July 15, 2016 12:24:24 PM
MSU must have a vibrant Starkville for recruitment of professors, administrators and students. That requires continued commitment from all players on both sides of the city limit signs.
In the early 2000s the city and the Downtown Business Association worked hard to make Starkville more attractive and accessible. It must have shown promise because in 2004 the Student Association initiated transportation from campus to downtown: The night route was born. Beginning in January 2004, the bus ran between campus and downtown on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
That one factor was game changing in making downtown part of the campus experience. It was a visual, social and functional connection.
Mugshots opened in downtown in 2005. Those dominoes lined up leading to face lifts, renovations, new housing and new businesses. The city added cold beer sales and extended hours. You could feel the momentum as people spent quality time downtown.
In 2005 according to The Reflector the ridership for about four months totaled 2,414. Main Street became part of the student experience.
Old Main Music Festival was being held downtown, Cotton District Arts Festival and Bulldog Bash were in the Cotton District and all was right with the world. It is hyperbole, but downtown and its connection to campus life mattered. It had become more than just the street for the annual Christmas Parade.
2005 saw the mayor of the Cotton District become the mayor of Starkville and keeping downtown rocking continued. He and his board supported events as did Mayor Wiseman and the following board.
Sunday sales and a new city hall facing east to embrace Main Street and the campus were major components of putting an exclamation mark on fostering town and gown solidarity.
Mugshots, Upstairs Tyler and Old Venice became hugely popular with the students on the weekends using live entertainment to create a youthful, noisy and vibrant atmosphere.
Sadly that isn't the case any longer. Downtown nightlife was in its infancy when Mugshots lost its liquor license and changed its business model. There wasn't enough momentum to maintain the atmosphere and now we see that Upstairs Tyler has closed, as has Old Venice.
When the businesses abandoned that demographic of a youthful nighttime clientele the evening tide turned. In 2014 the Student Association canceled the Night Route and went to some sort of taxi on demand service. When it did we lost the feel and the physical connectivity between town and campus.
Old Main Music Festival is no longer downtown, the Night Route is gone and now Bulldog Bash has announced its exit from the city. That perceived withdrawal from having the city participate in and reciprocally benefit from Bulldog Bash sounds like a slamming door.
From all outward appearances there is no remaining social connection between the communities.
Bulldog Bash was a big city block party funded through city businesses collecting two percent from food and beverage sales. Now it will be a campus party: funded by city businesses but held outside the city.
The reasons for leaving range from construction problems to complaints that businesses won't cooperate with them. There is probably some truth to all of that, but there is a larger picture. That big picture needs to be conveyed to the Student Association by their advisors.
The student advisors should be guiding them on the long term significance of the town and gown relationship and how to navigate through to a working compromise benefiting both sides. I wouldn't expect students who aren't from here and don't intend to remain here to value that aspect of the event. Their advisors should.
For those businesses that have benefited from the event, but not sponsored or supported it; shame on them. They should make Bulldog Bash integral to their business model and build brand loyalty from the students.
Board members should consider using their approval power to insist that the two percent money come back into the Starkville community. That money didn't come from campus sales and it shouldn't be dedicated to campus activities.
It is time to do what is necessary to ensure that the migration of student-centered activity doesn't permanently withdraw into the campus. This year should be an anomaly and the powers that be need to spend the subsequent months on what it will take to bring Bulldog Bash and the night route and Old Main Music Festival back to the Cotton District and downtown.
Lynn Spruill, a former commercial airline pilot, elected official and city administrator owns and manages Spruill Property Management in Starkville. Her email address is [email protected]
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