City leaders praise collaboration, continued growth

Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

Leaders from many local groups touted Starkville's continued growth Thursday during a quarterly community roundtable.

Officials from the Starkville Board of Aldermen, Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors, Mississippi State University and Greater Starkville Development Partnership met with around 40 residents, academic and local business leaders to give updates on the work being done between entities to ensure sustained economic growth in the area.

Topics ranged from past successful projects like The Mill at MSU conference center, the Starkville MSU Area Rapid Transit bus system to future projects, including the planned industrial park site, partnership school, MSU improvements, Russell Street plus Highway 12 corridor redesign plans and county infrastructure improvements.

"I have always believed that while we have our core functions, most of our biggest opportunities require collaboration," said Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman.

The informal roundtable ran through the allotted question and answer period and the event was catered for all attendees.

Industrial park

Following a meeting between local leaders March 8, city and county officials set up a steering committee to secure a final site for the future industrial park in the county.

The committee met late into Wednesday night, Wiseman told the group.

"I am confident that we are going to move the community forward," Wiseman said. "The issue that we are trying to address is attracting major industrial development that grows the tax roll and provides a better standard of living for the area. It's an essential part of our future."

Three possible sites were unveiled by GTR LINK officials in March and are located near the Highway 82 and Highway 389 intersection in northwest Starkville; south of George M. Bryan airport; and just west of Highway 25 in south Starkville. The sites vary widely in acquisition and total project costs along with infrastructure needs.

The smaller sites—Cornerstone and 16 Section—could be combined for a hybrid park separated by Highway 25 if officials decide to move away from the largest option, officials said March 8.

Partnership school

In a bid to build a sixth and seventh grade campus for all county students at MSU, officials requested $6 million in state funding for the project, which could be allocated in a final Mississippi Senate bond bill.

The partnership school request includes a three-way financing plan to complete the project. MSU previously committed $10 million for the project in a $5 million, 42-acre land contribution and $5 million in private donations.

Local legislators said a final bond bill with specific funding amounts may be finalized early next week, but a total amount is currently unclear.

No matter the funding avenues, officials emphatically supported the notion of building the school, saying the project had turned a needed corner.

"It will be the most meaningful and enduring symbol of what our community collaboration means over the long haul," Wiseman said. "It is the embodiment of our future."

MSU updates

MSU President Mark Keenum laid out future plans for the university at the meeting, stating the university plans to finish current residence, classroom and building extensions, while exploring the option of building a new music center.

"The whole community is growing," Keenum said. "It's a healthy sign. This is a healthy, thriving community."

The university leader also discussed plans to pursue federal funding for road extensions and improvements around campus.

MSU officials will also look to add a 4-mile road from the university through the south entrance to reorganize traffic on game days and improve connectivity options on campus.

Newly completed athletic facilities were also discussed at the meeting.

Russell Street and Highway 12 plans

Through the Transportation Alternatives Program, administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, city and university officials will soon begin a redesign plan between the university and municipal corridor on Russell Street to add a central turn lane, along with bike paths and pedestrian ways.

MSU and MDOT will also conduct a study to reevaluate travel and connectivity options between Spring and Russell Streets on Highway 12.

The two projects also coincide with a MDOT plan to redesign a busy intersection at Russell Street and Highway 12.

The highway study is "two-thirds through the first step" in the design process, Wiseman said.

"We want to see the seamless connection of a college town right where the university begins to blend into the city," Wiseman said. "That's where many of our highest and best economic opportunities for the future lie."

County improvements

OCBS President Orlando Trainer outlined challenges facing the county, ranging from needed road improvements and a levee inspection to deal with issues plaguing the county lake.

County and MSU officials are working on a plan to renovate and improve Blackjack Road, Trainer said.

After officials noticed problems with the levee at the lake, a study needs to be conducted to determine the scope of damage to the aging lake infrastructure, he added.

"We seem think there are some critical things going on underneath the dam for us to look into what needs to be done to preserve the lake," Trainer said.

He also alluded to supervisors exploring the possibility of commissioning a strategic options assessment that could evaluate privatizing OCH Regional Medical Center and a plan to provide county development guidelines.

"We are living in a community now where we have a lot of people with expectations for quality services," Trainer said. "We need to address those needs in a realistic approach."

GSDP goals

GSDP Director of Membership Development Heath Barret told residents about the organization's continued plans to improve Starkville's business community.

He touted the early season start to the Starkville Community Market—now open Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Fire Station Park on Lampkin Street—and informed attendees about the popular weekend market on Saturdays, starting May 7 from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Both markets will run through August.

GSDP officials will unveil a sustained fundraising campaign for the market and design renderings of improvements to Fire Station Park at a special culinary event April 21.

The sold-out dinner event "Farm to Fork" will showcase a vast range of ingredients sold by market vendors as a way to connect area farmers and producers with residents through a five-course dinner.

The special event could generate over $3,500 for initial fundraising objectives. The initial funds raised will go towards expanding sidewalks in the park, planning a new layout for the green space, add areas to attract residents to the park outside of market season and deal with infrastructure needs ranging from new fencing to leveling the terrain on the northern side of the park outside of the fenced area.

GSDP will also host the popular, "King Cotton Crawfish Boil" on May 13 in the Cotton District to coincide with the SEC women's softball tournament.