Construction of the long-awaited North Star Industrial Park at the northwest intersection of Highways 389 and 82 in Starkville has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, though not without delays, Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said.
Most of the infrastructure — roads, water lines and sewer lines — is in place after two years of construction. The only building in the works at the moment is the new headquarters for Garan Manufacturing, the park’s first confirmed tenant last year, which is relocating from its current site on Highway 12.
Three potential tenants are interested in the site, and one will visit in the next few weeks, but the other two are from other countries and cannot travel internationally due to the pandemic, “so those projects are just kind of hanging in limbo until that can happen,” Higgins said.
The pandemic delayed activity nationwide in March, putting off site visits that were planned for that month, as well as April and May, he said.
The construction of a 50,000 square-foot “speculative building,” or an empty building with the goal of attracting a new business to an existing structure, will be delayed until 2021 at the request of Agracel, the Illinois-based property development company that partnered with the LINK to build it, Higgins said. The pad, or plot of land prepared for building, for the structure was initially supposed to be built by the end of the summer.
“That’s about the only negative thing that’s happened at North Star, (the fact) that I don’t think we’re going to do the spec building this calendar year,” Higgins said.
The land next to the spec building and directly across the street from Garan will have a 100,000-square-foot pad funded partly by a $275,000 grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority. It too was supposed to be finished this summer, and construction will start in August and should be done “before bad weather this fall,” Higgins said.
The Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority has already authorized advertising for potential tenants for the building.
Ongoing progress and potential projects
Construction of a 500,000-gallon water tank near the park’s entrance will “start in earnest” in August, Higgins said, with the notice to proceed coming Monday. Indiana-based Phoenix Fabricators and Erectors bid $2,468,300 in May for the tank’s construction.
Meanwhile, construction of the Garan building is slightly ahead of schedule and should be done by the end of January 2021, said site superintendent Gill Lucas of Hattiesburg-based Codaray Construction.
COVID-19 cases and deaths are on the rise in Mississippi, and Lucas said the potential spread of the virus is a serious concern for him, though no one on site has contracted it so far. Currently 15 to 20 workers are present on site at once, but there could be as many as 50 later in the process, he said.
“I’m not concerned about it right now because we’re out in the open, but as the building starts to get enclosed, it will start to raise concern a little bit,” Lucas said.
The construction workers have to answer a series of questions about potential symptoms and have their temperatures taken as soon as they arrive on site, and anyone with symptoms will be sent home, he said.
Higgins told city and county leaders in January that a $1 billion development was hoping to establish itself in all three Golden Triangle counties and had its eye on the entire west end of North Star as its Oktibbeha County location. The project, codenamed Project Trinity, would create 100 to 150 technical jobs for six-figure wages.
Another planned occupant, Project Royal, would create 200 jobs in the textiles and advanced manufacturing industry for an average wage of $35,000, though Higgins said in January that he would prefer the wages be higher.
The city and county issued a combined $14 million in bonds in July 2017 to fund the construction of the park. TVA, 4-County Electric Power Association, Atmos Energy Corporation and the Mississippi Department of Transportation have also contributed money for construction.
The city and county both approved notices of intent in February to issue up to $3.5 million in bonds for the two building pads.
Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said Higgins has kept her up to date on North Star’s progress. As the OCEDA president, Spruill is responsible for briefing the board of aldermen on its progress as well.
She told The Dispatch she has always believed the park will be great for the city.
“We’re obviously held up and subject to all the restrictions that are associated with the pandemic, and we will work our way through all that, but I have every expectation that it’s going to be a huge success for our long-term future,” Spruill said.
Tess Vrbin was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.