Elsie Resurrected

A Starkville developer transforms an old milk processing plant into a hip multi-use commercial and residential complex

Story Birney Imes | Photographs Matt Garner

When he was working as a Starkville banker, Jeremy Tabor would drive by the old Borden’s Milk processing plant and let his imagination roam.

The building has an illustrious history. Its 1926 opening precipated a two-day citywide celebration that included a parade and speechmaking. The plant proved to be a boon to Oktibbeha County dairy farming; at its peak it served more than 1,250 farms.

“It didn’t matter if you just had a couple cows tied to a tree; in those days everybody had dairy cows and you had a milk can on the side of the road,” said former Oktibbeha Extension Director Ed Williams.

Times change. A neighborhood that had once been loud with the clanging of milk cans and laughter of farmers waiting to off-load their milk was now chockablock with student housing. The plant had outlived its usefulness. It closed in 2005 and for three or four years the building sat empty, a four-acre eyesore at the corner of Lampkin and South Montgomery streets.

“I was curious what could happen here,” said Tabor. “I felt we could do something visually that Starkville hadn’t seen.”

Tabor had built some spec houses and renovated apartments, but had never undertaken a project of this magnitude. He called one of his hometown mentors for advice, Dan Curran in Louisville. Curran liked the idea and agreed to become a partner.

With the help of architect Chris Cosper, designer Lyndsey Miller, and a $4.5-million budget, the developers transformed a 40,000-square-foot, block-long industrial site into a stylish jigsaw puzzle of retail stores, loft condominiums, office suites, a restaurant and a climate-controlled storage facility. They would call the project Central Station.

The building’s former self is evident throughout the complex. The developers preserved the massive paint-flecked ceiling trusses, made liberal use of reclaimed wood and, where feasible, retained existing structural features.

First-time visitors to Something Southern, a home decorating boutique, are stunned by the store’s soaring two-story entrance, said Kate Russell, an interior decorator there. Exposed pipes and the remains of a freight elevator that were part of the plant’s canning area now accompany bedroom suites and living room ensembles on the store’s mezzanine.

The walls along the hall leading to the building’s six townhouse condominiums offer residents a layering of surfaces that include green tile, painted-over brick and fragments of disused plumbing. Cargo loading ramps below offer convenient access to Boardtown Bikes, the complex’s other retail store.

“Each part of the building had a different function,” said Tabor. “The Grill (restaurant) was the boiler room. The design shop (Bluefish Design Studio) was part of the dry goods area.”

Bluefish owner Melissa Dixon said the building’s energy meshes well with her business. “Our team loves working in the Lofts,” she said. “The space is funky and fun, which is a good fit for our creative business.”

Perhaps Jeremy Tabor’s vision for the Central Station can be best visualized at the street-level entrance to Tabor Lofts. There, just inside the glass doors, on walls covered with heart pine and illuminated by track lighting, are enlarged postcards and oversized black and white photographs of the plant in its heyday. Workers in white overalls stand next to conveyor belts and stainless steel vats of milk, their presence a testament to this imaginative fusion of past and present.