The Mill at Mississippi State University won the American Planning Association’s Best Project award at its Mississippi/Alabama annual fall conference today in Tupelo, an honor given to a development “exemplifying innovative planning and design techniques to foster economic and community development efforts.”
The long-awaited project, which is on schedule to open in the summer of 2015, will feature the first-ever mill (MSU’s E.E. Cooley Building, the former physical plant) transformed into a conference center in United States’ history. The $40 to $45 million development – built near the corner of Hwy 12 and Russell Street – comprises three main projects: the 73,975-square-foot conference center and related office space, an adjacent Courtyard by Marriott hotel and 450-spot parking garage and mixed-use business parcels in the surrounding area.
Corey Proctor, Forest County’s planning director and treasurer for the APA’s Mississippi chapter, said the development embodies what planners across Mississippi envision for their cities. The Mill at MSU received high marks, Proctor said, for economic benefits, aesthetics and sustainability.
“It was a no brainer,” he said. “Starkville already has a great economy, but this will help it to grow. I’m really impressed with the project and all of those involved. I just hope that people all over the state will look at the Mill as a model for planning.”
The joint project was developed by the City of Starkville, MSU and Castle Properties, a collaborative effort by public and private entities. “A true partnership at so many levels,” as David Shaw, the vice president for research and economic development at MSU, once described it.
“What the award means is that Starkville is progressive and the project is at a high caliber for this region,” said Buddy Sanders, Starkville’s Community Development Director who accepted the award. “This was well planned and well thought out. It’s definitely a catalyst for greater things to come.”
Sanders points out that the former physical plant – which served as a cotton mill for 60 years and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – is an “infield development,” meaning the project utilizes an existing property in an established district or neighborhood. Many communities build on the periphery, leading to urban sprawl problems.
“It’s a sign of health in a community,” Sanders said. “Without infield development, you won’t have a healthy downtown.”
Sanders said the conference center will be a “public place for the entire state to enjoy,” referencing MSU’s many think tanks, outreach programs and extension centers dedicated to improving Mississippi in sectors ranging from education to agriculture to local government.
“This will fill a void,” he said. “MSU, like any public university, is tasked with promoting and embettering the state. They've never had a place like this where people can meet.”
When asked about the substantial economic boost the Mill will provide, including property value boosts, offshoot developments and sales tax increases, Sanders had a simple reply: “Build it and they will come. That really is what is happening.”
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