Tense relations between the Starkville Board of Aldermen and the Golden Triangle Development LINK came to a head Tuesday when Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins said he was not impressed with the industrial development firm’s ability to attract retail investments and hopes to one day sever the city’s contract with the group.
Perkins’ comments came as the board entered an agreement with Birmingham, Alabama-based Retail Strategies LLC for retail development, a job function previously held by the LINK.
The vice mayor was the only board member to suggest ending the entire LINK contract, and no serious discussions on the matter followed his comments.
While Ward 3 Alderman David Little said he was hopeful the removal of retail duties would allow the LINK to focus on its strength — industrial development and retention — Perkins hammered the group for not producing results in Oktibbeha County and suggested Retail Strategies should inherit future industrial development duties if they’re successful with their retail services.
Perkins said he was hopeful representatives would show real interest in serving Starkville and “help actually locate retail development” instead of treating it simply as hollow paperwork.
“It is my opinion they haven’t done a good job,” Perkins said. “Hopefully, when the time comes, we can terminate the contract with them, one I didn’t support in the beginning. I’m not aware of anybody that’s actively trying to bring in retail development. If your firm is very successful with retail development, maybe you can help us with industrial development. I’d be in favor of voting for you to have the whole city … when the time comes.”
Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn also took an indirect shot at the LINK when she thanked Community Development Director Buddy Sanders for his work in conjunction with the upcoming $11 million Academy Sports investment in west Starkville.
Before praising Sanders for “not dropping the ball” in terms of moving the development forward, she asked the crowd to read between the lines of her comments. Wynn also suggested the public file Freedom of Information Act requests about the project, and the city would provide all pertinent information as long as the proper process was used to obtain documents.
Wynn joined her fellow board members, minus Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, in supporting the transition to Retail Strategies. Before voting in favor of the contract, she said the LINK would be fine with losing the responsibility since in 2014 CEO Joe Max Higgins told her, Mayor Starkville Wiseman and another alderman the organization “had hope not to do retail recruiting for the city.”
Although the contract was presented at the table as a three-year deal, board attorney Chris Latimer said it would effectively end in July 2017, when the incoming board of aldermen take office.
Carver said he would oppose the motion since Starkville is already spending money with the LINK for both industrial and retail development. He asked Latimer if the city should re-negotiate its existing contract since the LINK is now relieved of a portion of its duties, but the attorney said that’s a business decision left up to the board as a whole.
“I really hope we can put politics aside and move forward with the LINK as our industrial recruiter,” Little said after the meeting. “They have a proven record, and I’m anxious to see the plans they have for a new industrial park here in Oktibbeha County.”
Retail Strategies will provide “pro-active retail recruitment, boots-on-the-ground property analysis” and overall research and marketing efforts for the city. Specifically, the group promises to provide updates to a point of contact chosen by the city; survey and catalogue Starkville business districts for future expansion; and identify and target a multitude of prospects over the life of the contract.
Each year of the contract will cost the city, Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority and the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau about $35,000 combined annually.
The same entities pay the LINK a combined $350,000 annually.
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 group.
The LINK cut retail 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
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