those new, more valuable homes in a stable neighborhood, would of course reverse the loss of tax revenue and add other layers of economic stimulus from the private sector.

If civic patience is a virtue it should be exercised in the unfolding of this project. Few real estate transactions are as simple as they might seem, and confidentiality is usually necessary, even though public money is being used. Everything will become public record under the law.

Sometime before the end of 2013, likely in December, the NDC will unveil a plan by the McCarty firm for the redevelopment, including a recommendation about an unoccupied former apartment building that became, in its decline, a haven for illegal activity.

The schedule, which may not seem sequential, is well within its three-year project life.

Mayor Jason Shelton has said that while he supports the West Jackson project, he does not favor an extension of its methods to other neighborhoods because he does not think the city should be involved any further in purchasing real estate for redevelopment.

However, if the West Jackson plan works, as the NDC board and many city leaders expect, why not stay with it and move forward?

The mayor has so far not offered a detailed alternative for neighborhood redevelopment. It seems premature to oppose extension of a method already in use before assessing the impact of the project under way.

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