STARKVILLE — Gov. Phil Bryant, a Mississippi Delta native, said he had to see the recently renovated Mill at MSU Monday to understand its full transformation from an old agricultural facility to a state-of-the-art conference center expected to boost Starkville’s economy.
Officials held a dedication ceremony at the 113-year-old building Monday, the third such repurposing in the cotton mill’s history, after a $40 million public-private partnership between local developer Mark Castleberry, the university and numerous government partners redeveloped the former E.E. Cooley physical plant into a meeting center and office building.
“We don’t have a lot of cotton mills that look like this in Moorhead, Mississippi, in Sunflower County,” Bryant said of the craftsmanship that went into the work.
Leaders, from MSU President Mark Keenum to U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, commended the group effort it took on the local, state and federal levels to help bring the Mill at MSU to fruition.
“This day has met and exceeded anything that I could have possibly imagined for our community. This sparkling $40 million development speaks for itself. It’s truly a project that has changed the town,” said Mayor Parker Wiseman. “I have no doubt it would have been easier for (MSU) to … build a conference center in the heart of MSU, but it never would have served the community like this project, which literally sits where the city of Starkville and MSU meet each other.”
Keenum, speaking of the years-long work, described the dedication as a “win-win-win” for those involved.
“All of this occurred because of partnerships and relationships. Many of you have heard me say, ‘What’s good for MSU is good for the city of Starkville and Oktibbeha County, and vice versa.’ This is a wonderful example of that,” he said. “To have something like this, (something) that will be a hub of continued economic development, is remarkable.”
Since its opening, the Mill at MSU has landed new tenants — MSU’s National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center and Blufish Design Studio — and steadily hosts events, Castleberry said.
“We’re not cannibalizing from other areas, either. I’ve heard many times from MSU and industry that there were places where MSU started hosting events, but then they outgrew their facilities and moved on to other places. Now, they can come back to Starkville,” he said.
The Mill at MSU development also added a 450-space parking garage, and a nearby Courtyard by Marriot hotel is under construction.
The hotel, Castleberry said, is scheduled to open Oct. 27 and is fully booked for its debut.
The second phase of the development, a mixed-use building located at 550 Russell St., should be completed next spring or summer, ahead of MSU’s football season.
Although he wouldn’t disclose the business’ name, Castleberry said one of 550’s tenants will be a “healthy restaurant.”
Three of the four three-bedroom condominiums are still available for purchase and are priced at about $400,000 each, he said.
Combined, Castleberry’s Mill at MSU and developer Mark Nicholas’ Cotton Mill Marketplace have breathed new life in the stretch of property in the Russell-Spring streets corridor near the front door of the university.
Nicholas’ development produced a retail building, which houses restaurants, shopping and other services, and is constructing a Holiday Inn hotel.
Both Cotton Mill Marketplace and the Mill at MSU were delayed by the economic downturn of 2008-2009.
Leaders point to both developers’ investments as the driving force behind other housing and mixed-use developments currently turning dirt along Russell Street.
A Mississippi Department of Transportation project will also transform the highly used roadway from a four-lane to three-lane thoroughfare and add pedestrian and bike lanes in the added space.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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