Monday, September 28, 2020

Oxford Mayor Looks Back on 2019, Ahead to 2020

Oxford’s Mayor Robyn Tannehill released a State of the City message Friday that remembered the accomplishments and the heartbreaks of 2019 and shared some of the things to come in 2020 and beyond.

Here is her message:

“The year 2019 was a year of many ups and downs. We said goodbye to some incredible folks who are to credit for Oxford’s success over the years.

Robyn Tannehill

Although the heartache seems to linger, it seems more productive to focus on the good that came from hard work, creativity, trial and error, heartfelt apologies, loyalty, and commitment to leaving this community better … all performed by a team of Oxford City employees who I believe are better than any other in the nation. There have been devastating events that could have knocked us down for good if we let them, but instead, we chose to get up and commit to doing better every single day. We committed to working our hardest to establish trust in our community and listening to those with something to say.

In February, when protestors came to town and water mains broke, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some hard days. But, every city department stepped up to meet the challenges presented, and we kept going.

With the annexation of 10 square miles at the end of 2018, we have spent 2019 beginning the process of installing streetlights, providing water, sewer, and other city services, and bringing roads up to City standards. This process will take 5 – 7 years to complete. All of our City departments have worked tirelessly to make this transition efficient. A big shout out to our Environmental Services Department who took on more than 1,200 new trash customers! We have met with members of the annexed neighborhoods, and we continue to work to meet their expectations and find ways to serve them more effectively. That work will continue in 2020. A committee spent many hours considering the best way to establish new voting districts after the annexation was completed. This new redistricting plan adopted by the Board of Aldermen and can be found here.

Several projects begun over the past two years have been completed and opened this year.

The walking track above the basketball courts at the new Ulysses “Coach” Howell Activity Center.
Photo by Alyssa Schnugg

The grand opening of the Ulysses “Coach” Howell Activity Center was certainly a highlight of the past year. The Oxford Park Commission hosts the most diverse groups in our community on a daily basis. The new indoor walking track, gymnastics facility, basketball courts and classrooms are used every day to provide services to people of all ages in our community. The facility was recognized as the top facility in the State by Mississippi Recreation and Parks Association this year.

The Oxford Park Commission had 924 participants in fall soccer, 574 participants in baseball and 219 in softball, 543 participants in basketball and 304 participants in flag football. A recreational swim league was established for the first time, co-ed lacrosse held a second season and two innovative new classes; Fundamentals of Cooking for ages 10-12 years old and Mighty Milers, a cross country learning to run program, experienced great success. OPC Tennis classes were all full and more than 200 kids participated in gymnastics classes!

The city, Lafayette County, and the University of Mississippi partnered last year to begin the development of a Joint Transportation Plan that would identify our road infrastructure needs and help us prioritize those needs. The plan was completed and adopted in 2019. We are now able to seek funding as a unified voice based on the LOU Transportation Plan and will continue to request funds at both the State and Federal level. I have said many times before that we are a critical economic driver for our state and in order to remain successful, we must have help in building needed infrastructure. We will aggressively seek funds and will call on you to help by contacting your elected representatives in the near future.

On January 22, 2020, we will celebrate the Grand Opening of mTrade Park formerly FNC Park. The naming rights to the park expired in 2019 and mTrade has generously stepped in to continue the tradition of a first-class soccer, baseball and softball complex in our community. The park hosted 38 events in 2019 along with OPC soccer, baseball, softball and flag football games. More than 6,000 games were played and more than 2,192 teams visited the park in 2019 with an estimated economic impact of more than $4.5 million last year. We look forward to the partnership with mTrade and appreciate their generosity.

West Oxford Loop Extended. Photo by Talbert Toole.

Another highlight of 2019 was the opening of two major thoroughfares in our community. In partnership with Lafayette County, we completed the George G. “Pat” Patterson Parkway that connects West Oxford Loop to College Hill Road and goes past mTrade Park. We also completed Sisk Avenue Extended and F. D. “Buddy” East Parkway. These roads have already begun to positively affect our traffic patterns. Other road projects that have been completed during 2019 include the roundabout at South Lamar Boulevard and Belk Boulevard, the realignment off Office Park Drive and Azalea Drive, and the three roundabouts at Highway 7 and Sisk Avenue. I would add that these three roundabouts at Sisk and Hwy 7 were completed in 55 days! During the 2019 Legislative Session, the City of Oxford secured $750,000 to be utilized towards the redesign and construction of a new interchange at Highway 7 and University Avenue. We will continue to seek funds during the 2020 Legislative Session to move forward on this $9 million project.

Parking garage
Photo by Talbert Toole.

We cannot mention capital projects and roads without mentioning the opening of the Downtown Parking Garage in October. The construction process was certainly an example of how progress is a pain. After many years of planning, researching, and analyzing options and revenue models, we made it to the end. There was much angst about the new rates and number of free parking spots that would be available before the garage opened. We understand that it takes a while for people to create new habits. We will continue to monitor the revenue and are committed to analyzing any needed changes in April once six months of revenue history can be reviewed.

The Oxford Police Department has found ways to serve our community this year that go above and beyond public safety. With a new alcohol ordinance in place, OPD held classes for businesses serving alcohol to help them develop emergency plans and to share techniques for dealing with issues. The Downtown District Unit focused on relationship building and continues to staff a “Safe Place Tent” in the downtown area at night. Officers can even be found playing corn hole with students in the middle of the street occasionally!

In 2019, OPD taught 27 active shooter classes, four distracted driving/interacting with police classes, three internet safety classes, five scam/fraud classes, nine women’s self-defense classes, seven citizen police academy classes, two different sessions of Camp COPS and one summer police explorers camp. In addition to these classes, OPD officers who serve as Student Resource Officers in our Oxford School District are teaching classes to teachers and students in the district.

Affordable Housing continues to be at the top of our list of priorities. One of our goals in annexation was to annex undeveloped land to allow some affordable housing developments to be a reality. You cannot build affordable housing on unaffordable land. Oxford had a population of 22,000 at 16.2 square miles. We annexed an additional 10 square miles but only 3,000 additional citizens. An Affordable Housing Incentive Ordinance was passed by our Board and is the first of its kind in the State to be adopted. We are so proud of the developments by Rosedale Corporation that resulted in 48 affordable housing units opening in 2019 and 48 more planned to open in 2020. An Affordable Housing Commission was established, and an Affordable Housing Summit was held in May. From these efforts, working committees have been established. We know what the problems are. Now is the time to figure out how to address those problems. Our working committees are analyzing all options and will present the best ideas for addressing our affordable housing problems to the government, educational, research entities, or non-profit organization best equipped to move forward with those concepts.

One of the greatest joys of my job is our Mayor for the Day program and Girl emPOWERment class. The opportunity to give kids a behind-the-scenes tour of their community and see the lightbulb moments they have when they realize that trash doesn’t just magically disappear from the curb and water doesn’t just happen to come out of the faucet, is priceless. The opportunity to have open conversations with 5th-grade girls about what makes an effective leader and how important kindness is in our world today and see authentic friendships develop between girls who might have never crossed paths, brings me so much joy. Taking these girls to Jackson and letting them see their State government at work and see that they can make a difference is so important to me.

Telling Oxford’s story is a large part of my job. It is critical for us to get the message out about the good and important work being done in this community. I am honored to represent our community in these capacities and enjoyed the opportunity to speak to nine classes at Ole Miss and three campus organizations, 14 local service organization meetings and events and two in other communities, three church congregations, one national conference in Charlottesville, VA and three statewide conferences in Oxford, Biloxi and Jackson and had the great honor of welcoming more than 15 conferences that gathered at the Oxford Conference Center. I have been a guest in numerous Oxford and Lafayette School District classrooms this year and have hosted several student groups at City Hall. I have been a guest several times this year on SuperTalk Radio. I have met with our United States Senators and Congressmen three times in DC this year and along with the University hosted their staff members in Oxford. We hosted City leaders from Starkville, Vicksburg and Troy, Alabama to share ideas. I have enjoyed conversations about partnerships with many University administrators and County officials, as well as representatives from Mississippi Development Authority, TVA and the Walton Family Foundation.

The Board of Aldermen approved spending about $12K on landscaping to screen the former Hayakawa building on Industrial Park Drive that could one day serve as a new OPD. Rendering from the city of Oxford

The city of Oxford purchased the Hayakawa building on Industrial Park Road in 2019. Our future plans will see this converted into a City Shop or other city facilities. We own the building across the street, which is now the Oxford Enterprise Center. Our future plans will see this converted into the Oxford Police Department. Our future plans also include moving the Oxford Park Commission administrative offices into the current Oxford Police Department allowing for a Park Commission Campus to be established. Some of these transitions will happen in 2020 and others will take several years.

Tourism continues to drive our economic development. The filming of the TV show Bluff City Law during Spring Break and the filming of a Faulkner Documentary were boosts to our economy, as was the Antique Car Show held downtown in May and Square Jam this fall. Oxford has been recognized in 2019 as one of the Greenest Cities in America, Third Best Small City for Baseball Fans, One of the Safest Cities in Mississippi and featured in the December issue of Where to Retire. The Mississippi Chapter of the American Planning Association presented the Oxford Square with the 2019 Great Public Space in Mississippi Award. The Square is now nominated for the national Great Public Spaces award, which will be announced in 2020.

Our community has certainly experienced changes in leadership in the past 12 months – a new Police Chief, a new Director of Visit Oxford, a new Alderman, a new Chancellor, a new Athletic Director and a new Football Coach, a new Sheriff and two new Lafayette County Supervisors. For 2020, you are stuck with the same Mayor! These changes bring about the opportunity for new visions and exciting new plans. We value our relationships with our Lafayette County Officials and the University of Mississippi and fully understand that we succeed together and face challenges together. 2020 will be an exciting year for all three of us!

Go take your picture on the top of the parking garage for a great backdrop or stand in front of the mural on the side Sneed’s Hardware on South 14th Street. We plan to find additional opportunities for public art in the coming year and to complete a beautiful pocket park at the corner of North Lamar Boulevard and Price Street where the old fire station stood. New events are in the planning stages and we will celebrate the 25th Annual Double Decker Arts Festival in April. We have set aside $500,000 to begin a design and start the planning process for a new city pool! If any generous donor would like to be a part of this project, we would welcome your help.

A new year … a new decade … lies before us. It is like a book with blank pages and we get to write the words. I have tried to think of a title for the coming year and so far, it is “Opportunity.” We each have the opportunity to make this community better if only we take advantage of it. Join us.

I am honored to be your Mayor.”

— Mayor Robyn Tannehill