Recent city urban revitalization successful

From left, Willie Jennings and Nettie Davis, both Tupelo City Council members, and Pat Falkner, Tupelo's director of development services, pose in Hancock Estates, which along with the adjacent King Pines development, are the most recent successful urban revitalization efforts in the city.

It once bore the reputation as being one of the worst neighborhoods in Tupelo. Crime was a regular expectation and blight was a regular feature. Today, though, the Ida Street/Lawndale area has become a showcase for what can be accomplished when city and citizens strive for improvement. The former Ida Street – now renamed Ida B. Wells Street for the renowned civil rights activist for which it was originally named – was home to three notorious apartment complexes. They were unsightly and often uninhabitable, with many of the apartment units boarded up to prevent vandalism and delay further decay. According to Pat Falkner, Tupelo’s director of development services, “The apartment complexes cycled down through different owners who didn’t invest to improve them.” Falkner said the city “started looking at it” in 2010. Eventually, the complexes were purchased by the city; they were demolished after being deemed not economically feasible to rehabilitate. Utilizing a federal government program that offers a federal tax credit for construction of affordable housing to developers, two separate companies dove into the challenge. They each built 38 single-family residences along Ida Street and on newly constructed Kenmar Lane off nearby Monument Drive. Named Hancock Estates and King Pines, the houses are practically fully occupied and boast a waiting list of at least 200 potential renters. According to federal regulations, renters can buy the units after occupancy of 15 years; similar developments have been built in Verona and other cities across Mississippi and around the nation. “The American dream is for people to own their own homes,” said Nettie Davis, Tupelo councilwoman whose ward lies just north of Hancock Estates. “If you own it, you take care of it more.” Indeed, while the homes are currently leased, not owned by the residents, pride in the new dwellings is evident in a drive through the new developments; the 76 houses are kept up and imminently livable, a sharp contrast to the approximately 600 decaying former apartment units. Tupelo Councilman Willie Jennings’ ward includes most of the new homes in the two developments. He echoed the realization that something had to be done about the area since the apartment complex owners “were not doing a good job keeping them up.” Tupelo, he said, eventually came to own about 100 acres in the area; some of the remaining acreage could potentially be developed but some of it cannot since it is low, wet ground. He said some of it could be reclaimed to enlarge the existing Hancock Park at the intersection of Ida B. Wells Street and Monument Drive. “When all is said and done,” Jennings said, “it is going to be a desirable place to live.” Already, according to Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre, the area is a more desirable place to live. Formerly, the apartment complexes were a breeding ground for crime, where drugs, shootings and assaults were regular features of life along Ida Street: “Crime has diminished quite a bit,” said Aguirre. “Alcohol and drugs and aggravated assaults were common. It has really improved and things look really good.” He noted that the police still answer calls to nearby Hilldale Apartments on Monument Drive but the situation there has even improved since the owners have employed onsite security details to patrol the complex. Development services director Falkner said there are “possible other parts of the city” being scrutinized for future revitalization projects.

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