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Starkville faces big decisions after charrette

 

Jason Browne

 

With the charrette passed, Starkville has some decisions to make. 

 

City officials met with the visiting Mississippi Main Street Association charrette team one last time Friday before closing the first chapter of a plan to reinvigorate downtown Starkville. The charrette team provided the whats and the whys during its Thursday public presentation. Friday''s meeting covered the hows. 

 

"The discussion didn''t center so much on funding possibilities," said Mayor Parker Wiseman after the meeting. "It centered on things that are going to be important in the implementation stage." 

 

Implementation, to be clear, is in the future. The charrette team is gone, but it will send a comprehensive report on its findings and suggestions to the city in six weeks. After that report is digested, the city can begin prioritizing the next steps. 

 

Until then, the officials who participated in the charrette will have to educate those who didn''t. 

 

"The implementation factor is going to be so dependent on the Board of Aldermen. And we didn''t have as many members of the board at those meetings as we had hoped," said Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill. "What we have to do is bring the remainder up to speed." 

 

When the board does begin to consider the logistics of the charrette team''s proposals, they''ll be met with terms like "redevelopment authorities," "overlay districts" and "form-based codes," all of which came up during Friday''s meeting. 

 

A redevelopment authority is a partnership between the city and private parties to create an entity charged with finding opportunities for redevelopment and using public and private funds to make them happen. 

 

"What those do is really help bring the whole package together," said Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas. "They know what lands are available and the associated tax incentives." 

 

The redevelopment authority would operate in designated redevelopment districts, purchase blighted property and issue urban renewal bonds to fund the work. The redevelopment district and a redevelopment plan must be in place before an authority can be assembled. 

 

Spruill said the city board would be responsible for naming members to the redevelopment authority. 

 

"You want all facets of the community buying in, but particularly the development community. The private sector would have to be a party to this in a big way to make it work," she said. "You''ve got a number of folks who might be interested, like the Tabors (Starkville developers) and some folks interested in development along University Drive and Ergon Properties (CottonMill developers) along Russell Street. Some of the bigger players are who you would want to go to. They may not be interested but they may have some connections (to developers who are)." 

 

With respect to downtown, an overlay district could be established which would shape how the area looks. 

 

"It''s an emerging policy tool cities are using where often the structures are more significant than the land around them," said Wiseman. "It''s an area of the city that has, for reasons of its uniqueness, laid out special regulations for development to help it develop in a certain way. For example, a medical overlay district." 

 

Those special regulations are called form-based codes, an alternative to traditional zoning which shapes construction to achieve a community vision. 

 

"Normally form follows function, but in this case it''s function following form," said Spruill. "You can bring sidewalks to the front and keep parking in the back (of buildings) and make it pedestrian friendly. Essentially, if you make it pretty, they will come." 

 

Overlay districts could come up during Tuesday''s board meeting, but that''s a long-term plan which will take time. The one suggestion from the charrette which could be enacted in the short term is branding. 

 

"Signage is a huge, quick fix. That''s one of the things we can do almost immediately," said Spruill. 

 

The charrette team recommended Starkville promote itself as "Mississippi''s college town" and produce signs and other media with a common theme which can be easily associated with Starkville by people around the state. 

 

Spruill said that, done right, each current Starkville event and entity can maintain its individuality despite using a common theme. 

 

"The people that are good at this can make it unique but still it has some element to make it recognizable. You want people from outside Starkville, when they see something, even if they don''t read it, can say that it''s probably from Starkville," she said. 

 

However, because the city doesn''t have its own graphic arts staff, the city may do what Columbus did and use the exact logos and fonts developed by the charrette team, depending on how the public likes them.

 

 

 

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