By CARL SMITH
Greater Starkville Development Partnership officials say the development of a retirement community near Mississippi State University’s campus could provide seniors with a unique living experience while serving as a showpiece for the city’s retirement community and spurring economic development.
Austin Shafer, GSDP vice president of membership and the chamber of commerce, said high interest from local seniors and developers prompted the partnership to begin pursuing a request for information on the project from interested developers. GSDP Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Gregory said the RIF could be complete in 90 days.
“If you’ve ever been to Starkville or if you attended MSU, you’ll always be a part of the community. More and more people want to return to the area when they retire because this is the place where they’ve had some of the best times of their lives,” Shafer said. “The interest is there, not only with seniors, but also with developers.”
Previously, Shafer said GSDP officials toured Capstone Village, a premier, 100-plus unit retirement center located on the University of Alabama’s campus in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Starkville’s retirement community, Shafer said, could be modeled after the Tuscaloosa facilities.
“(UA) is the draw here. Our residents have a desire to live in a community that offers independence and lifelong learning. I tell prospective residents … when you live here, you become, more or less, an extended student of the University of Alabama,” Larry Murphy, Capstone Village director of sales and marketing, said. “Residents get a student activity card; they audit classes, use the student recreational center, ride the university’s bus system and participate in all the activities our campus has to offer. We have residents from all over the country who represent alumni to local, blue-collar people who have decided to retire.”
Although Starkville was identified as a “Certified Hometown Retirement Community” through the Mississippi Development Authority several years ago, Gregory said the city lack’s a showpiece retirement community and needs more developments to continue attracting seniors.
“Being a certified retirement community puts Starkville on the map statewide as a community that supports the industry of retirement and second-home purchasing. We want to look at retirement as an economic development tool; however, we have somewhat of a shortage of housing specifically developed for retirees,” Gregory said. “To me, this is a huge economic driver. If we can provide a facility for retirees to live, promote that it’s close to campus and let them enjoy the great things Starkville has to offer, I feel there’s a real potential for economic return.”
Shafer said at least five to 10 acres of land would be needed for a project of this magnitude but no specific location has been identified yet.
“We need (a facility) that would beautify a space while being comfortable and convenient to its residents,” he said. “Everyone understands MSU is the No. 1 draw to this community, and the main desire we’ve heard is to have this community near it. (University officials) have been wonderful in saying they’re interested and would provide services to (potential residents).”
In addition to serving its residents, Shafer said a retirement village could also help seed development around MSU once completed. Gregory said the project could utilize turnkey incentives for development, including tax increment financing plans.
“We feel like now is the right time (to begin working on a retirement village project). We’ve seen sales tax grow, the housing market is stable and tourism is up. Two years ago might not have been the right time because people might have had trouble selling their homes to make this transition. We’re several years away from this happening, but the economy here is thriving. We want to make sure we do this at the right time,” she said. “(Turnkey incentives) are music to developers’ ears. We have to be prepared to offer incentives (to attract major developments).”
Starkville Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Rye helps administer the city’s Hometown Retirement program. By building a university-accessible retirement community, Rye said Starkville would join a national trend and provide another source of tax revenue.
“(Retirees) are good citizens. They pay taxes, they participate in the community, they volunteer and they involve themselves. They’re definitely folks you want in the community,” he said. “It’s a neat idea to have retirees tied into the university from a standpoint that they could enjoy the services and benefits it offers. It would be a great addition to the community.”