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Starkville could see $50 million in condo and related construction in next five years

Mississippi State alums, fans fueling condo boom

Starkville — If you have to ask if alumni of Mississippi State University (MSU) are a particularly dedicated lot, then you probably haven’t had much to do with them. These days, those Bulldog fans and faithful are fueling a condominium boom in Starkville by putting down deposits on the Cotton Mills at Starkville condominiums that will be within walking distance to Davis-Wade Stadium and other campus attractions.

In just the first couple of weeks since the one-, two- and three-bedroom condos in the $135,000 to $547,000 range have been offered, developer Ergon Properties Inc. has taken deposits on 70 out of the 106 condominiums planned in Phase One of the project located at the “front door” of the campus on Russell St. and Mississippi 12.

“We are very encouraged by the alumni and corporate support,” said

Jim DeFoe, vice president of Ergon Properties Inc., Jackson, which is one of the 53 operating subsidiaries of the energy company Ergon Inc. “Our site offers a location that is hard to beat. You can’t get any closer to campus. The views are fantastic, and we are conveniently location to the Cotton District, the campus and the downtown area.”

The Cotton District is a New Urbanism redevelopment project by the new mayor of Starkville, Dan Camp, which has received national attention for its unique architecture. Porches, balconies and courtyards overlooking cobblestone alleys and walkways draw people outdoors to create a greater sense of community. Camp redeveloped a blighted neighborhood that was once a collection of cotton worker shanties into a popular place to live for college students and young professionals.

The $27-million, luxury Cotton Mills condominiums will have walkways and bike paths that will connect to the Cotton District and to bikingwalking paths throughout the campus. The idea is to give Cotton Mills condo owners access to the Cotton District, and Cotton District residents access to the retail and restaurant developments planned as part of phase two and three of Cotton Mills. Phase two is expected to follow closely on the heels of the condominium construction.

DeFoe said the development will enhance the Starkville corridor linking the university to the downtown.

“We really see Russell Street becoming a strong identity for Starkville,” says DeFoe. “We will have gated access parking, and will build walkways and bike paths that connect to the pedestrian bridge over Highway 12. Once you buy one of our condos and get there, you don’t have to get back in your car. You will be able to walk or bicycle just about everywhere you want to go. We will have old-style cruiser bicycles for our residents of Cotton Mills.”

The three- and four-story condominiums will take up three acres of former university land, and phase two will take up an additional three acres next door. DeFoe said plans are underway for phase two, which will include retail with additional condominiums planned on the upper floors.

DeFoe said Ergon Properties had taken note of the success in Oxford, as well as other university towns, with building condominiums targeted to alumni.

“This seems to be happening at a lot of your major universities,” DeFoe said. “The condo trend is hot on the Coast, it is hot in Florida, and it looks like condos are pretty hot products at these university campuses. We went and looked at MSU and felt there was a need for quality products there. There are some single-family houses and some row houses that are going after the alumni market, but no condo projects of any magnitude.”

While they were looking for land, MSU put out a request for proposals for 17 acres of land the university wanted to see redeveloped.

“We were able to get College Board approval for the university to sell us six acres of the property contingent on us coming up with a plan that met the university’s needs,” DeFoe said. “This started two years ago. After several meetings we reached a conclusion, and I think everyone is extremely excited.

“We have found the planning and zoning board, as well as the board of aldermen, to be very supportive, as have been the previous Mayor Mack Rutledge and the present Mayor Dan Camp.”

Ray Hayes, vice president for finance and administration at MSU, said the project is going to provide a significant boost both to the campus and the community.

“This project is on the western edge of our campus and the eastern edge of the community,” Hayes said. “We’re selling it to Ergon so it goes on the tax rolls. I think it is the beginning of lifting up the whole area between the university and Starkville. There is no question that it will increase the value of the property surrounding it. Hopefully it will be the beginning of a new kind of development in the area between the university and community with more condos and more upscale retail and office space.”

The condo development also fits well with the university’s master plan to pull traffic away from the center and make the campus more pedestrian friendly. The university is also planning the Cullis-Wade Depot, a new building to be located between the community and the football stadium that will house a welcome center, a museum and a new university bookstore that will be managed by Barnes & Nobles.

DeFoe and his wife are MSU alumni, and his oldest daughter is a junior at State. The DeFoes plan to purchase one of the condos. DeFoe says it is an exciting development to be involved with.

“It really feels good giving back to a community that you love by creating something that will be enjoyed for years to come,” DeFoe said. “We tell people they can think of the condominium as a skybox they can use the year around. It will add to the entire football game day experience. And it will change the way people think of Wednesday night basketball. You can drive up to the game, stay the night, and be back in Jackson the next morning. There are so many things going on up in Starkville that we are really excited about it. There are a lot of businesses locating in that area also. It looks like phase one will prove to be a banner success.”

Phase one will take up three acres of the campus that now includes metal buildings for housing operations such as printing presses and bulk mail services. Phase two will be on the remaining three acres of university property. And Ergon Properties is currently in discussion with the university on a phase three that would address the need for a Class A hotel and convention center on adjoining property.

“The City of Starkville desperately needs a convention center,” DeFoe said.

Ergon Properties has been very pleased with the early demand from alums not just in Mississippi, but other states such as Florida and Alabama. Corporate demand has also been significant. That all bodes well for the future.

“I really think Starkville is absolutely a powder keg that is about to explode up,” DeFoe said. “You have a strong mayor who comes from a development background and has tremendous vision. The planning and zoning and boards of alderman appear to be aligning in one common vision. And you have an economic generator with the school sitting there. When both of those forces come together, it could be an exciting time for Starkville.”

Camp said that plans are also underway for another condominium project in the same area of town. Place Properties of Atlanta, which does collegiate developments across the Southeast, is planning a 60-unit condo unit across the street from Cotton Mills. Camp said those will be mostly two-bedroom, two-bath units that will sell for about $220 per square foot.

“College towns are becoming very popular places for people to live,” Camp said. “I envision college towns as becoming every bit as popular as beachfront property, especially if we have more hurricanes. Talking about a sales price of $220 per square foot is pretty significant. It sets the tone of what will be done in the future. Condos are running $350 per square foot in Biloxi, and $1,200 per square foot in Destin, Fla. That $225 per square foot in Starkville could eventually grow. And if these projects are successful, more will come.”

Considering the planned second and third phases of Cotton Mills, Camp predicts that in the next four to five years $50 million to $55 million in construction could be added in Starkville.

“That is a good chunk of change,” Camp said. “It is all upper-end, high- quality construction that will have a tremendous impact on that part of town on Russell Street. Also, people who will buy these things will have an above average demand for restaurants and shops. This will certainly enhance the tax revenues for the city on the ad valorem side as well as on the sales tax side. We’re looking forward to both groups getting started getting building permits quickly. Ergon anticipates getting started fairly quickly.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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