December 17, 2013 10:36:07 AM
State lawmakers are expected to fast track special legislation preventing future governing boards from undoing provisions associated with The Mill at Mississippi State University's long-term lease agreements.
The bill is expected to be presented in the Legislature's first or second week of business by Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, and will receive House support from Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, Joey Deason, Oktibbeha County's representative with the Golden Triangle Development Link, told Oktibbeha County supervisors Monday.
Special legislation is needed to supersede a doctrine that does not bind governing successors to previous agreements, Deason and Mill developer Mark Castleberry said. The State College Board previously approved a 55-year property lease between Mississippi State University and Cooley Center LLC for school-owned property.
The $40 million development will transform MSU's Cooley Building into a 1,000-seat conference center with office space; construct a large parking facility and a 110-room Marriot Courtyard Hotel; and develop restaurant parcels in the area near the Russell Street-Highway 12 corridor, a tract of land many officials consider a front door to the university. Developers estimate the project will create 150 new jobs.
Both Castleberry and Deason said they expect strong legislative support for the bill.
"MSU supports this resolution," Deason said. "At the end of the day, they're the ones that will be bound by this 55-year lease. Ultimately, if I was a lender and I was giving (District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams) $40 million, I would want to make sure another board couldn't come in and change it. Effectively, that is what they're asking. I support this, and the Link supports this. It puts more teeth into what we're trying to accomplish."
County supervisors unanimously approved a resolution supporting the bill, and a similar motion is expected during today's Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting.
A copy of the city's resolution states "...without the necessary legislation, the project will not proceed."
Numerous Mill-related agreements were approved in 2013, including a land-use agreement between Starkville and the university for the planned parking structure. To fund the facility, the city is using an $8 million Community Development Block Grant from the Mississippi Development Authority. The prior Starkville Board of Aldermen approved a 15-year, $3.25 million-maximum tax increment financing agreement (TIF) for infrastructure needs that will utilize 75 percent of ad valorem and sales tax returns for debt payment.
In October, the State College Board authorized MSU to sell a portion of its property for the hotel, lease the Cooley Building and utilize some of its office space. The university will construct a replacement home for its facility's management department, which is based out of the Cooley Building, on Buckner Lane.
Castleberry confirmed in November that The Mill received a verbal, conditional approval from the National Parks Service for Cooley Building renovations. The approval was needed since the former cotton mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, 10 years after the university acquired the facility.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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