March 25, 2009
Tim Pratt -
STARKVILLE -- Developers of the CottonMill Marketplace project were curious about the reception they would receive Tuesday at a town hall meeting to discuss the development.
By the time the meeting was over, there was little doubt about Starkville residents'' enthusiasm for the proposed $200 million project.
More than 100 people packed into the town hall meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn, and the group erupted with applause several times as discussions focused on the impact CottonMill Marketplace could have on the city.
"I just want to thank you for bringing an opportunity like this to Starkville," resident Jack Forbus said, followed by an enthusiastic ovation from the rest of the room.
Developer Brooks Holstein, of Comvest Properties, said the project could have a $90 million annual economic impact on the area. Property taxes on the site would total an estimated $1.3 million annually and the city could see sales tax receipts increase $300,000-$450,000 annually, he said.
Construction on the 750,000-square-foot project could produce 3,000 jobs and, once complete, an additional 1,000 jobs would be created to man those businesses, Holstein said. The additional 1,000 jobs would produce a $30 million annual payroll, he said.
"That''s the thing we''re most proud of," Holstein said.
Most residents seemed to embrace the project. There were, however, some concerns.
A portion of the plan calls for the four-way intersection at Highway 12 and Russell Street to be turned into a roundabout, which raised plenty of eyebrows at the meeting. But some of the largest concerns centered on the appearance of the proposed development, accessibility for cyclists and pedestrians, and the effort to build the project in a sputtering economy.
Dr. Jerry Emison, an associate professor of political science and public administration at Mississippi State University, also serves on the city''s planning and zoning commission and was worried how a four-story parking deck would appear to traffic passing by on Highway 12. The project site is located along Highway 12, between Russell and Spring streets, and the parking deck is planned along the edge of the property closest to the highway.
Project architect Noel Cupkovic, of Cupkovic Architecture, assured Emison the parking deck would be complete with a "green screen" to make it less of an eyesore to passing traffic. The green screen is made up of wire panels, mounted to the wall, which allow ivy and plants to grow up the side of the building.
Citizens also urged the developers to make the CottonMill site more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians who might live in the nearby Cotton District and MSU campus. As part of the plan, Russell Street will be widened and a bicycle lane and sidewalk will be installed.
Many were concerned about whether or not tenants would fill the development when complete, given the tough economic times facing businesses everywhere.
But Holstein and fellow developer Mark Nicholas, of Nicholas Properties, said they have been in talks with several national tenants and most seem "excited" about the site. The developers could not release the names of any potential tenants, but Scott Rheams, who handles retail leasing for Comvest Properties, did say several national business representatives were "blown away" by the potential they see in Starkville.
"We feel this property will be nationally recognized for its significance," Holstein said.
According to Holstein, contractors are "staged and ready to work" on the project. He expects a mid-April groundbreaking with construction taking about 24 months.
Plans for the development call for the renovation of the Cooley Building, which is owned by MSU, to turn it into a conference center and office building. When renovations are complete, the conference center of the Cooley Building will be about 80,000-square-feet and the office space will take up about 30,000-square-feet.
To the south of the Cooley Building will be a 70,000-square-foot hotel.
Because the development is being designed for mixed-use, it will feature residential units as well as retail establishments. Plans call for two, five-story buildings, with the bottom floor in each building rented out to retailers, while the top four floors in each would be apartments. The development will feature 217 apartment units for rent, ranging from one to three bedrooms.
According to Cupkovich, the mixed-use development will be "creating a neighborhood" within the site.
Additionally, plans call for a 100-foot wide boulevard in the middle of the development, which would be pedestrian and bicycle friendly. The boulevard would provide a "breathtaking" view of Mississippi State University on the other side of Highway 12, Holstein said.