TUPELO – Area leaders hope a trip to “The Rocket City” later this month will show them what it will take to help Tupelo blast off.
The Community Development Foundation and Council of Governments is sponsoring a case study trip later this month to Huntsville, Alabama, where local leaders will explore economic development models and success stories of the north Alabama city that’s home to a U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
During the trip, leaders will discuss the local growth challenges with Huntsville city and county officials to learn how to address future challenges in Tupelo and the surrounding area.
David Rumbarger, CDF president and CEO, said Huntsville was chosen because of the common thread the city has with Tupelo in a variety of economic development projects and city planning.
Rumbarger said he and other leaders are specifically interested in learning about Huntsville’s inner-city developments, which mirror similar Tupelo efforts in the West Jackson Street redevelopment project. That project seeks to help reverse a trend of middle-class families leaving or not locating in the city, which became evident in the 2010 census data.
“That seems to be a key part in Mayor (Jason) Shelton’s economic future, so we wanted to visit a city that had done something like that and been successful with that,” Rumbarger said. “We want to take a look at those developments in progress, see what they’ve been able to do and really try to find out what their formula has been.”
One Huntsville development project appealing to area leaders is a live-work-play neighborhood called Village of Providence, which was founded in 2003 and includes single-family houses and loft and regular apartments, as well as a sprawling town center.
That development matches the current administration’s vision for the Fairpark District in downtown Tupelo, which seeks to blend residential, commercial and business activity. The Fairpark District just east of downtown was launched in 1999 with $22.67 million in municipal bonds. The efforts to develop the area have progressed over the years with the construction of City Hall, the Hilton Garden Inn, several office buildings and restuarants and some residences.
But seeing and hearing success stories of similar projects in other cities, Shelton said, can only help Tupelo launch the project forward.
“I think it says a lot about the CDF, Board of Supervisors and City Council in that we don’t think we know it all and we understand that we can learn from other communities,” Shelton said. “You don’t always have to go and reinvent the wheel each time you want to do something, so I’m very excited to go and learn from what Huntsville has been able to do and how we can bring that to Tupelo.”
Area leaders also will tour the Bridge Street Town Centre, a mixed-use lifestyle center featuring restaurants, hotels and entertainment options, as well as downtown Huntsville.
CDF has taken Tupelo and Lee County officials to nearly half a dozen case studies, including a trip to Greenville, South Carolina, last year. That trip actually marked the second time leaders visited the city.
The first trip, which was during former Mayor Ed Neelly’s administration, sparked the idea to connect Elvis Presley’s birthplace to downtown and revitalize Tupelo’s Main Street.
“They had basically what we had where you had a four-lane Main Street that just sped people through downtown as fast as possible,” said Jack Reed Jr., who was chairman of CDF at the time. “After seeing what they had done in Greenville, we had consultants come in from Washington and Georgetown who really asked us one main question, ‘How can you make Main Street a great street?’”
The trip helped get the ball rolling on the process of restructuring the city’s downtown to allow for a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. That process eventually led to the three-lane roadway that takes motorists through downtown Tupelo at a more reasonable speed and lends itself to more of them stopping at downtown stores and restaurants.
All of the ideas for downtown development and even feedback on economic development projects, Reed said, wouldn’t have come without the trips to Greenville.
“Of all the trips taken, I don’t know one that’s been more influential for the vision of what Tupelo could be than the trip to Greenville,” Reed said. “It was just remarkable, particularly because there were so many commonalties and common challenges we had.”