Events provide big boost to Starkville spring break

James Carskadon
Staff Writer

With most Mississippi State University students home or on vacation, spring break is usually one of the slower weeks of the year for businesses in Starkville. However, three major events will bring thousands of individuals to Starkville this week, providing an economic boost during a typically quiet week.
From Tuesday through Saturday, approximately 1,100 people will come to Starkville for the National Collegiate Landscaping Competition, hosted by Mississippi State University. Beginning Friday and lasting through Sunday, over 700 gymnasts will compete in a Mississippi United States Association of Gymnasts event at the Newell Grissom Building on MSU’s campus. The landscaping and gymnastics competitions were planned months, if not years in advance, but MSU found out Monday night it will host another large attraction this weekend – first and second round games in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Two games will be played at Humphrey Coliseum on Friday afternoon, with another on Sunday that could potentially draw capacity crowds.
Combined, these events could have a $200,000-300,000 local impact from sales, lodging and 2 percent taxes, with the potential for $5 million to $6 million in total spending, Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory estimated Tuesday.
“Not a bad total for an unexpected weekend, for sure,” Gregory said.
The events have created some “good problems” for local hotels, restaurants and businesses. The landscaping and gymnastics competition attendees reserved almost all of Starkville’s hotel rooms in advance, leaving few rooms available in Starkville to accommodate players, coaches and fans coming to town for the basketball tournament. The lack of available hotels in Starkville will likely cause rooms to fill in neighboring areas such as Columbus and West Point, broadening the impact of this week’s events.
Local businesses, particularly local restaurants, are having to scramble for employees to accommodate the visitors as a significant portion of their employee pool (MSU students) is out of town on spring break. Gregory said she has talked with many restaurant owners who are working to solve their employee shortage, but she believes they will adjust and run a smooth operation. She encouraged business owners to make their storefronts and restaurants welcoming to outside visitors by posting welcome messages on marquee boards, flying MSU flags and sprucing up the area.
Tim Schauwecker, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Landscape Architecture, is one of the main coordinators for the university for this week’s landscaping competition. He said the event is celebrating its 40th anniversary of the first competition, which was also held at MSU. On Thursday, a career fair will be hosted in Humphrey Coliseum connecting competition participants to approximately 75 potential employers in the landscaping industry.
Schauwecker said competition organizers have worked closely with the MSU Athletic Department to ensure the landscaping competition and the basketball games run smoothly.
“It’s going to work pretty seamlessly, actually,” Schauwecker said.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture, said he was excited to see a busier spring break than usual for the city and university.
With the MSU women’s basketball team’s hosting position coming on short notice, Gregory said the GSDP, Mayor Parker Wiseman and the MSU Athletic Department were in communication Tuesday morning to discuss plans for the event.
“The athletic department understands that the visit to Starkville is almost as important as the experience at the Hump,” Gregory said. “It’s a good partnership that we have with these three.”
The partnership is working to put together a Bulldog Brunch & Browse on Sunday morning before the final basketball game. Brunch & Browse is typically held on Sundays following home MSU football games, encouraging visitors and residents to eat and shop in Starkville. The partnership will also distribute materials to area hotels promoting Starkville’s shopping and restaurants.
“We’re hoping people will come out and eat before the game, do a little shopping,” Gregory said. “Obviously everyone will be open on Saturday, which will be great because there’s no basketball scheduled during that time. We really look for it to be a big weekend. We’re scrambling like everyone, which is a good thing.”