By CARL SMITH
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said if passed, Tuesday’s $8.45 million bond referendum to construct a police station would not only provide the funds to build a space for the Starkville Police Department to operate at maximum capacity, but would also give Highway 182 an anchor location for future redevelopment.
The immediate impact of the police station’s construction would provide officers a modern base of operations, but future developments could provide the city with increased revenues from potential new businesses.
“There are many properties in the general area that would benefit. Having this complex could be invaluable in terms of taking an area that has a lot of old construction that is becoming blighted and providing opportunity to see new development,” Wiseman said. “This is an opportunity where by doing this municipal project, we can make a conscious decision to provide the spark we need to start that area’s revitalization.”
In its planning, the city looked at 20 different locations before settling on property located at the intersection of Highway 182 and Jackson Street.
“There were three big factors in the decision. We had to find an affordable piece of property, make sure it had two means of ingress and egress — multi-road accessibility — and finally, the fact it was on 182, that is seen by many as the most critical business corridor for redevelopment in the city,” Wiseman said. “About the only way you would have found a cheaper piece of property was to go on the edge of the city and do a greenfield development away from the center of Starkville. That was the type of project that the community rejected nearly 10 years ago. We’ve looked at feedback from over the years and felt it was possible to find a centrally located place.”
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said the potential for a central business district following a Highway 182 revitalization is more than possible if Tuesday’s bond is passed. Development momentum from Main Street and a revitalized Highway 182 could be attractive for future businesses seeking locations on connecting streets like Washington, Lafayette and Jackson, he said.
“When you look at economic development, there is definitely a lot to it. When you take a whole city block, clean it and develop it, that alone is a catalyst,” Dumas said. “We’ve had a lot of thoughts toward retail or office-oriented development (on Highway 182) because it’s somewhat unsustainable to have a single, narrow Main Street business district. You need depth with streets that offer different niches. As Starkville grows, we need to expand in the diversity of our offerings in regard to land usage.”
Jon Maynard, Greater Starkville Development Partnership president and CEO, said public investments to seed private growth could provide the spark the corridor needs for revitalization.
“The message the bond issue sends is this: No. 1, our police department needs the sort of community support to be effective; No. 2, based on the design and public input, that says we want 182 to be redeveloped — to have the look and feel of a prosperous and vital town,” Maynard said. “There are a lot more steps we need to take than just putting a police station there (including) taking the initiative to redevelop the area through processed incentives. It’s going to take a little time, but once development starts, it will grow rapidly.”
Robbie Ward, Starkville’s Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival founder, said he envisions a revitalized downtown district capable of bringing in revenue and providing businesses and services to all local residents. Ward also said if the bond is passed, he will work to bring the festival back and celebrate in a greenspace near the police station. Cash was arrested by law enforcement in the same area of the proposed municipal complex.
“I have a deep, personal connection with Johnny Cash and the idea of redemption. I think of the many locations to hold the Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival, and that particular location makes the most sense,” Ward said. “It’s tied to redemption through Cash because he’s someone who experienced drug and alcohol issues and then worked really hard to overcome those issues and make right with the people he hurt. As for the city, we have wrestled over this police station for more than a decade. This is our community’s opportunity to find redemption for something that will have a tremendous impact on public safety, economic development, tourism and the quality of life for the people who live in Starkville and who love Starkville. This is something that makes people proud to associate with this place.”