August 21, 2019 10:45:59 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville is one step closer to bringing in an ALDI grocery store and a TJ Maxx department store thanks to a tax-increment financing plan the Starkville Board of Aldermen approved Tuesday with a 5-2 vote.
Castle Properties requested the TIF to develop a retail shopping center at the intersection of Highway 12 and Industrial Park Road, the current 10-acre site of the Garan Manufacturing plant. Garan is planning to relocate to the North Star Industrial Park at Highways 82 and 389.
The industrial plant being the first North Star tenant and a new development replacing the old site is "kind of a two-fold win" for the city, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said.
ALDI and TJ Maxx have wanted to come to Starkville for years but have not found the right site until now, said Chris Gouras, an urban planning consultant representing Castle Properties. They plan to occupy about half of the 90,000-square foot shopping center, he said.
"Some other retailers are having pretty advanced conversations with (Castle Properties owner Mark) Castleberry, but these two are in the letters of intent stage, where we have permission to state that they're strongly interested in being here," Gouras said.
Letters of intent are not binding, but they allow developers to have formal conversations with retailers.
Under the TIF, the city and county will issue up to $3 million in bonds to reimburse Castle Properties for the costs of certain infrastructure built at the retail center. The entities will then repay the bonds with sales and property taxes generated at the center for up to 15 years.
The city will not issue the bonds for at least three years because it will take about a year for Garan to finish building and move into its new location, and it will take another year for Castleberry to tear down Garan's old site and build the shopping center, Gouras said. Castleberry must then show at least a year of sales tax performance before the bonds will be issued. County supervisors set a public hearing for Sept. 3 on the TIF, after which they will consider final approval.
Online shopping has reduced the amount of brick-and-mortar retail, and the new shopping center will hopefully draw a wide range of customers, Mayor Lynn Spruill said.
"It also shows an interest in being here and we want to foster that, so I'm pretty excited about this whole thing," she said.
Ward 5 Alderman Hamp Beatty and Ward 6 Alderman and Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins both voted against the TIF.
"If we were right in the boonies somewhere and we couldn't buy a development, it would be one thing," Beatty said. "But I keep saying, and I sound like a broken record, we're a Southeastern Conference college (town). Anyone who's been around here the last couple years can see the housing and retail development that's taking place. I don't think we need to be in the business of incentivizing retail developers to get things to come to Starkville and build here."
Beatty insisted he is "not anti-development" but does not want other retailers to end up "marginalized and put out of business" by losing customers to the new shopping center.
Carver said Starkville's market is big enough to support this project, one reason he voted for the TIF. But with so many other TIF projects finding city approval in recent years - Academy Sports, Middleton Court, the Cotton Mill Marketplace, the Parker-McGill car dealership and the Mill at MSU - he advised aldermen should scrutinize, and perhaps be more conservative about, future TIF requests.
"Alderman Beatty's exactly right that it's turned into a business model, especially in college towns," Carver said. "While that's not a bad thing, I think we definitely don't want to oversaturate the market."
One benefit is that Starkville residents will no longer have to drive to Columbus or Tupelo to go to TJ Maxx, Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said. The nearest ALDI is also in Tupelo.
Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn voted for the TIF in a rare break with Perkins. He said he thinks the retail center will capture money otherwise leaving the city, including his.
"A lot of people know that any time I'm out of town, I'm usually going to stop at TJ Maxx (in Tupelo) to buy jackets for the children," Vaughn said.
He also does not want Garan's old site to lie vacant for an unknown period of time, possibly years.
Spruill said Retail Strategies, the Birmingham, Alabama-based firm that has overseen Starkville's retail recruitment since February 2016, told her in a Tuesday email that the TIF was a "fair proposal."
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