Daily Journal

TUPELO –  If the weather would cooperate, Dan Ballard would have a 10,000-square-foot brick-and-glass shopping center at the corner of North Green and North Gloster streets.

When it opens later this summer, the building will be yet another visible sign of business returning to normal in the All-America City in the wake of last year’s tornado.

“We’ve got some prospective tenants if we could get anything going,” said Ballard. “We have some interested tenants – no leases are signed yet – but it’s going to be something nice.”

The building that once stood at the corner was L-shaped and was home to seven small businesses, none of which are returning, said Ballard, who owned the building for 12 years. He had planned to renovate it, but Mother Nature accelerated those plans, and now he gets to start from scratch.

But the wet spring hasn’t helped.

“We wanted to be ready by last December; I hope we can finish it up by the first of July,” Ballard said.

The area where Ballard’s building is going was in the direct path of the tornado that ripped through the area last April 28.

Dozens of businesses were affected. Some reopened within days, others took weeks and months. Some found new locations, others have chosen not to return.

“We have some vacant properties and we have some properties that are for sale,” said Tupelo Development Services Director Shane Hooper. “But considering all that’s happened, I believe we’ve come a long way.”

The Havoline Xpress Lube reopened last September, the first business to be rebuilt from the ground up. Ballard’s will be the second.

But some prime real estate remains empty for now.

The four-story, 80-room Comfort Suites won’t be rebuilt, but another hotel will take its place. Tupelo-based Fusion Hospitality, which owned the hotel, announced in February a larger Home2 Suites, a Hilton brands hotel, will be built. But Fusion owner Bruce Patel hasn’t said when the 108-room hotel will open.

The once-adjacent 65-room Sleep Inn, however, won’t be rebuilt, at least not by its former owner. Tupelo Hotel Investors, a subsidiary of a Flowood-based investment group owned by Chris DeCamp, backed off on initial plans to rebuild. The property, covering 2.5 acres, now is for sale for $550,000.

Additionally, the former Steak Escape property, which sits on less than half an acre, also is for sale for $330,000.

Hooper isn’t necessarily concerned that the properties are for sale, or that other businesses haven’t revealed their plans.

“With the amount of traffic that goes through there on a daily basis, I think they present great opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to do something with those properties, and will,” he said.

Ballard also said he’s not worried about the area.

“It’ll be all right; it’ll be all right for them and it’ll be all right for me,” he said. “It’s not a concern of mine.”

Expanding again

Ballard and others can look to Chris and Kristi Beckish for inspiration.

The owners of Premier Athletix, Premier Lady and Premier Tan are expanding their mini fitness empire again – the second time in a year.

Last year, the couple had just celebrated the framework going up on their coed fitness facility, Premier Athletix. It was a dream the Beckishes had held onto for 20 years.

The tornado flattened the steel, folding it like a stack of pick-up sticks. But it didn’t flatten their dream.

Rebuilding began the next day, and Premier Athletix opened last summer.

The  facility also includes a Nutrishop.

Kristi said they never flinched at having to start over with their initial expansion.

“The community has been really great supporters; people were waiting for us to open,” she said. “I’m thankful for everyone who helped make this happen.”

“Kristi and I were determining what would make it viable, and I was hoping for 500 to 600 members,” Chris said. “We weren’t expecting 800 members in seven months.”

With growth at such a frenetic pace, the Beckishes are having to add on to their latest expansion. Another 1,500 square feet is being added to the 6,300-square-foot Premier Athletix facility.

“We really don’t have any more room to add after this,” Chris said. “Now we’re talking about maybe adding another second location.”

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