For more than five years now, State fans, Starkville residents, and planning and development enthusiasts have heard the phrase "Cotton Mills is coming." But Cotton Mills never did come, as the economic recession coupled with a laundry list of other issues essentially flat-lined the large project near the intersection of Russell Street and Highway 12. It was probably a stretch to think that the whole project as it was originally envisioned would be built anyways, but nevertheless, Cotton Mills has been a major disappointment for those of us rooting for its development in Starkville.
After festering for a while, the development changed hands to local developer Mark Castleberry late last year, and just earlier this week, he won his first major battle in seeing something, anything at the site come to fruition.
Castleberry's re-imagined plan for the site calls for a parking garage, the redevelopment of the Cooley Center into a Marriot Courtyard Hotel and Convention Center, and the further development on the remaining land that is still a bit fuzzy in description at this time. The first portion of that project, a 450-space parking garage, got its clearance last week as the IHL board approved the agreement for the land between the City of Starkville and MSU. The agreement basically states that the two entities will share revenues for the garage, and MSU will own and operate the space. The biggest question is whether or not the garage will be available for game day parking. There is specific language in the agreement specifying special use around "MSU football gamedays", but that to me leans more along the lines of saying that the hotel will need the whole garage for use on game weekends, rather than the partial use it has normally. We can still hold out hope that there will be some general admission parking on game days, but my best bet is that it will be strictly for hotel guests, giving you the extra incentive to fork over their more than likely hefty fees to stay just off campus on game weekends.
Assuming (and it's a huge assumption given the history of the project) that construction for the garage does start late this year or early next year, focus for the development then shift to two major parts of the project that come after the garage. The first part is Castleberry getting approval from the state for designs on the historic Cooley Building's renovation into the hotel and convention center. Because it is a historic property, any design has to be approved by numerous state offices, including Archives and History. Once design has approval and Castleberry can prove that he isn't altering the historical building in a negative way, then we could actually see years worth of frustration with the project end, and work actually begin to turn the building into the hotel and convention center that we've waited for for years.
The other major question surrounding the project as it moves forward is what will become of the additional land included in the deal outside of the garage and hotel. Some have already speculated that it will be sold off for development by others, which is an absolute shame if true. Even if the original Cotton Mills plan can't fully be realized, it would still be nice to see a unified development at such a prime location that features plenty of shops and bars, instead of five new strip malls that just feature check cashing locations and carpet stores (no offense, carpet guys).
Looking through the archives of the IHL's past meetings, I have not been able to locate any renderings for the garage or the hotel. However, I did notice in the Dispatch's article that Dale Partners Architects, P.A. had been selected for the design. That is the same firm that worked up this design as a part of the design bid process for the proposed new on-campus parking garage behind the YMCA Building. Maybe there's some design expectancy to take away from the on campus garage renderings for the off campus one, or maybe not.
[h/t The Columbus Dispatch]
[via IHL Final Board Book - August 15, 2013, page 78-79]