A canceled meeting between city aldermen, Golden Triangle Development LINK representatives and an Alabama-based economic development firm indicates Starkville leaders are interested in an outside group handling retail attraction and development.
Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard and LINK Chief Executive Officer Joe Max Higgins confirmed city and LINK officials were scheduled to meet with representatives of the Birmingham, Alabama-based Retail Strategies Wednesday, but the gathering was called off that same day.
It is not known why the meeting was canceled.
It was scheduled in December, sources said, but it is not known if it was planned before or after a rift became apparent between elected leaders and the Columbus-based economic development powerhouse over the Starkville board of aldermen’s failure to discuss a potential $11 million investment by Academy Sports in December.
Maynard said city leaders are interested in discussing future opportunities with Retail Strategies after meeting their representatives at a National League of Cities conference. He characterized the meeting as “exploratory only.”
State law does not require meetings of less than a quorum of a governing body be publicly noticed.
A deal between the city and Retail Strategies is not guaranteed to materialize, but one would have to be brought before the full board for discussion and action.
“Retail is what they do all day, every day. To us, it makes sense to explore it a little further. We only have a 30,000-foot overview of what they can do. We don’t have the nitty gritty details, the costs or how it would work,” Maynard said.
There is no official timetable to introduce the possibility of Retail Strategies handling commercial enticement for Starkville as a discussion point for the entire board of aldermen, but he said the board should first try to reach a deal with Academy Sports developers and handle the LINK’s upcoming request to fund a new industrial park.
Retail Strategies’ website brands the organization as a “leading national advisory firm focused on retail market analysis, strategic planning, retail recruitment and development.”
Retail recruitment for Starkville is one of the responsibilities of the LINK, according to a 2014 LINK memo.
Specifically, it states the LINK will be the “single point of contact for all retail inquiries received by any community partners or entities” and “will participate in large, complex projects that require unique and innovate funding mechanisms,” such as tax increment financing (TIF) packages and new market tax credits.
In January 2014, the LINK announced it would no longer handle retail development for Columbus after councilmen discussed hiring Retail Strategies.
On Jan. 14 of that year, consultants advised the council about their organization’s services. A week later, a motion to hire the firm was tabled after Mayor Robert Smith said not discussing the idea with the LINK before proceeding would be “a slap in the face” to Higgins and his organization.
The LINK cut ties with Columbus later that month, but the two entities renewed their relationship one month later.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch