sunday editorial

Tupelo’s bold investment in redevelopment of the fairgrounds property in downtown’s heart began seven years ago with overgrown acres, aging buildings and bleak prospects.

Progress has been impressive and timely based on the original schedule.

Last week, Tupelo Redevelopment Agency board members and developer Tom Ricketts provided a hard-hat tour through the nearly complete Hilton Garden Inn and a new conference center rising behind it, across the street from the fast-growing district now called Fairpark.

Tupelo’s imposing new City Hall is the landmark structure of Fairpark – including property on the north and south sides of Main Street – which is evolving as forecast on a 10-year projection as a mixed-use development: commercial, residential, retail and public structures.

Redevelopment agency chairman Chris Rogers said last week Fairpark’s pace is on schedule for full-development expectations.

Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association Executive Director Debbie Brangenberg, the liaison between city government and TRA, said she believes the city’s $22.68 million bond issue investment is well on its way to exceeding initial projections of a total $66 million development value, including a $44 million return beyond basic infrastructure and City Hall.

So far, $32 million in private sector development is committed, completed or under construction. Commercial construction alone in Fairpark is producing about $273,000 in annual tax revenue to the city.

In 2004, property tax revenues in the larger downtown district as defined by City Hall, which includes Fairpark, reached $899,000, but in 2005 property tax revenue climbed to $1,034,952. Plus, the number of taxed parcels rose from 219 in 2004 to 248 in 2005, indicating strong development and growth in the private sector.

Hotel’s importance

The importance of the Hilton Garden Inn and BancorpSouth Conference Center development can’t be overstated in the scheme of full economic strengthening (it is a $14.5 million investment). Downtown Tupelo has not had a hotel for about 38 years.

While quality accommodations grew briskly outside downtown, hotel rooms have not been a part of central downtown’s landscape since the demise of Hotel Tupelo in the late 1960s. Two other hotel properties, Jeff Davis Hotel and the Kenney Hotel also operated downtown but are long-gone. Hotel Tupelo was where BancorpSouth’s headquarters now stands. Kenney Hotel was on the property that’s now a parking lot next to Ross and Yerger Insurance opposite the Renasant Bank headquarters, and Jeff Davis Hotel was in the building occupied by Shelton Law Firm, on North Spring Street.

The rise of Fairpark and other redevelopment in the downtown area makes a new hotel a logical addition for convenience in conducting business with banks, law firms, consulting firms, financial service institutions, and state, county, municipal and federal government offices within walking distance of the new Hilton.

The 110-room Hilton’s direct connection with BancorpSouth Center and the new conference venue should draw additional business to downtown restaurants and retailers – and send business to other parts of the city, too.

More coming

Rogers also said that property transactions for two restaurants in Fairpark closed Friday and major new developments should be rising from property already sold by the summer of 2007. Other developments include single-family residences, owner-occupied condominiums, apartments, professional offices, and a new building for the Internal Revenue Service.

In sum, Fairpark is succeeding because it has a good plan, strong vision, and support from both elected officials and civic leadership who understand the importance of a strong downtown district.

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