Tucked away at the end of Russell Street between Lampkin and the unused Kansas City Southern Railway track, you’ll find Fire Station Park, a tiny oasis in the bustle of Downtown Starkville. You may have visited the park for one of the city’s 9/11 commemorative ceremonies or even seen folks walking the track occasionally. You’ve surely driven by the plot next to Fire Station No. 1 on your way to the Central Station Grill to the west or Little Dooey’s to the east! For many, however, the park remains undiscovered green space, and Starkville Main Street hopes to change all that as the Community Market opens there on May 2. The organization hopes the move will bring Fire Station Park one step closer to reaching its potential as a fulcrum of Starkville’s Downtown districts.
“With the planning of future infrastructure improvements in the Russell Street area, the Fire Station Park is going to become the true central point for our Downtown area,” said Jennifer Prather, Starkville Community Market Manager and GSDP Special Projects and Events Coordinator. “The park physically connects Main Street, the Cotton District on University and the Russell Street corridor. Our hope is that the Market’s move to this area will further drive commerce into the neighboring restaurants and retail establishments in our Downtown.”
The plans for enhancing the role of Fire Station Park began as part of the Downtown master planning process, and the first phase of improvement was accomplished in 2013 with the construction of new sidewalk access from University Drive, funded by a grant matched by Starkville Main Street. The northern entry point to the park is located to the west of Fire Station No. 1 on University and intersects with the park’s original sidewalk layout. The additional entry provides access to the park from Main Street/University Drive, as well as Lampkin and Russell streets.
With the move of Starkville Community Market to the new location, an additional entrance along Lampkin is being constructed. During Market hours, this new gate will serve as the primary entrance to the park, keeping the Fire Station parking lot free for emergency needs. To accommodate the increased foot traffic to the area, the city of Starkville is painting in new cross walks on both sides of the Russell terminus crossing Lampkin, as well as one crossing Russell. Fire Station Park is fully handicapped accessible, and handicapped parking is located at the north end of the College Park Shopping Center parking lot with sidewalk ramps and cross walks leading into the park.
Starkville Main Street is very excited about the possibilities for expansion available by moving the Starkville Community Market to this more central Downtown location. The move will allow the Market to seek additional money from grants similar to those that funded the University Drive access to the park. With the exponential growth the Market has experienced in the three years since SMSA took over management, looking to the future meant finding a location with more ability to continue that growth. The growth won’t be limited simply to the number of vendors, Prather says.
“The expansions that could come from grant funding will also allow us to diversify the products offered at the market. Adding needs like refrigeration could open up options for more locally grown meat and dairy vendors.”
The growth, however, will likely be felt soon during this Market season as vendor capacity is increased at Fire Station Park. The move will allow the Market to house up to 50 or 60 vendors, more than double the capacity of the location on Jackson Street.
“While the Fire Station Park may seem smaller from the outside looking in,” Prather said. “When you get into the park, you see from a whole new perspective just how large it really is.”
The other thing you notice when standing in the park at one of the sidewalk intersections, is simply how pleasant the environment is. Starkville Main Street believes the look and feel of green space and trees combined with the immaculate landscape maintained by the city’s fire fighters will greatly enhance the experience of shopping the Market as well as enjoying live music and demonstrations.
Part of that landscape experience at the Market is a garden-like installation many in Starkville simply aren’t aware of. Fire Station Park is home to the “Liberty Memorial Garden”, a memorial and planting honoring the heroic fire fighters and first responders who lost their lives during the 9/11 tragedy, as well as the hometown heroes who have served in Oktibbeha County fire and rescue. The memorial, which was created in 2003, includes an eternal flame housed inside a fire hydrant — the only one of its kind in the nation. Located toward the northeast corner of the park adjacent to the flagpole, the memorial offers Market-goers a place of rest and reflection, backed by the sound of the garden’s rocky water feature.
The Starkville Community Market opens at Fire Station Park on Saturday, May 2 from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. with a full slate of activities. In addition to the return of many of the long-time vendors, Starkville Main Street anticipates a few new local growers and crafters and some new offerings from our old favorites. New this year will be the weekly ringing of the opening bell on Saturdays to mark the start of the Market. Opening Day will kick off at 7:30 a.m. with Starkville Fire Chief, Charles Yarborough, as honorary bell ringer, followed by a ribbon cutting celebrating the new location. Festive cookies will be available for the kids, and Miss MSU will be on hand for pictures. The Cedar Creek Ramblers return to the Market for opening day to provide live music, sponsored by CSpire. A culinary demonstration is in the works, and Starkville Area Arts Council will lead origami and egg shaker art projects at our Little Gardeners tent.
“Opening day for the Market is always highly anticipated as we look forward all year to the season of fresh local goodness,” Prather said. “This year, however, it’s more special as we mark the grand opening of our new location. We want to celebrate the partnerships that have made the move possible!”