October 17, 2013 10:09:32 AM
The first and most visible step in the sea change that will be occurring in downtown Starkville has just occurred. If you haven't looked recently, the old electric department building that served as the west end of Main Street is gone. It came down to make way for the new city hall. It wasn't nearly the picturesque as the Light and Water building that graces the end of Fifth Street in Columbus. Instead it was a rather awkward, undistinguished building that has anchored the end of our downtown corridor for over half a century. It had long since outlived its usefulness and its demolition was an appropriate end.
On a philosophical level, the building was an example of Starkville doing what Starkville has been fond of doing for generations, just making do. We have excelled at just getting by. That squat, old building used to be a Studebaker car dealership, so the story goes, and we made do with that for our electric administration building for over 45 years.
Since one of the first things new residents and businesses do is set up electric service the building was a first impression of our town for many who planned on making Starkville home. Sadly it was also the most visible city structure by virtue of sitting at the head of Main Street. No wonder an abiding civic pride has been a stretch for us.
Our reputation has been changing over the last few years, and now we will have some concrete (literally and figuratively) evidence of it. We have an architectural design created by Briar Jones of Thomas Shelton Jones & Associates, a Starkville architect, who comes from a longstanding Starkville family of architects. The design makes a statement about our city and our downtown. It presents an example of excellence. It will be a wonderful contribution to our spirit and it will give us the kind of presence Starkville deserves. It will show we care about our community. It will show we don't just drive it until the wheels fall off.
Several of our current aldermen seem not to believe civic pride has any value. They were content with the status quo and worked hard to stop this project. Fortunately the mayor and a majority of the previous administration's board members, Eric Parker, Sandra Sistrunk, Richard Corey and Jeremiah Dumas believed in the city's potential enough to understand that our civic buildings send messages. They may be subliminal; they may be subtle, but make no mistake, they indicate who we are and what we value. Those same leaders also understand the depth of the practical need for a new city hall and a police department. I do not believe, nor have I ever believed, that we are just a used car dealership, pay-day lending kind of town.
The building front will include a tower that will command Main Street. It will be a landmark and a beacon for our future. It will look toward the university and welcome those who will be making Starkville their home. It will communicate a dedication to downtown. The county has always had a striking presence with the courthouse on Main Street. The city as representative entity is long overdue for having a place in our downtown development. The sidewalk and landscape improvements, the electric department building and providing technology for a wireless presence have been instrumental in turning around what has been tagged as the city's lack of engagement in downtown. Erasing the sight of the old electric department and putting in its place a building with a view of the heart of the city will be one of the defining moments for Starkville's future.
The private sector has successfully invested and improved the downtown atmosphere. At long last we have a strong nighttime community to go with our longstanding daytime business crowd. We have a national award-winning community theater, boutique shops, regional, award-winning restaurants, events that are recognized statewide. This first step will only fuel that trend.
Let's hope this new administration can get on board with that passion for excellence and leave behind the just-getting-by attitude. Mediocrity is contagious, but so is excellence. I, for one, am ready for us to catch that excellence bug and get past our reputation of "least with the most."