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Charrettes could help identify growth areas

March 28, 2011

By PAUL SIMS
sdnnews@bellsouth.net

Beginning today, Starkville’s core will undergo intense review with a chance for the public to have a say tonight then return Thursday to see the resulting vision plan.
Water Valley, a town of about 3,500 people or roughly 15 percent Starkville’s size, went through the charrette process about two years ago.
Mickey Howley, director of Water Valley Main Street Association, says it did several things for the community about 18 miles outside Oxford.
It helped give the community’s street scapes – the interaction between the public and private spaces downtown – a stylistic look, he said.
The charrette also helped the community identify gaps in what businesses offered there.
Howley cited an example of organic and specialty foods. Through a ZIP code survey, community leaders learned people were spending about $500,000 elsewhere, he said.
“The charrette process opened our eyes to economic possibilities that were already here. They were leaving. What we’re trying to do is recapture them,” Howley said.
So, a high-end grocery store opened up, as have a coffee/sandwich shop, a photo studio, one restaurant and a second art gallery in the community, directly or indirectly as a result of the charrette, Howley said. A second restaurant is on the way.
These steps have created about 10 full-time jobs and put to use about 12,000-square-feet of previously empty space, he said.
“You are employing people already living here, fixing buildings already there. It’s actually good for the building industry,” Howley said.
Howley said: “The goal is really to bring the downtown areas back to a place where there’s economic and social activity and we think that if you have a healthy downtown, where you’ve got good businesses, and people living it” as well as night and day activity, then “it’s a good indication of how the community’s doing.”
The charrette provides a blueprint on both design and economic levels, Howley said.
The first of two public sessions on Starkville’s charrette will take place today at 6 p.m. at the Greensboro Center.
“It’s really important that people show up to the first one and give input to the charrette team. That’s critical,” Howley said.
Then, Howley encouraged people to return to the second public meeting on Thursday to “listen and interact.” The Thursday meeting will also take place at the Greensboro Center at 6 p.m.
The geographic scope will include the area between Henderson Ward Stewart School on Highway 182 east to Mississippi State University, then from First United Methodist Church on Lampkin Street east down Russell street to MSU. The charrette is funded at least in part with a $25,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant.
Jan Miller is district director of the Mississippi Main Street Association. She covers a territory which includes Columbus, Starkville and West Point.
She’s been involved in several charrettes around the state.
Tonight, “You do have an opportunity to speak your mind,” she said. On Thursday, you’ll get to see what we roll out for Starkville, Mississippi,” Miller said. “The best thing about this is it’s not pie-in-the-sky,” but rather the charrette will produce “down-to-earth projects that can be implemented,” she said.
Miller provided a basic overview of how it will work.
Today basically involves reconnaissance, then meetings with various groups and individuals, followed by the public input session.
On Wednesday, the meetings continue until about noon, “then we go into production,” she said.
The main focus Thursday will be getting ready for the public presentation, Miller said. “We put out a lot of work in three days,” she said.
The team will remain and meet on Friday with city officials and others to work toward an implementation strategy, Miller said.
She also said she’ll “be there long after the team is gone, working with Starkville Main Street to implement and develop work plans.”

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