Midtown Development Company is amid the demolition process of a vacant neighborhood in downtown Starkville to make room for an upscale, mixed-use development. Three century-old homes, including the two-story house shown, were demolished as part of the process. Photo by: Courtesy photo/Jim Lytle
June 9, 2017 11:30:07 AM
STARKVILLE -- In Dawn Herring's time as a Mississippi State University student, she remembers the years between 1976 and 1978 most, simply because of the memories she made during her time as a resident of 403 University Drive.
The front porch spanned the length of the house. The interior was complete with oak mantles, solid-wood doors, and hardwood floors, which added a sense of character to Starkville she said is not often seen anymore. The large oak and canopy trees that surrounded the properties added natural beauty to the downtown neighborhood, with branches that seemed to follow those walked up the winding stairs inside of the two-story home next to Herring's.
"I remember walking next door to say 'hello' to my neighbors, but I really just wanted to see the inside of the house, because the outside was so beautiful," Herring said.
Herring's college residence was among 14 structures near the corner of North Montgomery Street and University Drive demolished this week to make room for Midtown Apartments -- a planned upscale, mixed-use development that will include retail shops and loft apartments. Among the casualties of the development were three homes that sat in the location for about 100 years, along with other apartment units.
"I wish they had plans to replace character with character," Herring said.
Midtown Apartments will feature a 15,000 square-foot commercial area on the first floor, as well as more than 30 residential units on the third and fourth floors, totaling 58,000 square feet. Tuscaloosa-based firm Midtown Development Company, LPK Architects of Meridian and civil engineering company Neel-Schaffer are collaborating on the new development.
Project manager Jeffery Harless, of Midtown Development, said he first saw interest in bringing this project to Starkville nearly two years ago. He saw the project's potential, he added, because Starkville is home to a Southeastern Conference university.
Phase one of the project, which includes the first-floor commercial area, will have seven units ranging from coffee shops, restaurants, retail, and exercise facilities, as well as 33 residential units on the second and third floors. The first phase is expected to be complete and ready-to-deliver in August 2018, with phase two following shortly behind. Similar to the first phase, phase two will add more residential units, however, commercial space will not be added. It is set for completion in August 2019.
To maintain the integrity and beauty of the neighborhood, project civil engineer Saunders Ramsey with Neel-Schaffer said the development will be built far enough from the street to accommodate more outdoor seating, feature landscaping and canopy trees and allow pedestrian access. The buildings will also be ADA accessible and compliant.
History of the homes
The three oldest homes in the neighborhood were built in the early 1900s. Robert K. Wier owned the two-story, gray home in the 1920s.
Weir, a prominent businessman in the city's history brought Weir Drugstore to Starkville -- the second drug store established in Mississippi -- as well as owned the first telephone and cable company in the city and owned a barbershop on Main Street.
Cooter Owens, another local businessman in the early 1900s, lived in one of the houses next to the Weir family home. He owned a bakery on Main Street and a watch-repair store. He also owned other houses he rented to African Americans.
The third home, the one-story house where Herring lived in college, was on the other side of the Weir home. Overstreet Properties obtained that home in 2008 and used it as an office until Midtown Development purchased it.
Already used for rental property by the 1940s, local historian Ruth Morgan said all three houses served as homes for Mississippi State students returning from World War II.
The Victorian-style homes were renovated in the 1980s, separating the interior into two apartment units. However, during the time of demolition, all structures were unoccupied.
None of the old homes appear on the National Historic Register, and Starkville Community Development Director Buddy Sanders said efforts in recent years to designate the neighborhood as a local historic district failed for lack of support.
Harless said he has experience restoring historical buildings in the Tuscaloosa area. Though the century-old houses at the Starkville downtown development site weren't "historical" by definition, he still initially hoped not to cast them aside.
"When I first saw the site, I immediately noticed the historical buildings on it," Harless said. "I knew, ultimately, we would have to relocate the homes or salvage them to their full capability."
However, after approaching many of his contacts and inspecting each building on the current site, he said he found the buildings were not in good enough condition to restore and not structurally sound enough to move from the property.
"The liability was too high, and it just couldn't be done," Harless said. "So we went to Plan B and searched every house to identify and salvage as much of the original structure as we could."
Anything Harless thought to be of value, including mantles, wood flooring, bathtubs, light fixtures and vanities, was salvaged before demolition began and given to citizens who wanted them.
"We knew from the beginning that historical buildings can be sentimental to some people," Harless said. "[That] is why we did things to salvage as much as people were willing to take."
The demolition permits, Sanders said, were granted to Midtown Development Company on May 26, which allowed them to complete all dirt work on the site.
After the demolition complete and building plans are approved, Midtown will receive a building permit to start construction, which Sanders said is forthcoming, along with architectural drawings.
"Retail is driven by rooftops, and the downtown area needs more rooftops to drive more sales, so I'm quite sure this will benefit all of the downtown merchants," said Sanders, expressing his support for the project.
Heath Barret, interim CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, acknowledged the downtown area is undergoing a significant change, noting not all change is bad.
"The development is going to be great for University Drive, Main Street and continuing to a couple of blocks on each side of those streets," Barret said. "Its going to increase foot traffic downtown, which is a positive side to losing the beautiful homes. It's going to be a good change."
Still, when Herring drives by her old neighborhood, the houses that hosted so many memories will be gone.
"It's sad to see a monument from such a fun time in my life disappear," Herring said. "But sadder, still, because these will probably not be the last historic properties to go by the wayside."
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