2020 … I certainly will not miss you, but I believe you have made us stronger.
We started the year with such big plans, but 2020 had other ideas. The last 12 months have brought protests, acrimonious elections, and last, but certainly not least, COVID-19. The pandemic affected everyone: young, old, Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, red, yellow, black, white, business owners, and consumers. The citizens of Oxford – and especially the City of Oxford employees – were brave through it all. There is no way to make light of or sugarcoat the past year, but as we flip the page to 2021, I am thankful for the bright spots in 2020.
Oxford was able to start last year with a celebration. On Jan. 22, we celebrated the Grand Opening of mTrade Park (formerly FNC Park). The naming rights to the park expired in 2019, and mTrade generously stepped in to continue the tradition of a first-class soccer, baseball and softball complex in our community. mTrade Park had its four adult size softball fields converted to synthetic turf, and thanks to a federal grant, one of its international size soccer fields, which was damaged by flood waters, was completely rebuilt.
Although numerous tournaments had to be canceled due to the pandemic, mTrade Park was able to finish with a solid year. Twenty-eight baseball, softball, and soccer tournaments were held, which hosted 2,689 games and 1,346 teams. The estimated economic impact of these tournaments totaled approximately $2.75 million to our community and local businesses, and the future for Oxford’s mTrade Park in 2021 is bright!
For three years my administration has worked hard to secure funding to update the intersection of Highway 7 and University Avenue. With the help of local legislators and legislative leaders, the State apportioned $4 million to update this intersection. The project will cost approximately $9 million, and my administration will continue to work with MDOT and our State Legislature to finish this project.
The city of Oxford is committed to providing the best services to our citizens. Clean water is a service we all take for granted, but it is one that takes a great deal of municipalities’ money and resources. In February 2020 Oxford was awarded $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to build a new water treatment plant. We were also able to upgrade several of our water treatment plants, sewer rehabilitations and extensions around town, and completed a new water tank in Oxford Commons.
Before Covid-19 brought everything to a screeching halt, the Oxford Conference Center hosted several large events: the Oxford Indoor Yard Sale, Night to Shine 2020, Empty Bowls, the Mississippi Bar Association’s Evelyn Gandy Lecture Series, Mississippi High School Football Coaches Clinic, and the Mississippi Association of Nurse Practitioners Spring Conference. Oxford was also honored to host the TVA Board of Directors in early February and to be a part the first MENT Conference for Women, bringing to Oxford women from across the country.
Thanks to public-private partnerships progress was made for affordable workforce housing – in spite of the pandemic – during 2020. Phase II of Belle Rivers affordable housing development broke ground in May. Phase II added 46 affordable housing units adjacent to Phase I of Belle Rivers on Slack Road. This administration will continue to make affordable housing a priority in the coming year. The Oxford Housing Commission should get back to regular meetings in the coming months.
Another public-private partnership allowed Oxford to construct a wonderful new addition to our community – a beautiful pocket park. This park is now open on North Lamar Boulevard where it is intersected by Price Street (where Fire Station #1 used to be). Please go see it when you can.
The tourism industry was devastated in 2020. Early in the pandemic, Visit Oxford quickly shifted its focus from marketing the community to visitors to marketing local assets such as restaurants, shops, outdoor activities and hotels to locals and citizens from surrounding areas. Visit Oxford became more of a community resource than a destination marketing organization by launching a “pay now – stay later” campaign in hopes to drive revenues for local hotels. Tourism staff worked with the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council and Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce to create COVID-19 safe events such as “Tunes around Town” during the summer, “Sounds on the Square” this fall, balcony concerts at the End of All Music, outdoor skating and other Holiday events through “Holly Jolly Holidays”.
During the summer, Oxford held the “Shelter Art Show” showcasing work by local artists at our OUT bus stops. This has brightened bus stops across town, and given us an opportunity to spotlight some of our fabulous local artists. Oxford has most recently received bids for a large-scale sculpture to be located in the roundabout at Belk Boulevard and South Lamar Boulevard. A new mural has been commissioned and will be created in the coming months behind City Hall. It will be a “Greetings from Oxford” mural. These projects are being funded with 2% tourism tax funds, and a grant from the North Mississippi Hills Alliance.
I was also excited about Oxford’s numerous awards and recognitions from 2020:
- America’s Coolest Southern Towns - Jetsetter
- Quintessential College Town that Retirees Love, too- Southern Living Magazine
- Best Small Town Food Scene- USA Today
- The South’s Best College Towns - Southern Living Magazine
- Best Fair of Festival, Double Decker Arts Festival - Mississippi Magazine
- Best Place to get Outdoors, Sardis Lake - Mississippi Magazine
- Best Downtown Area - Mississippi Magazine
There are many people who made all of these accomplishments possible in Oxford, and I wish I could thank them all. I have often called the city of Oxford employees “underground Disney” because they make so many good things happen every day that our citizens have no idea is taking place. I am honored and thankful to work with the best team in the world.
Bring on 2021!