The past few years have been ones of growth in Oktibbeha County.
That growth is continuing today, especially through ongoing projects in Starkville, Oktibbeha County and at Mississippi State University.
In Starkville, changes are perhaps best exemplified along Russell Street, where years of work to create a corridor from downtown Starkville to Mississippi State University are coming to fruition. The city has renovated the street, aesthetically and with improved pedestrian access. New developments, such as The Gin and Russell Street flats, have added new residential options along the street, while developer Mark Castleberry’s 550 Russell project will add a mix of residential and commercial space.
The Midtown development, under construction near the Starkville Public Library, is a mixed-use project in the heart of the city.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said mixed-use developments like Midtown should help grow Starkville’s nightlife by having more people in the city’s downtown core.
“They are a major piece of what we did to change the classic residential versus commercial,” Spruill said. “We’ve created residential with commercial. It’s that mix that affords us the opportunity to do things in more of an urban format.”
Perceptions are changing as Starkville graduates from a sleepy college town to a more vibrant community. That’s a combination of better marketing more things going on.
For example, Starkville has taken “Stark Vegas” — which was once used as a casual insult — and embraced the nickname.
“From my perspective, you’ve always got Starkville, but Stark Vegas is part of that energy — that high level of excitement and energy and things going on,” Spruill said.
Growth is ongoing outside of Starkville’s city limits.
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said the county currently has about $20 million in road work contracted to be completed in the next few years.
A critical part of that, he said, is a sorely-needed road project along Blackjack Road that will extend east from Blackjack’s intersection with Stone Boulevard, near the south end of MSU, to the intersection with Bardwell Road.
The project will bring improvements to a heavily-traveled stretch of Blackjack Road that’s home to several apartment complexes such as Helix, The Pointe and Aspen Heights.
Trainer also pointed to other ongoing projects, such as the development of a nearly 400-acre industrial park in at the intersection of Highways 82 and 389. One potential tenant has already expressed interest in the park says Macaulay Whitaker at the Golden Triangle Development LINK. Marketing for the property should start in Summer 2019.
At Mississippi State University, growth is a constant. The university has recently completed tens of millions of dollars-worth of projects, including the $41.3 million Old Main Academic Center; an $11.3 million upgrade to necropsy facilities for the College of Veterinary Medicine; a $3.6 million addition to the Wise Center; and an $8.3 million addition to the Mitchell Memorial Library to host the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library.
“The fact that we are now one of six universities in the nation to host a full-blown presidential library is magnificent,” said Sid Salter, MSU Chief Communications Officer. “That has become a leading part of making Mississippi State the go-to destination for academic researchers interested in studying the run-up to the Civil War, the propagation of the war and Reconstruction and the recovery of the state afterward.”
The university is also working on a renovation of the YMCA building in the center of campus. A $55 million reconstruction of Dudy Noble Field is also under way. The field is ready for spring baseball, but all work on the project isn’t expected to be completed until 2019.
Beyond construction, MSU is also continuing to bolster its research efforts. Salter said MSU accounted for more than half of all research and development expenditures by universities in Mississippi, with $239.4 million in Fiscal Year 2016. That spending ranks the school 64th in spending for all public institutions nation-wide.
As the university looks to the future, Salter said, it’s made a priority to address disparity through research. He said that will come in areas of improving education, health, food and nutrition, jobs and economic opportunity, social disparities and community engagement.
City, county and university leaders spoke to the importance of intra-county cooperation.
Trainer said he feels the relationship between Oktibbeha County and the city of Starkville is as good as it’s ever been.
He pointed to the Partnership School, which is being built on MSU’s campus and is a collaboration between the university and the Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, as an example of the cooperation that arose and continued after the consolidation of the formerly separate Starkville and Oktibbeha County school districts.
Salter agreed the Partnership School is poised to be a success story, not only for the students who attend it, but also for the College of Education students who can get real-world experience at the facility.
WORDS BY ALEX HOLLOWAY
PHOTOS BY LUISA PORTER