MSU chooses new developer for cotton mill project

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State University has chosen a new contractor to preserve a former cotton mill as part of a commercial development.

The College Board voted to sell 1.1 acres near what MSU calls the Cooley Building to developer Mark Castleberry for $460,000.

The Starkville structure was built in 1902 as the Stone Cotton Mill and was indirectly associated with the university for a time. MSU bought it in 1965, three years after the mill closed, and it now belongs to MSU’s physical plant department. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Castleberry plans to develop a Courtyard by Marriott or similar hotel at the site.

The sale will only be completed if MSU can reach a deal with Castleberry for renovation of the Cooley Building and development of adjoining MSU property. The rest of the development would include a conference center, restaurants and a parking garage, College Board officials said.

“Something we really need at Mississippi State is a nice new conference center for our campus,” Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum told College Board members.

Keenum said a proposal for the full development should be presented to the board for a vote by April. But he said MSU needed to move forward with the first piece because it might lose $8 million in federal community development money meant to pay for the parking garage.

Keenum said Gov. Phil Bryant and the Mississippi Development Authority, which controls such Community Development Block Grants, have demanded that the development move forward by the end of the year, or else the grant for the parking garage will be pulled.

“We need to have a contract with this developer and show we’re trying to move forward with this project,” he said.

In 2010, the College Board approved a plan by developer Mark Nicholas of Ridgeland that called for the Cooley Building to be renovated into a convention center. After the contract with Nicholas expired, MSU called for new proposals and chose Castleberry. Nicholas still owns 6 adjoining acres and has sold part of that property for a Chick-fil-A restaurant now being built.

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