OUR OPINION: Redesigned Main Street offers chance for growth

Daily Journal Editorial

Steady progress toward completion of major street work more fully connecting downtown Tupelo with the historic east Tupelo neighborhood via an improved Main Street rewards the patience of residents who at times considered their infrastructure needs neglected or lowered in priority.

A Major Thoroughfare Program section widening East Main from Veterans Boulevard to Hillsdale Drive has added a fifth lane (a third lane east of Hillsdale) for a total investment of $3.6 million.

A larger and more expensive project from federal funds routed through the Mississippi Department of Transportation, money from the city of Tupelo and Major Thoroughfare funds will pay for a project to better connect downtown to the Elvis Presley birthplace complex. It will begin at Green Street and permanently create two lanes to east of the Fairpark area, adding bike paths and sidewalks extending to Veterans Boulevard to the birthplace complex, Tupelo’s most-visited tourist attraction. That project also will provide landscaping to just past the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks near Front Street and expand bridges on what’s historically called “the levee” west of Veterans Boulevard.

The projected completion in 2015 will provide a thoroughfare, city officials and Elvis Presley birthplace promoters hope, fit for The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

In a broader sense it should prove transformative for the downtown district and east Tupelo. The opening in May 2014 of the new Highway 6 at the intersection of Highway 45 near Verona should provide an alternate route for some of the heavy commercial traffic that has used Main Street as a main route through Tupelo since highways were first paved early in the 20th century.

With an estimated construction time of 15 to 18 months, the project should end by summer 2015. City officials working on the project are completing related documents required by MDOT before construction can begin.

Many long-term Tupelo residents recall an era when Main Street, in part, was an elegant boulevard. That gave way to the demands for faster, higher-capacity traffic flow.

The redesigned Main Street in the heart of downtown, it is hoped, will recapture some of that former period’s ambiance, which added to the visible quality of life. The provision of sidewalks and bicycle lanes extending to the Presley birthplace will encourage the kind of pedestrian flow and bike traffic characterizing some of the most successful redesigns of aging, dated downtowns.

Additional residential development downtown, whether apartments or freestanding single-family residences, will play a key role in completing the redesign of the Main Street/downtown corridor.
Clearwater, Fla., a wealthy city of 107,000 on the Gulf of Mexico, for example, like Tupelo has worked long-term on reviving its downtown area. It has marked some successes.

However, a recent article in The Tampa Tribune about the progress of the ongoing effort reported that business owners, politicians and residents believe attracting more full-time residents is the key to larger success.
Downtown Tupelo will thrive again more strongly and more quickly as it regrows its residential presence, including young families with children.