OUR OPINION: Spain House issue not over after vote

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo’s City Council voted by the narrowest of margins Tuesday night to approve a contract for moving the Spain House, a century-old former residence, deemed of historical importance, from its Main Street site to historic Milll Village.
The 4-3 vote officially ended years of debate about the structure’s fate: either be razed by the property’s owner, Calvary Baptist, which bought it and other nearby properties to provide room for its master expansion plans, or find a way to save it.
Relocation was not the first choice of preservationists, but it evolved into the only choice for saving the now-deteriorating structure that had been a private residence, a funeral home/private residence, and a space housing a business, in its long tenure.
The $145,308 removal contract approved by the council is funded by a $175,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, procured through the efforts of the Historic Preservation Commission, chiefly civic activist and former council member Doyce Deas.
The city will pay $35,000 as its matching share, with Calvary Baptist providing $10,000 of that amount.
The new foundation for the structure will be a separate contract, with an estimated cost of $32,000. Deas says it can be accomplished for less.
Council President Fred Pitts of Ward 2 opposed the contract because he said he is not convinced the foundation work can be brought in at or under the estimated costs.
Joining him in opposition were Ward 6’s Mike Bryan and Ward 5’s Jonny Davis.
The city is committed, in accepting the grant, to preserving the house for 25 years. The moving contract includes stabilizing the structure.
A tax-deductible entity has been formed to enable raising funds for work on the structure for as yet undesignated uses when the relocation is completed and the work is finally accepted by the city.
Tuesday night’s decision was a compromise, and it pleases many, but does not please all, some saying the structure loses is character and importance if moved from the original site.
Its future use relies on the imagination and creativity of the Preservation Commission and the residents interested in the issue. Tupelo, like many other cities, cannot afford a full-bore financial commitment to preservation. Pitts’ concerns should translate into a plan to regularly assess and place formally in the public record the house’s status, once moved.
We suggest a long-term, pre-emptive plan for preservation – privately funded.

• • •
Guest columnist David Leatherman’s column photo was misidentified in Tuesday’s edition. We regret the error.