TUPELO – A strongly divided City Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to support a contract to offer the historic Spain House to the Tupelo Historic Preservation Society, which included striking a provision the leader of the nonprofit called a dealbreaker.
After nearly three years of the city’s Historic Preservation Society trying to gain ownership of the structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, a last-minute disagreement between city attorney John Hill and Historic Preservation Society member Doyce Deas nearly derailed the property exchange.
Hill recommended to City Council members that the contract include language that requires the preservation organization to pay $5,000 toward city insurance costs if Tupelo is named in a lawsuit related to the property.
Deas said the provision was unnecessary and would keep the fledgling organization from accepting ownership of the property.
“I won’t sign the contract with that in there,” Deas said.
The city bought the house from Calvary Baptist Church in 2010 and moved the house from West Main Street to South Church Street in December.
Hill told council members that a potential lawsuit related to the property would likely include the city as a defendant since it moved the house.
“Lawsuits are filed every day that are frivolous,” Hill said.
Councilmen Fred Pitts, Jonny Davis and Mike Bryan agreed with the attorney and voted against the contract with the removed provision. However, council members Willie Jennings, Markel Whittington, Jim Newell and Nettie Davis supported Deas’ position on the contract.
After the vote, Jonny Davis said it could cost the city thousands of dollars in the future.
“It’s a perpetual liability issue,” he said.
After the meeting, Deas said she will now focus on increasing membership of the historic preservation group and fundraising to help give the house a new roof and other repairs.