STARKVILLE, Miss. – In the northeastern part of Mississippi lies a city that is poised to not only be the next great sports tourism destination, but also the next must-visit Southern locale.
Starkville, Miss., a community of over 26,000 people, is a city on the move in more ways than one.
In the summer of 2022, Starkville city leaders hope this momentum will be boosted by the opening of Cornerstone Park. The new baseball/softball-focused sports tourism destination, which will feature 12 diamonds, including a championship field, is not only expected to enhance the destination feel of the college town, but drive positive economic and social impacts as well. It’s anticipated that Cornerstone Park will welcome 200,000 to 250,000 visitors annually and have a $17 million direct economic impact in its first year of operation. Overall, Cornerstone Park is a key piece in Starkville’s movement to transform itself into one of the top cities in the South.
Cornerstone Park and the Vision for Starkville
According to Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill, the new baseball complex is the “cornerstone,” for helping people discover local amenities. She also hopes that tournaments at Cornerstone Park will drive the development of more hotels and restaurants. “We want Starkville to be seen as a place where a high quality of life is eminent. We want to be seen as a place where kids want to come,” said Spruill.
Growing the city’s parks and recreation system is also a component of Starkville’s vision, which city officials believe will benefit from Cornerstone Park’s presence. “By developing Cornerstone as a baseball and softball facility, it creates availability in other parks to repurpose their fields and add more soccer fields, walking trails, greenspace, and music spaces,” said Brandon Doherty, director of the Starkville Parks and Recreation Department.
Plans are now in the works to convert baseball fields at nearby Sportsplex and McKee Park to multiuse fields, walking trails, and a splash pad. “Cornerstone Park will allow for us to create a greater diversity of programs across our entire parks system,” said Doherty.
Creating a Great Experience for Guests
Cornerstone Park’s ability to draw athletes and families to Starkville will largely depend on its ability to provide an outstanding tournament experience. The complex will feature state-of-the-art technology including video streaming infrastructure, an automated lightning system, and digital signage. The fields will also serve as a nod to the city’s connection with Mississippi State University (MSU) as each outfield will be equipped with grass from the University’s Dudy Noble Field. The complex will also feature elevated spaces above the fields that will allow guests to look down on the action. These amenities are designed to set Cornerstone Park apart from regional competitors when seeking top-level events.
As a way to enhance Starkville’s investment in sports tourism, Mayor Spruill and city leaders also established a partnership with the Sports Facilities Companies (SFC), a sports tourism destination operator, that manages more than 20 sports tourism, recreation, and event properties, including the Hoover Met Complex in Alabama, Cedar Point Sports Center in Ohio, and Ballparks of America in Missouri. SFC will operate the complex with the goals of building and maintaining a destination brand, booking high-level events, maintaining operational efficiency, and driving financial performance.
“We thought it was important to bring in an experienced operator because we have not done this before. Community expectations are high, and we wanted to bring in a company with the professional capability to do it all, so we chose SFC. They will position Cornerstone for success right out of the gate,” said Spruill.
A Nod to the Past with an Eye Towards the Future
When guests enter Cornerstone Park’s plaza area they will be greeted by a statue honoring a Starkville icon. Starkville is the birthplace of the legendary James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell. Cool Papa Bell blazed the base pads of the Negro Leagues for 24 years as a pitcher, outfielder, and base running phenomenon. He was considered one of the fastest athletes to ever play the game, routinely earning doubles on ground balls. Cool Papa Bell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.