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April 24, 2015 10:35:44 AM
Starkville will soon take the first steps toward a project that could transform the Highway 12 corridor between Spring and Russell streets.
Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Legislature's Fiscal Year 2016 budget allocation for road projects Monday, which included a provision allocating $750,000 for planning and pre-construction activities associated with a long-dormant project known as the Grand Bullyvard.
A 2011 planning exercise developed the idea of redesigning the Highway 12 corridor linking Starkville and Mississippi State University to an urban thoroughfare that increases economic development potential and provides better access points to both the city and university for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Funding issues previously held back the project, but the state's allocation will allow planning efforts to begin in earnest.
Mayor Parker Wiseman said the study could yield a full redesign of the area, but many steps must be taken before the project can be presented for state and federal funding applications. Planning and design exercises will make the concept shovel-ready, he said, thereby turning the exercise into an attractive project for future state and federal funding sources.
From concept to project completion could take about five years, he said, depending on many variables.
"We don't know exactly what the project will look like, but we know there's an issue -- there's a physical barrier between the city and university, and it is hindering development efforts in one of the most significant areas of town for economic development," Wiseman said. "This is about finding a concept that works best for connectivity and will marry the cultures of Starkville and the university at that nexus. That stretch of land has a ceiling that is amongst the highest of any properties in Starkville in terms of future development. Transportation provides a vital role as to how high that ceiling becomes."
Wiseman credited state Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, and state Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp, for their efforts this legislative session to get the allocation through to the governor.
"I share Mayor Wiseman's excitement about the benefits this forward-thinking initiative could bring to MSU and to the city. I commend the mayor for his vision and determined efforts to work with our legislative delegation to advance the project," said MSU President Mark Keenum in a release. "Combined with the Mill at MSU, the Grand Bullyvard will offer a very appealing gateway to our campus and to the city."
A new look
If this initiative and others are completed within the next five years, the Highway 12 and Russell Street corridors -- the front door to the university -- will have underwent massive redevelopment projects.
Two major economic developments are already turning dirt and making process in that area. Combined, Mark Nicholas' Cotton Mill Marketplace and the Mark Castleberry-led Mill at MSU will transform the Russell Street-Highway 12 corridor into a new economic powerhouse filled with retail shops, restaurants and hotels.
A retail center associated with the Nicholas-backed Marketplace previously held a formal ribbon cutting ceremony earlier this month after retailers had already opened their doors for business.
The showpiece of Castleberry's project, the transformation of MSU's former E.E. Cooley Building into a major conference center, will provide a need economic developers and tourism officials say has remained a significant missing part to the area's economy.
Both projects will develop individual hotels -- a Courtyard by Marriot and Holiday Inn, respectively -- on parcels of land spanning from Chick-fil-A to the historic cotton mill.
A complete redesign of Russell Street's transportation layout is also in the works.
Northern Mississippi Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert previously announced work to add additional bike paths and sidewalks in the area should begin in 2016.
The plan will remodel the existing four-lane roadway to two lanes and add a center turning lane. In the extra space created from the reduction, bike paths and sidewalks will be added that connect the area to existing infrastructure closer to the Russell-Lampkin streets intersection.
"We think it's a real game-changing project for that area," Tagert said in January while providing updates on the project. "At the least, it will serve as a direct pedestrian connection between the city and university. It could even help spur further economic development."
The lane-reduction plan is not expected to bottleneck traffic, he said, as the road will still have capacity for projected usage. The turning lane is also expected to improve safety in the area, Tagert said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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