Cotton Mill project clears big hurdle

A significant portion of a long-discussed multi-use development adjacent to Mississippi State University got a major jump start Thursday as state higher education officials approved a lease agreement on the former cotton mill that will anchor the project.
The mill – known as the E.E. Cooley Building – is a key component of the Cotton Mill Marketplace development planned off Highway 12 within walking distance from MSU. The building currently houses much of the university’s physical plant operations.
The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees approved a plan Thursday in which the the Cotton Mills Development Group (CMDG) would buy land neighboring the Cooley Building for $2.8 million and lease the building for $300,000 annually for 41 years, after which time the property will revert to MSU’s control, according to a statement issued through MSU late Thursday afternoon.
Crews are to renovate the building and turn it into a conference center and 37,000 square feet of office space.  The developers will also pay MSU up to $850,000 to relocate operations currently housed in the building, according to the statement.
MSU research centers are expected to lease space in the building. The total project cost will top $64 million.
The facility will be constructed according to International Association of Convention Center standards, making it the only center in a three-state region with this designation.
This could great new opportunities for conventions from organizations which need events held in IACC venues, the statement said.
“I am pleased that the IHL board approved our request to move forward with this important project.   This development will afford the opportunity to have a world-class convention center that will support activities on campus and in the community. It will provide a significant economic boost to the entire region,” MSU President Mark Keenum said in a statement Thursday.

The next step in the process

The Cotton Mills Development Group is working on the final stages of the financing package for the development, which will also include a 150-room hotel and buildings with a mixture of office, retail, residential and restaurant space.
The mixed-use development would also include the property to the immediate south of the Cooley Building site that formerly housed a Pizza Hut, the Starkville Cinema 12 and Burger King.
Mark Boutwell of Atlanta, Ga., one of the development group’s partners, said by phone Thursday that Thursday’s IHL approval of the Cooley Building deal is a significant step for the project and that work continues to complete the financing project for the project.
“We’re not home yet, but it’s a critical piece of the pie,” said Boutwell of the IHL Board’s action. “There’s a few final pieces in the financing — tax credits and additional investments — that have to come together. We have all the members of the team in place and we’re accomplishing a tremendous amount right now. We’ve been getting a lot of work done.”
Boutwell said he and his partners — including developer Mark Nicholas of Ridgeland — want to deliver on the project for the community. The bond market for the project is encouraging, Boutwell said.
“The bond market couldn’t be better for this type of project,” Boutwell said. “We’re trying to deliver and not just talk about delivering. We know how important this project could be for Starkville and for Mississippi State University. It does good for the public to see it on the ground.”

The impact on the community

Jon Maynard, president and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said the project is much closer to coming to fruition with the IHL Board’s approval of the Cooley Building deal.
“It’s huge. It’s big deal. The reality of this has been distant for a very long time. Now the reality is very solid,” Maynard said. “What this means is that there is a lot of confidence in the economy in Starkville.”
Acknowledging the significance of Thursday’s events, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman also noted that much work lies ahead to bring the project to a point where construction can begin.
“This is certainly a positive step in the right direction. There are still many contingencies that have to be met. While we are optimistic and this is a development project that would be transformational for the City of Starkville, there is still much work that remains to be done before they are set and ready to go. Today was a very good day for the project,” Wiseman said.
The potential economic impact for the community is tremendous, especially with the level of conference center to be constructed at the Cotton Mill Marketplace site, Maynard said.
“The conference center is huge. It brings money in from outside. It means our economy grows with the help of outside dollars. It gives us a visibility that we haven’t previously had,” Maynard said.
From what the development group’s partners have told local officials, the Marketplace will occur in two phases, beginning with the renovation of the Cooley Building and construction of the conference center and hotel. The second phase would be the construction of the mixed use buildings housing retail, restaurant, residential and office space, Maynard said.
“The project’s scope hasn’t changed. Only the phasing has changed,” Maynard said.
Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said the project is one his agency proudly supports.
“The proposed Cotton Mill development with its hotel, conference center, and both office and retail space, will provide a signature venue for the community that is unique to the market.  The facility will draw thousands of users, increase tax revenues in the area and will positively impact the quality of life. MDA is pleased to work with our community partners and the university to provide funding for infrastructure needs,” Swoope said.