By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – About a dozen business owners from the North Gloster Street corridor hit by the April 28 tornado met Monday to exchange ideas about rebuilding the area.
Joining the discussion at St. James Catholic Life Center were architects and representatives from the city’s development services department and the Community Development Foundation.
“Our purpose is to share some ideas, but we don’t have a specific agenda other than to listen to what they want to do or not to do,” said Shane Hooper, the city’s development services director.
Dozens of businesses were damaged or destroyed in the area stretching from McCullough Boulevard to just north of North Green and Lakeshire.
While some businesses have reopened, others remain closed. Some owners at the meeting said that Monday’s gathering – and another scheduled for June 27 – could make a difference in what they do. Many still are negotiating with their insurance companies but also want clarity on what changes, if any, can be expected if they rebuild on North Gloster.
“We like it here,” said Chris DeCamp, whose 65-room Sleep Inn and Suites was heavily damaged by the tornado, its top floor shorn by the high winds.
DeCamp said the meeting was valuable in determining what other business owners and the city have in mind for the area.
The attendees were split into five smaller discussion groups, who came together later in the day to present their findings.
Hooper cautioned them that the meeting was not intended to set or change policy, although discussions about signage and building codes did surface. Hooper said those and other issues could be addressed later, when the group decides on how to proceed.
Mayor Jason Shelton said before the groups met separately that “this is an opportunity to reinvigorate the area and to make it bigger, better and stronger than before. It’s important that this is not our vision, but your vision. It’s a group process of what works for everyone.”
The groups all agreed the North Gloster area needed to be more pedestrian-friendly, and that traffic needed to be better controlled.
One well-received idea was giving the area a name – the North Town District – and designate it as an overlay district with certain design and building standards.
The district is anchored by hotels and restaurants, and Monday’s participants said adding unique shops will help grow the area and make it a stronger destination spot.
A long-talked-about traffic signal should be a priority as well, the groups said.
Bruce Patel, whose 80-room Comfort Inn & Suites also remains closed after taking a direct hit, said he was encouraged by the discussions.
“It shows how united our community is, and how positive everyone is,” he said. “This is an opportunity to make it better, and we need to make sure we get it right.”