BOA approves outside consulting firms, hears SPD renovation plans

Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

The Starkville Board of Aldermen approved hiring two consulting firms to provide commercial development recruitment and legislative lobbying for the city at Tuesday's board meeting. In other business, the board was briefed on preliminary renovation plans for the Starkville Police Department building.

Retail Strategies—a retail consulting firm—will now pursue future retail options for the city, Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority and the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"I am impressed by the profile of this firm," said Mayor Parker Wiseman. "I think they can help us achieve some success in attracting large retailers to Starkville. I am excited about the possibilities."

The firm—hired to a three year, $37,500 contract—will identify trade market areas, conduct market analysis, recruit retailers and represent Starkville at development conferences across the country.

The city utilizes the services of the Golden Triangle Development LINK to bring economic prospects to the city. The most recent acquisition was the newly approved Academy Sports store project on Highway 12.

The board brought on Retail Strategies under the condition the GTR LINK no longer provide retail recruitment services for Starkville. Officials agreed the GTR LINK should focus on industrial recruitment in the area and stressed the services from Retail Strategies includes active recruitment for the area. Retail Strategies will scout at least 50 retailers to the area for the duration of the contract, according to the agreement.

"The LINK will certainly still work on industrial recruitment for us and in fact, I think it will allow them to focus more of their time and energy on the industrial recruitment," Wiseman said.

The board approved hiring Cornerstone Government—a legislative lobbying firm—to advocate on behalf of the city while monitoring state and federal legislation that could impact the area.

On Monday, the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors voted to forgo entering into a joint contract with the city to utilize the firm's services, leaving the city as the sole beneficiary of the lobbying services worth $30,000 over a 7-month contract.

Cornerstone Government could help secure needed state appropriations for large projects going forward, Wiseman said. With the help of the firm, the city will pursue additional funding to help cover financial gaps in the SPD renovation project and environmental reclamation costs for the Thad Cochran Research, Technology & Economic Development Park expansion plan.

"Our reach will be limited before we get help in the legislative process," Wiseman said before the vote.

Aldermen were split over the contract approval with Ward 3 Alderman David Little, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn voting in favor and Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn and Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins against the contract.

"I don't know who these people are," Carver said before the vote. "I don't want us to be putting tax dollars into a black hole."

The firm secured over $1 million in appropriations for Ridgeland, Mississippi in the past, Little said.

SPD Renovations

During the meeting, the board heard a preliminary schematic presentation by architect Gary Shafer on the state of the renovation plans for SPD. No action was taken over the presentation.

In 2014, the board approved an intent motion to issue a $3 million bond in the future for the renovations. No funds have been issued for the project aside from architectural design costs.

Shafer presented two options to the board, taking into account funding shortfalls and provided a mix and match option to correspond with either a $3 million or $4.5 million project budget.

The $3 million option would include roof improvements, needed office space for SPD staff, varied access points but no exterior work that would include secured parking and ADA access.

The $4.5 million option would add a new, 20-year quality roof, basement renovations for youth court, secured parking facilities, ADA access and a new entryway area.

The building plans would add a second level for office spaces and segmented departments, Shafer said. The master plan boasts improved building circulation with stairwells and elevator access, according to the presentation.

Perkins questioned the multiple option plan, saying that whatever was agreed upon in the future should take "no shortcuts." The vice mayor also considered looking into acquiring a property in the downtown area to build a from-scratch facility.

The previously approved bond agreement was contingent on a "partial renovation" plan, Wiseman said.

"I urge the board to stay on the course we've traveled," Wiseman said. "It would be a mistake to turn back."

The board had previously moved away from acquiring the old Cadence Bank property on Main Street in 2014.

"[The $3 million] option would satisfy our needs," said SPD Chief Frank Nichols. "I would rather have [the $4.5 million] because that would satisfy our needs now and if we grow 10 to 15 years down the road."