Main and Mulberry Podcast w/ Paige Watson, Greater Starkville Development Partnership

Starkville, Mississippi is an SEC town home to Mississippi State University, but it isn’t all about college sports. Many exciting events happen throughout the year. The area is host to many up-and-coming businesses, and the downtown area is truly thriving. Paige Watson, the Special Events and Projects Coordinator for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, is here to give us the scoop on what’s happening in Starkville.

Transcript:

Anna Bell:
Hello, and welcome to another episode of Main and Mulberry. I’m Anna Bell, and I’m really excited to have with us today, the Special Events and Projects Coordinator for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, Paige Watson. Paige, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.

Paige Watson:
Thank you guys so much for reaching out and for having me today.

AB:
Oh, sure. I know we’re excited to, to, to talk with you to get to know the area. And I’d like to kind of start things, kick things off by getting to learn a little bit more about the Partnership and where you’re located in Starkville, Mississippi. So Paige, if you will, you know, help us better understand the mission of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, the GSDP. Help us understand that mission and how you guys are actively involved in the community. And then maybe you can end by telling us a little bit about the area for those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to come visit you in Starkville just yet.

PW:
Yes, absolutely. Well, the Greater Starkville Partnership is a very unique organization in the fact that we are the City of Starkville, Starkville Main Street Association, the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Starkville Chamber of Commerce all rolled into one office. We’re a very unique model too for different communities. We had a lot of communities reach out over the years. Whereas you might have a town that has all three of these or four of these offices and different locations, we’re all here at the same office and we work together. You know, we use a lot of our chamber members. It’s, it’s an easier selling point for the chamber because you not only become a member of the chamber, but you get to be involved more with the main street and the CVB organizations as well. And of course [inaudible]

AB:
That’s so neat. So it sounds like you, you’ve got a good bunch of people all working towards kind of the same goals. That’s really awesome.

PW:
Right. Right. So everybody knows everything that’s going on. And we, you know, it just offers an immense amount of cohesive communication through city planning and other fun projects and things.

AB:
How awesome. So if I’m understanding this correctly, there’s the three divisions that are broken down, that you’re all working together. You’ve got the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Authority, and then the CVB and Main Street Association, right?

PW:
Yes. And the Main Street Association does fall under the CVB as I mentioned.

AB:
Great. Oh, that’s so awesome. You know, a lot of different towns only have their CVB working towards that one goal of getting people to come and visit their area. It’s really nice to hear that you’ve got a lot of support.

PW:
We do. We do. And I think it makes Starkville a very special place in that aspect.

AB:
Oh, that’s awesome. I’ve heard a lot of good things about your downtown area. Kind of paint the picture if you will, about Starkville, Mississippi.

PW:
Yes. So we’re Starkville, Mississippi. We’re the seat of Oktibbeha County and we are, of course most famously known as the home of Mississippi State University. So being an SEC college town definitely has its perks. Our downtown is beautiful, vibrant. We’ve got three large blocks of downtown. And I feel like as of late our innovation and entrepreneurship downtown has really blossomed. We are home to the Mississippi State University Idea Shop. So we actually have in the center of all of our retail spaces and offices downtown, we’ve got a maker space for the general public and for Mississippi State students, the students to use. So it is [inaudible]

AB:
How cool is that? Is that something relatively new or been around for awhile?

PW:
Been around for about a year now. So it opened last fall and it’s, it’s really neat. And that, so that is where a lot of our small businesses come out of, is the Mississippi State University, the Entrepreneurship Center. And so then they come on and make more retail space downtown. So most recently Glow, they make these little light up ice cubes, and they were at the Academy Awards and , you know, just really hit off this huge business establishment. And now they’re going to reinvest into our downtown and open a new office. So they’ve moved three times around Starkville, and now they’re firmly putting their roots downtown in Starkville, and they’re redoing a historic theater to have as their new office space.

AB:
That is so neat. Oh, and I bet so many people are really excited about that, that happening in Starkville. How neat. Tell us, tell us a little about the area. You know, I bet you can get something pretty good to eat around a, in one of your districts, maybe the Cotton District.

PW:
Yes, absolutely. In addition to main street, we had the Cotton District area, historic Greensboro center and area, and we’ve got more restaurants per capita I believe than any other community in the state. So, a lot of our restaurants here are really cultivating that farm to table culture as with Eat Local Starkville. And so the food is phenomenal. A lot of people that go to Mississippi State always want to come back and eat at their favorite restaurants, which we love. And so especially this past weekend with students being back, seeing the restaurants just bursting at the seams, but everybody being very socially distant and following all the ordinances in place, it’s been really great to see.

AB:
Oh, that’s wonderful. So, so Paige as the Special Events and Projects Coordinator, I bet you’re really involved when it comes to planning, you know Starkville’s college town events. Kind of walk us through what a year looks like and maybe touch on a few events that you guys have in Starkville that are hosted by the Partnership.

PW:
Yeah. So you were definitely right about that. We typically have events all the time. So starting from the calendar year, in the spring, since we are so culinary focused, and we have so many wonderful restaurants, we typically start off with our Savor Your South event series. So all those events are food and beverage related. So in this, in the early spring in January, we have what’s called the “Souper Bowl” near the Super Bowl time, the actual football game time, and it’s a soup tasting competition with our local restaurants and it’s on main street. And it’s in conjunction with a race, and then we have an unwind downtown in February, and then this past March of last year we introduced a new event that kind of brings a great edge for the craft beer lover and taco lover, and it’s called Taco Hop. So that’s just a main street taco and beer festival. And yeah, and in May we have a crawfish boil, and then in the summer, we have so many great events after MSU graduation. Our farmers’ market really kicks in during the summer, and then we have a local concert series Fire Station Park which is downtown. And then in the fall, now a lot of our events are football related. So we have events every home football game weekend. So right now we’re in the strategic planning process, and we’re getting a lot more creative with what we’re going to do this fall, but we’re looking forward to continuing that tradition. And then in December, we just blow it out with a huge Christmas celebration every year, from the Christmas parade to our annual holiday bizarre, and that is a fun shopping event so that we do in our town.

AB:
Paige, I’m curious how much of you know, your events are really geared towards the students and the kids being a college town. You know, I didn’t know what the average college student population is during the school year versus those that live in, in Starkville year round. Kind of tell us how much of those events are really geared for the kids.

PW:
So, the student population typically doubles our community population. So we have about 20, 25,000 people in the city of Starkville. And then when the students get here, it reaches to 40 50. And then on game day, weekends, it doubles again. So we really get a good trickle down effect here in the city. But yes, pretty much all of our events can be centered around students. Of course those that have adult beverages, we ask that people only come that are 21, but even things like our Downtown Pumpkin-palooza. So we get students involved, student groups participate in face paint and things like that and so, a lot of them, you know, pretty much all our, our events are family friendly and for students. So

AB:
That’s good. That’s so good. Paige, what’s one of your favorite events that you enjoy?

PW:
I would have to say that my favorite event is probably the holiday bizarre that we do and that’s, I love to shop, but it is a two day, it’s like a Christmas bazaar shopping event. So you just go to, we have it at The Mill, which is located between downtown and Mississippi State University and so, it’s right during finals, week typically, so students can come and buy gifts before they go home. And then our residents and several other tourists from places near Starkville and throughout Mississippi come and they just get stocked. We have about 90 vendors. So it’s like a big holiday.

AB:
Oh wonderful, kinda get an opportunity to kind of maybe shop more local. Is it a lot of vendors, local vendors there?

PW:
Yep. Handmade vendors, local vendors, vendors from all across the Southeast.

AB:
How awesome. Oh, I bet locals and students alike probably really enjoy that event too. That’s awesome. Currently, you know, what, what is the Partnership doing, you know, today? What are you guys working on? I think I heard something about a new park opening up, is that right?

PW:
Yes. In the past few weeks, we’ve just had a plethora of things come up that we’ve been planning for a long time. And even throughout COVID-19, we’re still here to celebrate those things. That includes our Cornerstone Park groundbreaking. So that is a new tournament facility. It is just so state of the art, ahead of the times. And so that will be built the year after next. So 2022, and then we have the Partnership School, which is a revolutionary school that’s on the Mississippi State University campus. And it kind of brings in our local school district here in town. So we’ve had some really incredible things that are, you know, we’re still pushing through and we’re excited to celebrate those, but all of these things are great for tourism. They’re great for our community, our quality life. And that’s what Partnership is all about.

AB:
That’s wonderful. Oh yeah. So those are really good things to look forward to. And is that park multi sports or is it just for, you know, baseball? What does, what is that for?

PW:
Baseball and a lot of people don’t know Starkville was actually the home of teeball.

AB:
Oh wow, how cool.

PW:
So we’ll have a memorial there and of course, cool Papa Bell, Starkville was his hometown as well. We have markers everywhere and so, we’ll commemorate him there at the park. And then yes, it will be a, a park, tournament facility for baseball, softball, tee ball, you know, synthetic turf, the whole nine yards, just an awesome place.

AB:
A sports lover’s dream. That’s what that sounds like.

PW:
Great place too to cultivate young Bulldogs so, you know, right down the road, we have [inaudible] field, which is the best place to watch college baseball in America.

AB:
How neat. Oh, that’s great. And we can’t forget about these kids now, going back to school. All the college students are moving back into their dorms and apartments now. I bet things are probably pretty exciting in Starkville.

PW:
They are. Everything’s picking up and it really does. It brings you a lot of joy just knowing that your community is so accepting and so based around these college students. So, and I know of course this semester’s going to be very different, but we hope as a city and as a community that we can still provide that stellar, you know, SEC college town experience.

AB:
Yeah. Oh, absolutely. And I know the kids are looking forward to it as well. So what, what maybe you can touch on some of the ordinances that are going on right now with the, your restaurants and hotels, the venues around Starkville for maybe parents or families that are wanting to come, come visit. What are the sanitation efforts, I guess if you will.

PW:
Yes. Well, I think all restaurants and retail outlets and shopping centers are doing their best to sanitize heavily, but right now for restaurants it’s, you can go in, but you’re required to wear a mask. And most capacities are at 50% retail and restaurants. And then as far as venues go, arenas and things like that, they’re at 25 and 50%, and so we just ask, and as a city our ordinances are that you wear a mask in public. You pretty much need to anytime you go anywhere in public here in the community. And we do think that that’s making a really large impact.

AB:
Oh, that’s great. That’s great. Paige, as we’re kind of settling into the back half of this crazy year that we’ve all been experiencing, what are your thoughts on events, you know, for these upcoming months? You know, what are the partnerships plans, I guess, as we make our way towards the holiday season and those fun events you started to touch on a little earlier?

PW:
Yes, so we really aren’t, you know, events aren’t stopping. We’re just having to be very innovative and creative in the ways that we’re doing them. So one of our events, you know, it might have typically been to draw a large crowd to retail. Well, we’re still going to do that, but we’re going to do it safely. So if that’s more digital and social media promotion, more video production, we are making sure that we’re kind of, you know, covering all those bases, if you will, to make sure that our businesses are still the heartbeat of our community, and we’re doing what we can to support the business community, our students, and you know, our community members to be safe. Still look forward to having events, but we’re going to go in safely, and we’re going to follow all, you know, supervised and, and offered guidance. So.

AB:
That’s awesome. That’s great. Well, Paige, we sincerely appreciate your time and your insight today, painting the picture for us about Starkville, Mississippi, and the partnership and all the wonderful things that you guys are doing in your community. So we sincerely appreciate your time today.

PW:
Thank you all so much. This has been wonderful, and we appreciate your show and what you’re doing.

AB:
Yeah. Oh, that’s great. This is fun. We enjoy it. And if someone listening today is really curious, they’re wanting to plan a trip to come down and visit you guys, maybe where’s the best place for them to learn a little bit more?

PW:
Easy. starkville.org. So we have it all.

AB:
You heard it here. Until next time, I’m Anna Bell.

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