CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Monday, Feb. 23, 1998

Vacant commercial buildings are generally a liability for a city. They stand abandoned and lifeless, conveying a message unhelpful to the self-image and external perception of a community. Even the best-kept unoccupied buildings inevitably deteriorate and sometimes attract undesirable activity.

Large commercial buildings are a particular challenge. They magnify the problems mentioned above and they're often harder to get rehabilitated and reoccupied. That's why two recent announcements in Tupelo about new occupants for large and prominently visible commercial buildings are welcome news.

One of them, North Mississippi Health Services' purchase of the former Sears (and Tri-County Salvage) building at Gloster Creek Village, will be the next stage of a larger rehabilitation of the old Tupelo Mall property. Virtually deserted after the opening of the Mall at Barnes Crossing early in this decade, the rechristened Gloster Creek property is slowly making a comeback under new owners.

NMHS plans to house its management information systems and managed care operations in 48,000 square feet of renovated space. Eventually as many as 200 people may be working in the building. An infusion of that many office workers into Gloster Creek can't help but stimulate food service and retail activity in the old mall and surrounding properties. As important, it will rejuvenate a deteriorating property and parking lot and remove an important physical and psychological barrier to further business development in the vicinity.

The second bit of news involved the old Wal-Mart building on West Main, vacant since construction of a new super center nearby. Another discount retailer, Big Lots, will occupy the space. Tupelo will thus be spared the spectacle of a large, abandoned building and parking lot at one of the principal entry points for traffic into the central city.

Another attempt to rehabilitate an abandoned building a much older one hasn't enjoyed the same result. Some neighbors objected to a plan to renovate the old Bluebell building next to the railroad tracks on Green Street. Lack of sufficient City Council support caused developer Tim Hester to back off a request for a zoning change. He had in mind conversion of part of the building to apartments and artists' studios.

Neighborhood opposition was somewhat surprising, given the current condition of the building and the general threat of deterioration to the area. It would seem that virtually any investment to improve the condition and use of a building that constitutes an eyesore or worse would be welcome.

There are plenty more vacant commercial buildings in Tupelo, of course, some of them with abundant space. While full occupancy is neither possible nor even necessarily desirable, giving old abandoned buildings new life helps to revitalize and rejuvenate commercial districts and mixed-use neighborhoods. It deserves to be a public and private sector priority.

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