Oct. 10—TUPELO — The administration of current Mayor Todd Jordan wants to demolish a pair of historic buildings in downtown Tupelo owned by former Mayor Jason Shelton.
Located on Spring Street, east of the Lee County Justice Center, the two buildings have been cordoned off with caution tape and affixed with signs bearing the city's seal and warning that people are barred from occupying the structures.
Tupelo Communications Director Scott Costello said in a statement that the administration is taking action against the properties as part of ongoing revitalization efforts.
"We're working through that process with the assistance of the buildings' owner in an effort to get this accomplished," Costello said.
Tanner Newman, the director of Development Services, said that the impetus for the condemnation order was a complaint from a citizen who expressed safety concerns to city officials related to the building.
"Safety is our No. 1 priority," Newman said.
The administration has given Shelton, who served as mayor from 2013 to 2021, 30 days to remedy any code violations outlined by the city's building inspectors. Shelton could resolve the issues either by repairing the structures or demolishing them himself.
The former mayor tied the fate of these properties to his own electoral fate.
"Elections have consequences," Shelton said. "I was on the wrong side of this past election."
Shelton, a Democrat, was the immediate predecessor of Jordan, a Republican. Shelton did not seek re-election, and Jordan won a contested primary and a contested general election to become mayor.
Though he wasn't on the ballot, Shelton frequently criticized Jordan on social media and endorsed Jordan's Democratic opponent.
If Shelton does not fix the violations outlined by Development Services, then the case could be brought before the city's blight review committee, which is an internal group of city officials that deliberate on whether or not a building should be razed.
If the review committee agrees that the buildings should be demolished, then Development Services will recommend that the Tupelo City Council vote to give them the legal power to tear the buildings down.
At that time, the city must give proper notice for a public hearing that Shelton could come and adjudicate his case before the elected officials if he were to contest the order. Shelton could also litigate the order through the court system.
But, Shelton said he has no intention to fight the condemnation order and will pay to have the buildings torn down.
"It is what it is," Shelton said. "It's unfortunate that this is one of the larger historic buildings in town."
Even if the Council were to vote to give the administration the authority to tear the buildings down, city officials could still work with Shelton to find another solution. If the city were to demolish the buildings with taxpayer dollars, a lien would be assessed against the properties.
The two buildings are located in the city's historic downtown area. One of the buildings is attached to the Shelton family's old law firm. The larger building was once the Jefferson Davis Hotel, a notable building in the area.
Shelton does not contest that the buildings are in disrepair and may pose some safety concerns, but believes the buildings are worth preserving and investing in. The former mayor estimates it would cost a minimum of $3 million to renovate, money which he says he doesn't have.
Shelton said he has been in negotiations with three or four people about potentially purchasing the two pieces of property, but they have fallen through for various reasons.
Since the buildings are located in the historic downtown district, the buildings could qualify for some type of historic preservation tax credits — but the credits would have to flow through the city.
When Shelton was an elected official, ethics laws would have prevented him from using tax credits to renovate a building he had a financial stake in. But now that the former mayor is out of office, he could be eligible to benefit from the credits.
Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Palmer has been a proponent of historic preservation in the city and served on the Council when Shelton was in office. Palmer said he would like to have the building preserved, but he also understands the safety concerns.
"It would be nice to have it preserved, but it would take a lot to do it," Palmer said. "But if the building is a danger, the city has to do what it has to do."