Starkville's Camp embraces role as new leader

BY ROBBIE WARD

Daily Journal Starkville Bureau

STARKVILLE – When Mayor Dan Camp walks city streets, he sees redevelopment. And he sees lots of streets.

The Democrat and developer by trade often walks to work, keeping his city-owned car parked at City Hall.

“It's good exercise,” he said. “Besides, it's promoting Starkville to be a very walkable community.”

He also supports the city's becoming a more “bikeable” community. The city recently approved bike lanes along University Drive, one of the city's busiest streets.

If Camp has his way, the city will have a new public facilities building downtown, re-infusing life into rundown areas. It also will have condominiums and retail space next to Mississippi State University's western entrance – projects in the works.

The mayor said he's working to make Starkville a destination for retirees and students.

“College town communities are attractive to retirees,” Camp said. “I want Starkville to be a final destination choice.”

He says he just needs time for positive changes to happen. Camp, who has been mayor about six weeks, talked about what's been accomplished and what he hopes to do as the Oktibbeha County seat's chief executive.

Camp succeeds two-term Mayor Mack Rutledge. But more than changing the faces in power, the 2005 election may have changed leadership attitudes and focus.

Changes already can be seen. The city Board of Aldermen:

- halted a plan for a police headquarters and began another;

- approved the sale of cold beer and light wine in convenience and grocery stores; and

- hired a chief administrative officer, city attorney and city planner.

Just getting started

Camp said he's nowhere close to accomplishing all his goals. He hopes to convince the city board to allow Sunday sales of alcohol and to build a police department, electric department and city court facility downtown.

If the city approved the sale of alcohol on Sundays, which currently is prohibited, Starkville could receive more sales tax revenue.

The change “would really encourage a lot of people to open on Sundays,” Camp said. Many Starkville casual dining restaurants aren't open on Sundays.

The decision is not Camp's to make. Such changes must be approved by a majority of the Board of Aldermen.

However, Camp, a former MSU cheerleader and city school board member, says his strong personality and communication skills can help him convince aldermen to support his agenda.

Camp said he's interested in the entire city's showing its school spirit. A few weeks ago many trash bins were repainted maroon with white paw prints stenciled on them to reflect MSU's school colors and its trademark bulldog.

“Frankly I like my identity with Mississippi State,” Camp said.

University-associated development is expected to drive parts of the city's economy. Multiple projects are slated for student housing and alumini-targeted condominiums.

The condo projects and renovation of a shopping center near MSU's western border have Camp excited about the changes.

“Anytime you have 170 people who have condos here, they will eat in local restaurants and shop here,” he said of out-of-town alumni.

Some city residents are thrilled by what they've seen. Jack Forbus, an MSU graduate and city resident, said Camp and the board are moving in the right direction. Recent actions, from bike lanes to cold beer, show the city has the right agenda. Forbus also credits Camp with listening to the public – a criticism he had of Rutledge and the former board.

“He's certainly willing to listen to what the people say,” Forbus said. “And this is an improvement.”

Downtown changes by referendum

Some changes in downtown will happen only if approved by voters. During this year's municipal elections, Camp and successful aldermen candidates campaigned in favor of building a downtown facility for the police department only if approved through a referendum. The former mayor and board had planned to build a new municipal facility in the southwest part of the city, something Camp opposed.

During their first board meetings, city officials quashed any plans for a city-built project outside downtown. They also required a citywide referendum on the downtown project.

At one recent board meeting, an architect working with Camp presented a plan to build a downtown facility for the police department, electric department and city court.

The estimated $8.5 million project is about $1.5 million more than the city has – the electric department has $2 million reserved for a new building and the city has approval for a $5 million low-interest USDA Rural Development loan.

Camp said the city is trying to figuring out how to fund the rest of the project.

“We'll explore our options,” he said.

The downtown project will improve three to four blocks of blighted areas, Camp said.

“Some of that area would make a great lawyer's row,” he said, describing a collection of offices for attorneys.

Not everyone believes Camp can pull off the downtown project. Rob Roberson, an attorney and Republican who lost to Camp in the general election, said he isn't sure citizens will support the project because of costs. Camp insists the plan likely will cost closer to $10 million once property acquisition and other expenses are factored in.

Camp said the city may tackle the project in phases.

Bob Ford, a retired MSU architecture professor who builds rental units in the city, said he's very supportive of the location Camp and the board plan to build municipal facilities. He also supports the administration's stance on regulating some alcoholic beverages in the city.

“I like cold beer,” Ford said.

Although plans may be tweaked, the mayor said they'll all move the city forward.

“We're just beginning to look at what our potential is,” he said.

Contact Robbie Ward at 323-9831 or robbie.ward@djournal.com