OUR OPINION: Tupelo reaches for renewal

Tupelo’s most famous native son, the late Elvis Presley, some time in late 2015 will have a street to match his international stature as the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.

Tupelo’s City Council on Tuesday night approved an $11.5 million contract to enhance, widen, reconfigure and extensively landscape Main Street and adjacent areas from the downtown core to Presley’s birthplace and museum in east Tupelo.

The plan, which created its share of controversy during initial discussions, has been five years in the making, beginning with a trip to the renaissance city of Greenville, South Carolina, during Mayor Ed Neelly’s term, with wider planning during Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s administration, which concluded in July 2013.

Mayor Jason Shelton’s backing of the plan makes three mayors involved in bringing the project to a construction phase, which will start when the Mississippi Department of Transportation issues a work order, expected in about a month.

While more expensive than originally projected, the city will pay only $575,000, with federal/state sources and the Major Thoroughfare Program, a special Tupelo referendum-approved tax, footing the bulk of the bill.

Greenville, the South Carolina urban model Tupelo is emulating, has had remarkable success enhancing its downtown, including pedestrian-and bicycle-friendly infrastructure, landscaping and other quality-of-life amenities. Greenville had fallen on hard times, much harder than Tupelo has experienced since the Great Depression, but Tupelo’s leaders are convinced the model can enhance tourism, economic growth and new investment.

Greenville, it should be noted, is a much larger metropolitan area than Tupelo but as a regional center has similarities.

The project will make Tupelo Main Street’s temporary two-lane configuration permanent.

Key LLC, Madison, will complete the project, with Engineering Solutions Inc. Tupelo, the construction leader.

The Presley birthplace and museum has been in a major expansion mode for the better part of a decade, and an extensive new walking trail has been funded by legislative action.

Greenville, as reported on its official website, “embarked on ‘downtown redevelopment,’ … (in) an evolutionary process marked with significant achievements over twenty-five years.

“The first and most important step in changing downtown’s image was the streetscape plan for Main Street. This plan narrowed the street’s four lanes to two and installed free, angled parking, trees and decorative light fixtures, as well as created parks and plazas throughout downtown. Today, Main Street’s lofty canopy of trees impresses visitors and creates a welcoming backdrop for Main Street activities.”

Tupeloans should expect a similar evolution, a process unfolding over years and decades before full potential is achieved.