March 17, 2014 9:18:38 AM
Greater Starkville Development Partnership officials are optimistic an influx of in- and out-of-town patrons will visit 33 participating venues, thereby driving up local 2 percent food and beverage tax returns, this week during the second annual Starkville Restaurant Week.
Starting today, participants will have a chance per entree to decide which local entity -- Homeward Bound Project of Mississippi, Starkville Pregnancy Care Center and Mississippi State University's T.K. Martin Center -- will receive a $5,000 charity donation.
Last year's grand prize sponsor, Cadence Bank, again will dole out this year's $5,000 check to the top vote getter, but the Partnership also recruited funding sources for second- and third-place prizes. SGK Landscapes Inc. and Insurance Associates will donate $1,000 and $500 respectively to the runners up.
Launched in 2013, Starkville Restaurant Week targets Mississippi residents who live within a 60-mile radius -- about an hour's drive -- and attempts to bring them to Starkville, show off the city's culinary scene and entice future trips.
A friendly competition between local charities for a cash donation was created to help bring more diners to local restaurants. Each time a patron orders an entree from a participating establishment, he or she is allowed to vote for one of the three charity finalists.
Members of Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau, a Partnership sub-group, picked this year's finalists last month out of about 500 unique nominations that collectively backed 35 charities.
Since 2007, the Homeward Bound Project of Mississippi has saved more than 3,000 animals' lives by transporting them from state shelters to adoption-guaranteed locations in the Northeast. The organization is mostly supported by those who work at or attend MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Starkville Pregnancy Care Center is a faith-based organization that provides expecting parents free services and resources, such as counseling and tests.
T.K. Martin Center staff members work to "remove limitations through the application of assistive technology, allowing individuals to participate in educational, vocational and leisure activities to the fullest degree they choose," its website states.
Last year's event was measured financially when Starkville recorded its second-highest March in terms of 2 percent food and beverage tax returns. The city previously averaged about $132,000 in those returns until it collected $142,697.36 in 2013. The increase represented an 11.5 percent boost from March 2012.
Many restaurant owners and managers estimated they saw a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in business last year.
A portion of a 2 percent tax returns to the city; the remaining monies are split between various organizations, including tourism incentives, Starkville Parks and MSU student programs.
Starkville Restaurant Week will conclude Sunday.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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