Time has taken its toll. As neighborhood decline set in, the thugs, drug dealers and loiterers came in, too.
In recent years, the decaying and abandoned buildings on the plot of land containing the archaeology of the former Tupelo Military Institute/Pentecostal Bible Institute has become the playground for illicit drug dealing, prostitution, fights and more recently a double homicide.
The city has bought six acres of the blighted properties and will create a new park to anchor what is hoped will be a renaissance of the neighborhood and a strong deterrent to the kind of crime that has almost ruined the location.
The city paid $376,000 for two houses and other properties and will create a park entrance on Chapman Drive where the two purchased houses stand.
The park will immediately strengthen the area for the remaining residents, including Inspirational Community Baptist Church, which occupies part of the former TMI/PBI buildings.
Perhaps best of all at the unveiling of plans on Wednesday, many residents of the immediate and extended neighborhood showed up to express their support. Most Tupelo residents will respond positively when the city reinvests in older neighborhoods where most people want to see new, brighter days ahead.
The first step is the most important in any undertaking, and many more will be required for Tupelo to keep its commitment to revive older neighborhoods or any neighborhood where the situation is looking down rather than up.
Critics who complain that the newly purchased area will become a park forget that one of the city’s most stable and most livable neighborhoods, Joyner, is just across Jackson Street and up Joyner Avenue, and it is anchored by Rob Leake City Park, Joyner Elementary School, plus the beauty and serenity of Tupelo Memorial Park cemetery. Interestingly two of the stabilizers in Joyner are the Park and Recreation Department’s vehicle barn and a National Guard facility.
It is not always necessary to have expensive homes to help a neighborhood hang on.
People come from all over the city to play tennis at Rob Leake, to swim and to use the roads in the park complex for exercise walking.
Refurbishing the Blair-Chapman area is a step toward renewal that can and will work if residents maintain enthusiasm and determination.
“For the first time,” Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said, “we’re taking real action” after more than a year of discussion about such a project. Discussion is necessary, but reaching the point of action is immeasurably better.
The 6-acre green space will have basketball courts, a children’s playground, a half-mile walking track and parking. Coming down will be the two houses and a dilapidated apartment complex on the corner of Blair Street and Clayton Avenue.
Funds for the purchases come from money allocated in a recently passed bond issue, which did not require a tax increase.
“This has been such a blight on our neighborhood,” said Bruce Brown, who lives with his wife Pat just a few doors down from the old apartment complex. “It will be something people will deliberately come to instead of something people deliberately avoid.”
Also supportive were the presidents of the Joyner and Gravelee neighborhood associations, who hope it will increase property values and enhance the area.
Renewing the Blair-Chapman district also will shore up streets like Magnolia, which is one block east and remains popular with young families as well as retirees.
Older neighborhoods have been revived, even transformed, in cities of all sizes. Tupelo is joining the movement with creativity and intentionality.