September 27, 2012 10:11:11 AM
STARKVILLE -- The seemingly endless saga of CottonMill Marketplace may go on a little longer now that a new developer has been hired, replacing one that had worked on the stalled project for more than four years.
Sources confirmed that Columbus developer Mark Castleberry was given the nod as the new developer on the now $40 million project, replacing Mark Nicholas, of Nicholas Properties in Ridgeland.
The project was once quoted at being close to $100 million, but Nicholas said the retail side of the development, including an outdoor shopping strip, and other small factors included in his plans have been scratched, significantly reducing the total cost.
"We thought we had reached an agreement with the university several months ago when we secured the financing, but they chose to go another route," Nicholas said. "For the university to take a different direction after we finally get to the finish line was a shocker and a disappointment to all of our team."
Castleberry was selected after Mississippi State put out a request for proposals some months ago.
In the works since late 2008, the CottonMill Marketplace only recently started to take shape in 2011 when a stretch of condominiums and the first of two restaurants were built.
But the mixed-use development has been promising much more, including the transformation of the E.E. Cooley Building, which faces Russell Street and backs up to the property, from offices and storage space to a conference center and hotel.
Because the Cooley Building is on the National Register of Historic Places, Nicholas had to get approval from the National Parks Service to do any kind of work on the building. He said Castleberry will have to get the same approval, which took Nicholas more than a year to receive.
Previous reports by The Dispatch also cite an $8 million parking deck funded by a community development block grant as another part of the project.
"We were working towards a beautiful front door to the university," Nicholas said. "We stuck with it so long for the city of Starkville and the Golden Triangle. We wanted to give them a conference center for economic development."
The painfully slow progress the development has made could be attributed to inconsistencies in ownership or even contract negotiations. The slumping economy, which began in 2008, is likely to have contributed to the stall in progress as well.
"The world has changed a lot over the life of this project," Castleberry said, "particularly property development."
Nicholas still owns six acres of the property on the corner of Highway 12, including the Chick-fil-A property, but said the original plan was, "trying to create a seamless development from our property, all the way to the front of the university, so it wouldn't look like it was hodgepodge pieces of different developments."
Despite this, Nicholas said he is ready to press on and will soon be able to announce new projects that will round out the six acres.
"We are way down the road in developing our property," Nicholas said. "I think Starkville can be excited about what we are still going to do."
Officials from MSU did not respond to calls or emails concerning the issue.