SuperTalk Mississippi

Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association earns national revitalization award

Downtown Tupelo. Photo courtesy of Hue Collins

Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association (DTMSA) is one of three winners of the 2020 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA).

The award recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. Selected by a national jury of community development professionals and leaders in the fields of economic development and historic preservation, Tupelo is being recognized for building a lively downtown with a thriving small business environment and inclusive community events.

“Tupelo is a shining example of the impact of a sustained, incremental approach to community revitalization,” said National Main Street Center (NMSC) President and CEO Patrice Frey. “Over DTMSA’s 30-year history, they have steadily fueled an inspiring transformation and brought renewed vitality to their community.”

Downtown Tupelo has built on its legacy as the home of Elvis Presley and transformed its Main Street from a buttoned-up corridor that shut down after 5 p.m. to a bustling district with live music, art galleries, and farm-to-table restaurants thriving alongside legacy businesses. When DTMSA got its start in 1990, the downtown’s vacancy rate was 13 percent. Thanks to DTMSA’s supportive entrepreneurship environment, vacancy is just four percent today. DTMSA has seen an entrepreneurship renaissance over the last decade, with 83 businesses opening, which has generated over 1,300 jobs. Today, 34 minority-owned and operated businesses are open, 29 of which are women-owned.

DTMSA has continued to offer support to small business owners during the pandemic. The program launched a dedicated website to support local merchants and provide one-on-one assistance with services like e-commerce support, social media training, and web development. DTMSA has also helped coordinate the application process for the local Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and worked with the city of Tupelo and business owners to allow parklets for outdoor dining and live entertainment.

DTMSA has leveraged public and private partnerships to drive investment and development downtown, including converting a vacant former fairgrounds site into a vibrant mixed-use district. Referred to as Tupelo’s “front porch,” Fairpark has doubled the size of downtown and is now home to a visitor center, arena, museum, restaurants, convention center, and hotel. DTMSA continued to change the face of downtown by connecting Fairpark with the original downtown core and the Elvis Presley Birthplace.

In partnership with the NMSC, Project for Public Spaces, and the Mississippi Department of Transportation, DTMSA completed the $14 million Elvis Birthplace Trail streetscape project in 2017. The project transformed the corridor into a pedestrian-friendly center of community activity by shrinking Main Street traffic lanes, adding bike lanes and wayfinding signage, reducing traffic, and increasing walkability.

“We are ecstatic to finally be chosen as a Great American Main Street Award winner after being a semifinalist three times,” said Debbie Brangenberg, who has been the Director of the DTMSA since its inception. “Ours is a unique story of transformation, where innovation, creativity, and inclusion coincide. Thanks to our commitment to the Main Street Approach™, we have remained true to our 1991 vision. We have forged public/private partnerships and used every available resource to transform downtown into a place worth remembering.”

DTMSA leads a range of inclusive community events to ensure that Main Street appeals to a diverse mix of Tupelo residents. Working with Tupelo City Councilwoman Nettie Davis, DTMSA broadened the existing Community Forward Festival to include a parade, diverse food vendors, games for all ages, line dancing, and music. The festival was created to foster positive interaction between the citizens of Tupelo and its law enforcement officers. DTMSA’s key downtown event celebrates Tupelo’s most famous citizen – Elvis Presley. Hundreds of DTMSA volunteers have helped to pull off the internationally-recognized Tupelo Elvis Festival since 1999.

“The Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association is the perfect example of a Main Street organization that has positively transformed their community by proactively taking care of business,” said Thomas Gregory, State Coordinator for the Mississippi Main Street Association. “By faithfully implementing the Main Street Approach for nearly three decades, Downtown Tupelo Main Street has been the catalyst for the revitalization of their downtown. The Mississippi Main Street Association is thrilled that Tupelo has been recognized for their hard work as a Great American Main Street Award winner!”

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