By STEVEN NALLEY
The Mississippi Board of Trustees of Mississippi Public Universities has cleared Mississippi State University to sell land near its E.E. Cooley Building to developer Mark Castleberry as part of a commercial development.
The board voted to sell 1.1 acres to Castleberry on the building’s east side, where Castleberry said he plans to build a Courtyard by Marriott like the one he is currently building in Columbus near U.S. Highway 82. David Shaw, MSU vice president for research and economic development, said this step will help MSU and the city of Starkville meet a deadline for an $8 million Community Development Block Grant for the development’s parking garage.
“This was really a very important first step in the development of the project,” Shaw said. “This gives us a tangible proof (to the state) that the project is moving forward so we can move forward on the CDBG funding.”
The Mississippi Development Authority has set this deadline at the end of calendar year 2012, Shaw said. Now the city of Starkville must revise its application for the grant, he said, but he does not expect the city to hit any snags on its end of the grant.
“They’ve already done a number of discussions with the developer to make sure that’s a seamless process,” Shaw said. “We’re moving forward very well on all of the contract negotiations, and so that’s just a time-consuming process, but there have not been any surprises ... on any of the parties’ parts. It’s just a matter of working out the details.”
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said where other grants require cities to use matching funds from their own assets that equal a certain percentage of the grant, the MDA pays 100 percent of the CDBG grant and requires a different kind of match.
“You do have a requirement for size and the impact of the private development that have to be realized before the city can activate the grant,” Wiseman said. “Those requirements are set by MDA, combined with the overall private expenditure and the overall number of jobs created. The developer’s got to be in a position where they’re ready to close the project, and we haven’t arrived at that point just yet.”
Castleberry said he still technically has not entered a contract with MSU, but both he and MSU have every intention of moving forward with that contract.
“IHL had to approve (the contract), and then it can be executed,” Castleberry said. “It’s just a process.”
Castleberry said the parking garage will be necessary for the hotel’s guests, even though it is a city project and not his project. He said the parking garage will also be needed for the conference center he intends to create by renovating the E.E. Cooley Building itself, a renovation he said is still in a planning stage.
“Due to the historical nature of the Cooley Building, there are some unknowns from a scheduling standpoint,” Castleberry said. “The Mississippi Department of Archives and History (is in charge of) approval of much of the work on the building, as (is) the National Park Service. We should have some good responses from them in 120 days. We should be able to publish a schedule (for development) then.”
Wiseman said the exact size of the parking garage is not certain yet, and Castleberry will be heavily involved in setting those specifications. The city has contracted grant administration services to the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, he said, and that administration will begin when the contract closes.
“The developments this week with the (Institutions of Higher Learning) board approving the university’s request are encouraging,” Wiseman said, “and I remain optimistic that this project still has a strong chance of becoming a reality, and that will be a big win for Starkville, Oktibbeha County and MSU.”
Shaw said he expects to see construction of the parking garage begin in spring 2013.
“We’re working to finalize all the arrangements, so that would include working on details of the lease and arranging a project for the Cooley Building itself,” Shaw said. “We hope to see all of that completed and us moving forward in the April time frame.”