- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - On a recent weekday night, the drive-through line at the newly opened Dairy Queen snaked its way around the building, the parking lot and onto South Gloster Street.

But a 15- to 20-minute wait for Oreo Blizzards was worth it for Jeanne Carson and her son, Michael.

“We’ve been waiting for years for another Dairy Queen to open in Tupelo, and to have them open down here instead of up there is great,” she said.

“Up there” would be North Gloster Street, particularly the Barnes Crossing shopping district that includes The Mall at Barnes Crossing and a handful of other shopping centers.

The area has become synonymous with retailing and congested traffic, to the chagrin of other areas of the All-America City that say they, too, are an important part of the economic engine.

“I like to see more businesses on South Gloster,” Carson said. “Not everything has to go to Barnes Crossing.”

Rudy Dossett Jr. couldn’t agree more. More than a decade ago, the owner of the Dossett Big 4 automobile dealership, along with several other business and community leaders put together the South Gloster Area Property Owners Association to help promote the area. Its slogan was, “South Gloster is alive.”

The group eventually morphed into the South Gloster Business Association, but meetings became sporadic over the years and the group has all but fizzled.

However, that doesn’t mean Dossett and other business owners aren’t concerned about the perception that the area is dying, with the migration of some businesses north.

“Sure, we’ve had one dealership move and another about to move, but we’re as busy as I’ve seen it in quite some time,” Dossett said. “Try to pull out of our parking lot and take a left on a Friday night. It’s not happening.”

While Dossett’s example is anecdotal, there is substance to his argument that South Gloster is alive and well.

Since January of last year, 74 new construction permits valued at nearly $33 million have been issued along the South Gloster corridor.

The South Gloster corridor, stretching from Crosstown to Highway 6, is more than a single street. Within a half-mile of either side are some 4,700 residents, 15,000 employees and more than 800 businesses.

South Gloster is economically anchored by the healthcare industry, which represents some 60 percent of all workers and about 40 percent of all businesses along the corridor. North Mississippi Medical Center employs some 4,000 alone.

Since January of last year, NMMC has invested more than $2.4 million in projects, on top of the $55 million West Bed Tower expansion it completed in August of last year (the project was started in 2013).

Dairy Queen, which opened three weeks ago, was a $600,000 investment. The Walmart Neighborhood Market was a $7.2 million project.

Midtown Pointe, formerly Gloster Creek Village, has transformed into a medical and professional mall. Since last January, more than $5.9 million of new construction has taken place at the facility.

Shane Hooper, the city’s director of development services, said a common misconception is that the city tells retailers and restaurants where they need to build. Barnes Crossing is retail-heavy because it was designed that way 30 years ago,

“Not all sections of town are going to look identical, and it’s not realistic to think that every section of Tupelo is going to look like the Barnes Crossing area,” he said. “And I don’t think we want everywhere to be like Barnes Crossing.”

The planning for the Barnes Crossing area decades ago was to convert what was farmland into a regional shopping hub. With the opening of The Mall at Barnes Crossing in 1990 and subsequent additions of other shopping centers and restaurants, the area has become exactly what it was designed to become.

“It was zoned to be a regional commercial district, and there are some significant differences in zoning, characteristics and planning between Barnes Crossing and other sections of town,” Hooper said.

The Barnes Crossing area was designed and zoned with the specific purpose of making Tupelo the retail hub of Northeast Mississippi. Closing in on nearly $3 billion in retail sales, Tupelo has become exactly that.

And the city benefits because it derives about 52 percent of its revenue from the area.

However, that doesn’t mean South Gloster, downtown, midtown or East Tupelo have been overlooked, even though it may seem that way at times.

“The city is not just about one shopping district,” Hooper said. “Barnes Crossing is mostly about shopping and you find very little housing there. Obviously you have to have housing to be successful, and you have that more concentrated in other areas of town.

“There are different parts of Tupelo that serve different purposes, and not every area of the city has been specifically designed to be a certain area - it’s kind of followed where the growth pattern went, where the traffic has flowed. All of those factors go into defining the different areas of Tupelo, which gives the city its character and gives it the opportunity to be a vibrant city.”

The opening of Highway 6 has helped with traffic flow on South Gloster, and Hooper says traffic count is higher than before. However, he cautioned not to read too much into the raw numbers.

Demographics play a large role in where a business decides to go, and even though there may be more cars and trucks traveling on South Gloster, it doesn’t mean all of them are additional consumers.

“There may be an increase in overall traffic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in retail traffic,” Hooper said. “It could be workers have found a different way to get to work on South Gloster. And the additional traffic doesn’t mean all of them want that same kind of shopping experience they might get at Barnes Crossing.”

However, the increased traffic does provide opportunities for businesses to reach those people.

Dairy Queen, for example, believed their location was ideally situated across from the hospital and next to an already iconic restaurant, Connie’s.

Jimmy John’s saw opportunity as well. The sandwich chain is spending several hundred thousand dollars to renovate the former Zip Scripts pharmacy at the corner of South Gloster and Varsity Drive.

And while South Gloster has seen the migration of some auto dealerships to the Barnes Crossing area, others have stayed put. The Chevrolet dealership at the corner of South Green and South Gloster has been its spot for more than 30 years, and owner Dwayne Blackmon has seen the ebb and flow of business along the corridor. Having completed a major renovation of the dealership in 2013, Blackmon senses a renewed interest on the route.

“Traffic has definitely picked up since the highway opened, and that’s given more visibility to businesses like ours,” Blackmon said. “I think we’ll continue to see businesses come here and do well.”

The city isn’t doing anything to deter anyone from building on South Gloster, Hooper reiterated.

We do not have control where businesses choose to be,” he said. “When they come to the city, they may or may not contact us first. They’re looking at traffic counts, land costs and where they think the majority of their clients are going to be. Some businesses are looking for different areas and will build where they want. But we’ll continue to promote all of Tupelo and let them know there are options available. The city - the whole city - is open for business.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com


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