Oktibbeha County’s improving economy can be informally measured by a number of new buildings reaching to the sky and workers turning dirt at bustling projects, but the sale of bonds for the area’s best bet for significant economic development — a new industrial park — won’t occur until next year.
Here’s a look at five of Oktibbeha County’s biggest economic development stories from 2014:
Link-backed innovation district planned
In the coming years, 326 acres of rolling hills and open farm land in west Starkville could become one of Mississippi’s premier, high-tech manufacturing parks.
In August, Starkville aldermen and Oktibbeha County supervisors pledged a combined $10 million in future bonds to develop the Innovation District, a Golden Triangle Development LINK-backed project that officials hope will add more than 1,000 jobs in the next decade.
The bonds, however, are not anticipated to go to market until early 2015.
The LINK developed plans for the park as a way for Oktibbeha County to enter the world of industrial enticement in a meaningful way. The county’s lack of shovel-ready sites has already cost the county since large-scale industries have no place to locate, LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins told officials earlier this year.
The Innovation District, which is located near the Highway 25 and Highway 182 interchange, is expected to yield more than 1 million square feet of industrial capacity.
Starkville is expected to spread its debt service — about $400,000 annually — across 20 years, and a 2-mill property tax increase is expected to follow once the bonds are issued. A similar financing package is expected from the county.
While LINK officials say the park will set a new standard for quality projects with both visually appealing buildings and significant advanced manufacturing, the organization will reserve Cornerstone Park, the county’s undeveloped industrial park located a few miles south on Highway 25, for traditional “shade-and-shelter” industries.
Mill developments take shape
After years of grandiose plans coming together and falling apart, two developers are rapidly transforming the front door of Mississippi State University with their respective projects.
Combined, the Mark Castleberry-backed Mill at MSU and Cotton Mill Marketplace, a development led by Mark Nicholas, will add numerous retailers, restaurants, hotels and a conference center to the skyline from the Russell Street-Highway 12 intersection to the Highway 12-Spring Street intersection.
Castleberry’s project is transforming MSU’s former E.E. Cooley Building — the old cotton mill — into a 73,000-square-foot office and conference center, a need economic developers and tourism officials say has remained a significant missing part to the area’s economy.
Both Castleberry’s and Nicholas’ projects will also construct hotels — a Courtyard by Marriot and Holiday Inn, respectively — on parcels of land spanning from Chick-fil-A to the historic cotton mill.
Nicholas’ retail center was erected earlier this year and already features Maroon and Co., a boutique clothing store. Three chain restaurants — Jimmy Johns, Hungry Howie’s Pizza and Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina — previously committed to opening their doors at the location, the developer previously said.
Workers are also constructing an $8 million, 450-space parking garage that will service both developments. Funding for the garage was obtained through a Community Development Block Grant.
C spire opens $23m data center
C Spire opened the doors to a $23 million data center in Starkville this November, almost a year after announcing plans to construct the facility within the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park.
The 23,800-square-foot center, located on a 6.5-acre site, is one of only 16 commercially available facilities in the U.S. with a Tier 3 or 4 rating, the highest in the industry based on data center certifications by the Uptime Institute.
It will offer colocation, cloud-based computing, disaster recovery, data storage and enterprise solutions.
While officials waived ad valorem property taxes to land the development, C Spire’s data center is expected to generate about $225,000 in yearly school taxes.
Company also activates high-speed Internet
C Spire also made news in November when it activated its first residential “fiberhood” and provided customers with 1 gigabyte Internet access.
Last year, the company chose Starkville as one of the first Mississippi cities to receive its Fiber to the Home initiative, which the company markets as up to 100 times faster than most current residential broadband services.
Four neighborhoods — South Montgomery, Timbercove, the Cotton District and Hiwassee — qualified for engineering and construction efforts associated with the program this year. South Montgomery residents were the first to receive the service, while work continues in Timbercove/College Station/Polos “fiberhood.”
Six other Starkville areas lag behind in pre-registration marks needed to qualify a neighborhood for service.
When C Spire officials announced Starkville and other cities would vie to become the first with the connection, they divided each city into “fiberhoods” based upon geography and population density. Pre-registration fees of $10 were also used to measure interest and initiate service.
Becoming one of the first Mississippi cities with the service was an important goal for leaders, as Mayor Parker Wiseman repeatedly touted Fiber to the Home’s ability to greatly boost Starkville’s quality of life and economic development opportunities.
Blackjack housing developments spur TIF district
Three apartment complexes — one constructed, two planned — in the Blackjack Road community represent almost $100 million worth of combined investments, and supervisors are expected to utilize the growth to fund area infrastructure improvements.
In July, supervisors approved a $4.78 million-maximum tax increment financing (TIF) plan that, once the developments are added to the rolls, could be used for a variety of projects, including road surfacing, widening and overlay efforts. General infrastructure improvements, like water, sewer, electricity and sidewalks, could also follow.
The TIF district encompasses 11 parcels that comprise the development area, which should add almost $600,000 to the tax rolls if all three investments come to fruition. Combined, supervisors also anticipate the project will generate about $718,000 per year for the consolidated Starkville-Oktibbeha school system.
Blackjack Road, a heavily traveled thoroughfare that links the outlying county area to MSU and Starkville, continuously receives traffic congestion and road quality complaints from area residents. The TIF funding should help with improvements as the county’s road budget, in many supervisors’ words, always falls short of its total projects list.
Aspen Heights, one of the three developments, opened this year, but the others are not slated until next year at the earliest.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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