By STEVEN NALLEY
The downtown lights can’t exactly be called Christmas lights anymore.
To call them Christmas lights is to suggest they’re coming down or turning off now that the holiday season is over. Starkville Main Street Association Manager Jennifer Gregory said this was never the case.
“We began speaking about the need for additional lighting downtown in January of 2011 in a committee meeting that included individuals from the (Greater Starkville Development) Partnership, the city of Starkville, the Starkville Police Department, Starkville Electric Department, Mississippi State University and local business owners because we had received suggestions from many community members for what they perceived as a need for additional lighting downtown,” Gregory said. “That was the plan, actually, from the very beginning ... to have this lighting year-round, but we had to have support from Starkville Electric, and we got that support early on.”
The lights lining the rooftops of downtown Starkville businesses will not only stay up all year but also turn on every night.
Gregory said the easement language for the lights gives SMSA ownership of the lights and responsibility for maintenance, repairs and upgrades. She said SMSA paid $18,500 for the lighting with the Starkville Civic League contributing $4,000, the SMSA and the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau each contributing $5,000 and fundraisers making up the difference. Fundraising efforts are still ongoing, she said, and Gregory thanks the project’s contributors.
“I also want to give much, much appreciation to SED,” Gregory said. “They spent many, many hours installing these lights, and they have been very easy to work with and community-minded throughout the project. This project would not have happened without their contribution and support.”
Gregory said SED is also paying for the extra electricity to activate the lights, an expense SED General Manager Terry Kemp said makes up a small portion of the city’s overall street lighting budget because they are LED lights instead of traditional incandescent bulbs.
“(The cost of the electricity is) really almost going to be negligible,” Kemp said. “It might be a dollar a day, roughly. It depends on how many hours they actually burn. Had it been incandescent, it could have been 20 times that. Each (bulb) is 0.37 watts. An incandescent ... bulb would be 7 watts.
“You could also look at it as an equivalent to four of the cobra head street lights that are in the area,” Kemp added. “It’s a small piece if you look at the wattage as relates to the overall lighting downtown.”
Kemp said LED lights also have extended life spans, lasting as much as 50,000 hours versus 3,000 hours for incandescent bulbs. He said the lights are timed to activate using the same photocell sensors which activate street lights each evening.
“From my personal standpoint, I think it’s a positive deal for the city to light up the area,” Kemp said. “I personally get several positive comments from the community. The energy efficiency promotes that as well. I think it was a good decision. It’s a good, efficient system. Hopefully it will last the city for a long, long time.”
Gregory said downtown property owners had to sign an easement to enable SED to access the property and install the lights on downtown roofs. She said SMSA began contacting the property owners and requesting signatures around July or August.
“It was, however, a very difficult process to get signatures on all of the forms,” Gregory said. “It was amazing to me the lack of initial cooperation that we received on this project, even though there was absolutely no cost to the property owners.
“Some property owners were concerned with the language in the easement and wanted to be sure that their property was protected, which was completely understandable, but others were just plain uncooperative,” she added. “So we revised our initial plan and did not put lights on as many buildings as we initially had planned.”
To get at least some lights up in time for Christmas, Gregory said, SMSA and SED moved forward with lights on blocks where property owners all agreed to sign the easement.
If any property owners on a block disagreed, she said, SED did not install lights on that block.
“For instance, the lights were supposed to extend further down Main Street, past Mugshots and down to the old SED building,” Gregory said, “but because of lack of cooperation from some property owners on that block, we were forced to not put any lights on any buildings on that entire block.”
Gregory said she intends to continue talking to property owners who opted out this year to extend the lights further next year.
Gregory also said she wants to approach new property owners to extend the lighting to other segments of town.
“The next phase of additional lighting will be to install lights on the west end of Main Street and the next block east on Main Street from Jackson Street to (Montgomery Street),” Gregory said. “Following that will be further down University Drive and Russell Street. We do hope to raise funding for additional lights, and we hope that funding sources will be (available). We hope new organizations will see the value of this project and want to contribute, and we want to have more lights installed before next Christmas.”