Sep 14, 2022 - Tupelo, MS

by: Caleb McCluskey, Daily Journal

Tupelo city officials are mulling the expansion of the Historic Downtown Overlay District along the Elvis Presley Birthplace trail in a bid to increase commercial opportunity along Main Street.

As the overlay stands, the district ends at Madison Street to the west and Highway 45 to the east. The proposed expansion would see the district extended to the intersection of Main Street and Gloster Street, commonly referred to as Crosstown, in the west and Veterans Memorial Boulevard in the east. The additions would be known as Gateway West and Gateway East.

The Tupelo Planning Committee recommended the extension on a near-unanimous vote among present members.

Development Services Director Tanner Newman called the proposed change a “profound moment for the future of the city of Tupelo.”

“Upon the City Council’s approval on Oct. 4, the next chapter of Downtown Tupelo’s revitalization will begin,” Newman said. “The planning committee’s approval follows a months-long collaboration between the Jordan administration, Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, Tupelo Redevelopment Agency, and Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau.”

The benefit of the overlay district, Newman noted, was that anyone looking to invest through new construction or redevelopment would be eligible for a 5-year tax abatement. An abatement is a process in which a property owner's taxes are locked into the cost of the property before it was renovated, rather than the cost of the property after the addition of their investment.

Being a part of an overlay also comes with regulations and restrictions, including following modern design standards and restricting businesses that close at or around 5 p.m. to use by compatibility. Newman noted that already established businesses were grandfathered in and were not subject to the new restriction unless there was a change in use or occupancy.

Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Neal McCoy said the change represents an “opportunity to connect the dots” between the Elvis Presley Birthplace — the city’s biggest draw — and the downtown area.

“The infrastructure is in place; now it comes to working with the private sector to create commerce along East Main Street, and the same thing goes for the western portion,” McCoy said.

McCoy noted that as Tupelo becomes more pedestrian-friendly, this approach could expand throughout the city.

Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association Director Lucia Randle said with the approval of this extension, the new portions of the district would be under her organization and receive all the benefits therein.

“We can provide the needed resources to enhance Gateway East and Gateway West, providing economic vitality and also creating a visually pleasing connection from downtown Tupelo for our citizens and guests,” she said.

Committee approval not without reservations


Despite their approval of the overlay district in the end, committee members weren’t without their reservations. Members questioned presenters about their thinking behind placing some areas within the district while leaving others out.

Specifically, the committee wanted to know why the proposed overlay cuts the downtown expansion east at Veterans rather than the intersection, including Elvis Presley Drive and Briar Ridge Road.

McCoy said the process behind the extension is to follow the Birthplace trail.

“The trail and sidewalk infrastructure goes to Veterans and turns north and turns right up the street into the Birthplace,” McCoy said. “We felt like it was appropriate to follow those boundaries with the hopes that, in the future, the next phase would extend out.”

Committee member Leslie Mart said she would prefer if it extended to Briar Ridge Road, asking if the committee could make that recommendation. Newman noted she could make that in a formal request, but they could not make a vote on that Monday night because every person in the affected area would need 15 days' notice before the change.

The committee voted 5-1 to request the development services department study expanding the district 1,000 feet to include the second entrance of the Elvis Presley Birthplace. Committee member Mark Williams voted against the action.

“That three blocks, the makeup is slightly different from the rest,” he told the Daily Journal after the meeting. “I think following the trail is the right way to do it.”

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