MISSISSIPPI BUSINESS JOURNAL, CONSTRUCTION MISSISSIPPI - Camp's Cotton District Pushing New Urbanism to New Level
Julie Whitehead, Spring 2004
Developer Credits College Students’ Enthusiasm for Much of His Success.
STARKVILLE – Developer Dan Camp continues to take the Cotton District in diverse directions, adding a row of mixed-use buildings on the new Rue de la Grande Fromage.
“We’re going to target student entrepreneurship,” said Camp. “We’re looking to encourage maybe a small used bookstore, used clothing – something of an entrepreneurial nature that students can offer.”
With retail space on the ground floor and living spaces above, Camp hopes to add a new residential option to his already eclectic development, which has attracted attention throughout the architectural community for its example of “New Urbanism” at work.
New Urbanism encourages redevelopment of urban areas through rehabbing older buildings and creating mixed-use communities that offer residents easy access to goods and services.
The thriving area has one commercial building that has already defined the kind of development Camp has in mind – the “big blue building” at the corner of University Drive and Maxwell Street houses Roxy’s, a popular student hangout, as well as other small student-oriented businesses that find their customers within walking distance of the place – or on the other two floors of apartments in the building.
But why Rue de la Grande Fromage?
“MSU is an agricultural school, right? And one of the products that they sell that is very good? Cheese!” Camp explained, noting that he’s trying to interest MSU in establishing an outlet for their popular dairy products on the street.
But Camp hopes his new street will be profitable for his student clients as well as himself. He’s pricing the prospective retail spaces to rent for $350 a month each to keep it within student budgets. And he says he’s not above making a discount or even giving away the space for a limited time if the right concept comes along.
“You think there’s anyone else around here who’ll do that?” Camp said.
Unorthodox attitudes are Camp’s stock in trade. He’s spent his career in Starkville proving that “You can’t do that!” is a foreign concept as far as the Cotton District goes. The streets began undergoing their transformation in 1969 when Camp began buying the lots and putting small cottages, patio homes and rental units up one by one, hiring local craftsmen to do the work – and doing it himself if no one else could figure out how.
Victor Dover, principle architect for Dover, Kohl, and Partners in Coral Gables, Fla., said that all the hallmarks of the New Urbanism are in the Cotton District: it’s affordable, livable and profitable.
“He’s achieving affordable housing, which is the holy grail of city planning in America today, without subsidy. He does it without the government paying part of the bill,” Dover said.
The craftsmanship on the units – custom millwork and traditional construction – is one of the hallmarks of the area. Sometimes the strong design aesthetic overshadows the affordability of units, according to Camp. ........................ “We’re not as expensive as people think we are; we just look expensive,” Camp said.
“What he is, is a clever recycler of forms and symbols that appeal to people,” said Dover. A lot of people think you have to choose between something that’s good and something that’s good for cash flow.”
The Cotton District certainly is good for cash flow. Camp estimates that he runs close to 100% occupancy. And the attention the area has received spreads throughout Starkville, according to Arma de la Cruz, vice president of tourism for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership (GSDP).
De la Cruz estimates that she organizes walking tours of the Cotton District through the GSDP one or twice a month, while Camp conducts tours of his own as well.
“The Cotton District also provides a really friendly venue for things such as the Cotton District Arts Festival and music festivals for the university,” said de la Cruz, who said more than 8,000 attended the April event last year. GSDP estimates that the one-day festival had a $250,000 economic impact on Starkville last year – a number the organizers hope goes up this year as a result of an expanded schedule. “Since this year we’re having a music fest that night, that may bring more overnights,” said de la Cruz.
The development of the Rue de la Grande Fromage should be underway by the summer and be completed in the next six months. One benefit of owning the development is that change comes on Camp’s schedule, not someone else’s.
“You can build at your leisure,” he said. “What we hope is it will be a point of destination.”
What Dover and many of his architectural colleagues can’t get over is how well the Cotton District has embodied the New Urbanism principles, laid down only a decade ago, from the area’s beginnings 30 years ago.
“The thing is that Dan has figured all this out by himself – tucked away in Starkville, Mississippi,” Dover said.
Renowned architect Andres Duany, who is credited with developing Seaside, lectured in Starkville several years ago and was amazed at what he found at the Cotton District.
"He's the most interesting story in the U.S.," Duany was quoted as saying in a 1994 issue of Builder magazine, the magazine of the National Association of Home Builders.
Camp credits the enthusiasm of the university students for the area with much of his success.
“I think they feel it’s more friendly. Unlike other places that try to get a comparable look, we have a sense of place,” he said.