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Lynn Spruill: A turning point for downtown?

 

Lynn Spruill

 

STARKVILLE - One of our aldermen has expressed a troublesome and sad view of the future of our downtown. He believes that downtown is doomed to mundane daytime activity and total nighttime irrelevance. That view, while certainly possible, if not probable, is a challenge this board should meet head-on.  

 

A guaranteed truism is "the only constant is change." That expression has been attributed to every philosopher from Heraclitus to La Rochefoucauld. You either embrace change or find yourself angry and frustrated. You should try to participate in how that change is implemented, but when it comes, you determine how you make it work for you. Change isn't a smooth forward transition either. It looks much like what is going on in Starkville now. The pendulum swings so far in one direction that the corresponding response brings it back. But absent Armageddon-like decisions, the forward progress continues, or so we can hope. 

 

When I was growing up in Starkville, most of the activities were centered around Main Street and downtown. We had a department store and a shoe store and a doctor's office and an office supply and two movie theaters. There were professional services including an engineering office, accounting office and lawyers' offices. We had two banks, two drug stores and two jewelry stores. There was a dress shop, men's store and a savings and loan business. The churches were the same Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian but with much smaller footprints than now exist.  

 

It was a small but robust area diverse in its commercial makeup. Because of the movie theaters there was some activity in the evening, but there weren't any restaurants to speak of and any shopping was done as window shopping until the stores opened the next day. It was a small town and the pace was slow.  

 

Where Main Street flowed into University Drive there were more doctors' offices, service stations, the cemetery, lots of residential, the Catholic Church and an ice cream store where Bulldog Deli (now Pepper's) is located. It was the road to the University and it was pre-Cotton District as we know it now. 

 

Since then, there was a time when you could fire a cannon off on Main Street in downtown Starkville after 5 p.m. with no fear of disturbing anyone. Most of the evening entertainment was occurring along Highway 12. Through the efforts of many with vision and a willingness to invest, downtown has become an lively place again. We have an award-winning community theater, and we have restaurants and boutique shops and regular events scheduled. That is now, but tomorrow may look very different if care is not taken to focus on Main Street's personality.  

 

With the continued encroachment of public space, the expansion of the church facilities, the loss of the scheduled weekend Dawg Bus Express and the predictable arrival of such businesses as bail bondsmen next to the proposed Cadence/Police facility, it could be that our Main Street might soon take on a very different look.  

 

As Russell Street becomes the new hot spot for all activities related to the University and Starkville visitors, it's easy to imagine downtown becoming again a nighttime dead zone. Its demise is not inevitable, but it certainly must be addressed by definitive action from the elected leaders and the business community.  

 

There was a recent attempt to make the restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the downtown area less onerous for new businesses. It would have made our ordinance identical to the restrictions that are outlined by the State of Mississippi, but it failed to gain the support necessary to pass.  

 

There are efforts to create residential opportunities in the downtown quadrant, but if there isn't any night life, then the allure of city living will fade and all of the interest will drift back down to the Cotton District and the new residences and activities on Russell Street. Downtown is in competition with the Cotton District and a soon-to-be re-invigorated Russell Street. Competition is good if you have a plan to address it.  

 

The demise of the night-time bus that regularly went from campus to downtown is yet another factor in making night activities on Main Street less attractive to those who might otherwise have ventured out into the night to Old Venice, Mugshots or Restaurant Tyler. It is a small thing, but they all add up to a less vibrant downtown. 

 

It may not be far from downtown to Russell, but it can be a world away if we don't keep in mind the vulnerability of our Main Street to trends that can indeed make it once again irrelevant at night.

 

 

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