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Pressure from NPS prompts changes in design for project

December 16, 2010

By KELLY DANIELS
citybeat@bellsouth.net

Reporting new developments almost daily, Cotton Mill executives have produced a working revision of their design plans to meet requirements for historic tax credits.
Cotton Mill Development Group LLC, planners of large-scale mixed-use development centered around a hotel and conference center, on Tuesday presented new renderings to the Planning and Zoning Commission, members of which applauded the them as “100 percent” improvements.
The effort to obtain $13 million in historic tax credits as incentive for investors generated a year-long “brutal battle” with the National Park Service over Cotton Mill’s focal center, the E.E. Cooley Building, resulting in sketches of the development that were less audacious than previously after the Park Service required them to be more consistent with the building’s history, partner Mark Nicholas reported.
Over the next five years, the Park Service will review Cotton Mill’s construction and grant the tax credits according to the developments conformity to approved plans.
“What we didn’t realize was the brick wall we would run into with the National Park Service,” Nicholas said.
Planners had to revise designs not only for the Cooley Building, a former cotton mill owned by the Institution of Higher Learning, but for the entire proposed site, bringing blueprints for a six-story hotel down to four stories and having it aesthetically compatible with the area’s landscape.
“They started looking at the whole development and drilling down into every aspect of what we did,” Nicholas said.
Original plans, available online at http://www.cottonmillatmsu.com, that were presented to the Park Service in August of 2009 featured a glass enclosure for the Cooley Building’s entrance, ample driveway space for buses and a swank fountain.
New ones show a modifiable design more compatible with the rural history of the site.
Partner Mark Boutwell reported that Cotton Mill’s viability for investors depended on the historic tax credits, because a conference center would make as much money as would a hotel.
“In order to bring this project to fruition, the important piece of the capital stack is the historic tax credits,” he added.
Public financial cooperation with Cotton Mill includes $12 million in grants from the state Community Development Block Program and the Economic Development Highway Program along with a tax increment financing (TIF) commitment from the City of Starkville and Oktibbeha County. TIF bonds will allow Cotton Mill to collect sales tax revenues it produces on site up to a certain amount.
The Cooley Building is the only mill in the U.S. that will be renovated into a conference center, Nicholas said, explaining that other historic mills are now residential. Its renovation will cost $400 a foot.
“No other university in the SEC will have a development as world-class as this,” Nicholas said.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said Wednesday that community leaders feel positive on the direction Cotton Mill project is taking.
“We’re working with the business community here and abroad to make sure that all that’s needed from the private sector is in order for the group,” he said.

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