November 16, 2012 10:26:28 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Finally, the work can begin.
On Thursday, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Directors approved a contract between Mississippi State University and Columbus developer Mark Castleberry to develop the much-delayed CottonMill project.
MSU chose Castleberry to take over as the new developer of the public-private enterprise in September, but the contract had to be approved by the IHL Board, according to state law.
Now that the agreement has been approved, Castleberry expects the work to begin without further delay.
"Now the fun begins," Castleberry said Thursday. "It's a complex project and it certainly won't happen overnight, but at last we can get started."
The CottonMill project, which has been on the table since 2008, will include three main components -- a hotel, the conversion of MSU's Cooley Building into a convention center/office complex and a parking garage.
Mississippi State and the city of Starkville have long considered the complex, originally estimated at $100 million, a dynamic gateway to both the city and the university.
The economic downturn in 2008 created financing issues for the original developer, however. In September, MSU changed developers -- from Mark Nicholas of Ridgeland to Castleberry.
Castleberry said he's ready to get started on the project, now estimated to cost $60 million, but figures there will be more leg-work than spade-work in the immediate future.
"We have to secure the funding, but I feel pretty good about that," Castleberry said. "Obviously, we want to get to work, but I'm really trying to stay away from putting a date on anything at this point. There have been a lot of unmet expectations with this project since it first started, so I want to avoid that."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]