Oktibbeha County, Starkville look to laying groundwork for future success
In Oktibbeha County and Starkville, an array of projects are underway to build a foundation for the future.
The largest of these is perhaps the joint city and county industrial park presently under construction at the northeast corner of the Highway 182-Highway 389 intersection. The park, which officials expect to be completed later this year, is the culmination of a long effort to make room for a new, stronger industrial base in Oktibbeha County.
Oktibbeha County has what was originally planned to be an industrial site at Cornerstone Park, on Highway 25 in west Starkville, but major industrial development never took off at the site due to a lack of power availability.
In 2015, a 326-acre site near the intersection of Highway 25 and Highway 182 was abandoned due to the likely presence of Native American cultural artifacts that would have been costly to remove.
The new industrial site has seen challenges of its own. Landowners near the property filed suit to challenge the city’s rezoning of the nearly 400-acre site. The courts — at the circuit level and, in January, the state Court of Appeals — have thus far ruled in the project’s favor.
The case has been appealed to the Supreme Court, and officials expect an end to the matter in the coming months.
In the meantime, work is pressing on and the industrial park is taking shape. Mayor Lynn Spruill said she’s optimistic about the site.
“I think we’re going to see some activity there in the not-too-distant future,” Spruill said. “I think the lawsuit is going to be settled in a reasonable period of time. In the meantime, we have not stopped our work up there because no matter what happens, it’s going to be an area that’s viable for business.”
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said the park should help improve the county’s economic strength. With East Mississippi Community College’s Communiversity — a workforce training-focused facility on Highway 82 in Lowndes County — soon to open, he said everything is lining up to give Oktibbeha County the best shot it’s had to buttress its industrial base.
“Everything is moving along as expected,” Trainer said. “Of course, we had some opposition but we expected that. The beauty of it is that we know that eventually, we’ll have the green light to advance that park as high as we need to advance. There are some hurdles we’ll have to pass before we get to that point, but I’m encouraged at the investment we’ve made so far.”
Spruill said the hope for the industrial park is that it will bring more mid-level jobs to the community that will enhance the quality of life and allow more people to enjoy life in Starkville. She said that she also hopes the city’s existing industries, such as Flexsteel, Nucor and Southwire, continue to thrive.
“We’ve had businesses in the community in our industrial park area in the southwest portion of town for 50-plus years. Some of those folks who are there have grown and expanded and we want the folks who are currently in town to be successful and expand.”
The city has plans that could make Cornerstone Park a key economic driver in the area.
Starkville is looking to build a major tournament-ready park and recreation facility at Cornerstone Park.
Many details are still to be decided, such as exactly how many fields the city wants to put into the proposed park, and a bill is currently going through the state Legislature to authorize a one-percent increase on Starkville’s hotel and food and beverage taxes to help fund the project.
A base plan for the park includes 12 diamond fields, a multi-purpose facility and infrastructure work to support it for an estimated $18.5 million. The park’s master plan allows for other options, such as additional fields, walking trails, an RV park and other amenities that could push the cost to about $22 million.
Spruill said the goal is for the park to be one that citizens can use on a day-to-day basis, but is also ready to host major tournaments.
Those tournaments, she said, can help drive economic growth and make Starkville a more well-rounded community.
“When people come from out of town to go to these sports tournaments, which they do almost every weekend, then you have people staying two and three days — particularly at quiet times in the community,” she said. “So, summers when there aren’t any ballgames and there’s not anything going on at the university, this would offer us an opportunity to have things going on year-round.”
Starkville and Oktibbeha County are making strides in infrastructure projects.
Oktibbeha County is moving ahead with a project to pave Longview Road, which residents in the area have wanted for decades.
Trainer said the county is also inching toward beginning work on a long-needed improvement project on Blackjack Road. The project will extend east from Blackjack’s intersection with Stone Boulevard to its intersection with Bardwell Road.
Trainer said it will include widening the road, making drainage improvements, repaving and laying the groundwork for future improvements such as lighting and sidewalks.
“It’s moving at a slower pace than we thought, but it’s moving on to a point where we can almost taste that project being bid and awarded and probably started before the end of 2019,” Trainer said. “We’re very excited about that potential project.”
In Starkville, work is under way on a massive undertaking to completely replace the city’s oldest water and sewer infrastructure. The city is currently working to replace old water and sewer lines in Pleasant Acres.
Once that work is complete, it will move to the Green Oaks neighborhood, then Rolling Hills and on from there. Spruill said it’s a very long-term project, but is one she feels the city is obligated to tackle.
“A city lives for hundreds of years – thousands of years, you hope,” she said. “Taking care of it is part of our obligation and looking forward to it is not just looking forward to tomorrow but 20 years from now.”
The growth that has fueled Starkville and Oktibbeha County hasn’t shown any signs of stopping.
New developments, such as Midtown near the Starkville Public Libary or the Grand Junction residential development in the Cotton District and the College View student apartments at Mississippi State, continue to show a community that’s growing, even as other areas in Mississippi face population loss.
It’s not all about large developments though. Spruill pointed out some smaller quality of life improvements, such as lighting the trees along Main Street to enhance the corridor’s festive feel.
“I just think it speaks to us being a place where people can reach their potential, as well as us working to reach ours,” she said.
The city is looking to annex land to its east, along the Highway 82 and 182 corridors, as well as on the east side of MSU’s campus, to capture some of the growth that’s come in that area.
Trainer said he understands why the city is looking at the area, and doesn’t see the area’s growth stopping either way.
“Our county is going to grow regardless,” he said. “It’s going to grow with our assistance and we’re going to be involved in it, or it’s going to grow without our assistance and we see what’s happening out there in those areas where you don’t have anything in place to assist growth. Growth is something that’s going to happen.”