October 29, 2016 10:25:41 PM
Starkville's Highway 182 redevelopment plan aims to rebrand a portion of the languishing thoroughfare as a vibrant, inclusive area through colorful visuals, improved landscaping and crowd-gathering spaces in an effort to transform the area's image and help bring about new investments.
Mike Breazeale, a Mississippi State University assistant professor of marketing the city tapped to create a branding proposal for the project, worked with students this summer to develop a new moniker, "UpTown," for the space between North Long Street and Old West Point Road.
The UpTown logo and overall brand identity designed for the project utilizes a retro, atomic era-design inspired by elements within the University Motel's existing signage.
Rebranding the area is important to its future success, Breazeale said, and has to be done in a way that separates it from other areas -- downtown, the Cotton District and the university, for example -- and builds its own identity while retaining important aspects of its history.
Perception problems have long defined the Highway 182 corridor -- blight, safety and others -- but Breazeale said his research and interviews with local residents show those issues "aren't as bad as they seem" and could easily be mitigated once investments in new restaurants, retailers and other businesses bring people to the area and provide a firsthand experience.
"Mississippi State is obviously very important to Starkville, but we wanted to be sure that this didn't feel like an extension of campus. It's its own place, with its own potential to become a major commercial and cultural destination in Starkville," he said. "With its proximity to downtown and possible investments in infrastructure and transportation options, this area could become a major destination for dining and shopping. Getting the first developer or restaurant to take a chance will establish a base. Once the base is there, it will have legitimacy."
Developing the plan
Starkville aldermen began redevelopment planning this summer, tasking the Tennessee-based firm Farmer-Morgan LLC with leading the overall effort. The city and firm held public information-gathering sessions this summer, which yielded an early report suggesting Starkville seek outside funding for aesthetic and infrastructure improvements along Highway 182.
Officials are expected to seek outside funding through Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants that could tend to a number of infrastructure projects, from landscaping and multi-use path construction to moving utilities underground.
Other suggestions include attempts at attracting restaurants, mixed-use developments and a grocery store.
Breazeale said his research also backed up residents' desires for those services and others, including a pharmacy and greenspace areas.
Mixed-use developments that construct condominium spaces at the top of their respective buildings could find huge success in the second-home, MSU game day housing market, Breazeale said. He also suggested vacant retail spaces' parking areas could be used now as temporary locations for food trucks and pop-up parks as efforts to bring in more activity, and the corridor could become a walking path lined with informative signs and plaques denoting its history.
"With investors, we have to look at what they care about. The traffic count is solid for 182 -- we need to promote that while putting it together in line with the idea of what the area could be in the future," Breazeale said. "The draw that will get people over there is food and retail, but I think the restaurants will come first. Once you have traffic from food, you'll have a good justification for other retail.
"...You can't just say this is what we want to do and not have someone continue that work," he added. "The story of Starkville is that when people take a chance on the market, it works."
Community Development Director Buddy Sanders said the report will be presented to a brownfield committee -- its funding came from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant -- in November and at least one public session on the study will be held before it goes to the board of aldermen for approval.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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