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The battle for CottonMill Marketplace

Approved condo project threatens future of upscale retail project, developers say

Larry Tabor, who owns Tabor Properties in Starkville, has a plan to turn the old University Inn at the intersection of Highway 12 and Spring Street in Starkville into 52 condominiums.

He has secured financing for the $3.1-million project, whose cost will be wholly paid with private money. The site plan is finished and the landscaping details have been finalized. Almost every subcontractor Tabor will need is ready to work.

Starkville’s Planning and Zoning Commission has twice given the go-ahead for Tabor’s project, the second approval coming in late June.

But, there’s a problem.

To the south and east of the old University Inn sits property where Ridgeland-based developer Mark Nicholas and his team plan to build CottonMill Marketplace, a mixed-use development that will feature conference and retail space, with Mississippi State’s old physical plant building serving as the centerpiece. To the north of the old hotel are 25 homes CottonMill developers hope to eventually purchase and make a part of the development’s retail cluster.

After each of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approvals, Nicholas has filed appeals. Nicholas says Tabor’s development will constrict CottonMill.

“Our big differences are that we’re trying to create a significant retail opportunity for Starkville,” Nicholas said. “If (Tabor) goes with converting the old inn into affordable condos, then it just relegates our piece of property to a strip center, really.”

Though neither Nicholas nor Tabor would discuss specifics, the two sides have exchanged proposals in an effort to come to a meeting of the minds and allow each project to proceed. No agreement had been reached by the time this edition of the Mississippi Business Journal went to press July 14.

Tabor has been developing plans and securing financing to transform the old University Inn into condos since April. He said he first learned of Nicholas’ opposition to the project just as he was set to get the green light from Starkville aldermen, who are not bound by the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation, but usually go along with it.

“We really didn’t think we would have a lot of opposition,” Tabor said. “We met with (Nicholas and his team) two or three times before moving on it. When they objected at the board of aldermen meeting we were set to get approval at, it that was the first we knew of it. It kind of blindsided us at first.

“We were disappointed we didn’t get to go before the board and ask for approval. We really felt like turning this old eyesore into a usable and aesthetically pleasing development would be met with favor from everybody.”

The old hotel’s location, Tabor said, makes it ideal for a condo development, something that has thrived in college towns. The condos would be within sight of the MSU campus, and would sit a five-minute drive from Scott Field, Humphrey Coliseum and Dudy Noble Field. Most of the condos would be priced less than $100,000.

“We think we would be able to sell these units, especially if we kept the price under $100,000,” Tabor said. “We’ve proceeded on as if we’re going to get approval. If we don’t, we’ll be up a creek without a paddle, as far as a lot of expense poured into this. With the recession, we’re taking a big gamble financially even building this.”

Tabor said construction time for the project would be about six months. If he and Nicholas reach an agreement, work could start in late July and be completed in January of next year.

For his part, Nicholas insists there is no animosity between him and Tabor. He said the ideal solution would be for the two to join forces, an idea Nicholas said the two discussed in their latest exchange of proposals.

“We’re trying to work out something,” Nicholas said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to, but I’m optimistic. I respect Tabor. He is a great developer. I have a lot of confidence in him. We’ve been working (CottonMill) for a long time. We are just about to finish getting all the loose ends tied up. I can’t do it unless I’ve got at least 10 acres. We’re not going to get significant retail in there without at least 10 acres. I certainly hope we can work something out.”

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About Clay Chandler

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