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feature units each. His signature style includes mixed-used housing units Dan Camp cites a unique, rental-based that pack student dwellings above local boutiques and restaurants business model and ripe, workable for a true taste of downtown living in rural Mississippi. “Anything neighborhood as the two primary that looks good over here, we did it,” Camp says. reasons that the recession never visited Camp’s easily recognizable work is a far cry from the ranchhis stomping grounds of Starkville, style architecture that once dominated the surrounding area. His Mississippi. “We don’t play with the same architecture consists of classical, French-style housing that blends set of drums as everybody else in the the best of design from New Orleans, Vicksburg and whatever else business,” Camp says. has caught his eye in foreign locales over his years of traveling. Camp, the visionary behind the Many of his buildings, he says, are geared toward implementing sprawling student entertainment district known as the Cotton his own slice of Belgium’s renowned capital of District, created what has become known to Bruges in the heart of the Magnolia State. locals as a walkable sensation in the small And Camp does it all with no formal training. college town. “For students, it means you won’t While he doesn’t pack the professional get put in the pokey after you’ve had a few,” he architectural expertise of his contemporaries, says, in acknowledgement of the area’s thriving his skills are sought after from as far as nightlife. Harvard University and Belgium, where he Camp says he doesn’t understand the “gotta has delivered lectures on his unique, NOLAsell” mentality that most developers operate meets-Vicksburg style of architecture. Casual, within. According to Camp, houses are often candid and cavalier, Camp’s attitude is highly poor investments and difficult to obtain an atypical of the consummate salesman and he shows no signs of efficient return on investment for months of work. stopping. “I figured out 40-something years ago that there are much “We’re working on some things around here that’ll blow your better ways to do it,” Camp says. “And the major difference with mind, including a hotel going up that my sons have recently us being that this operation has always had positive cash flow — designed. In fact, I’ve requested that we import some hot Latin cash is always the answer.” females from Puerto Rico to work as maids,” he says with a wry The Cotton District employs an own-to-rent strategy in lieu of grin. traditional methods to maintain a steady cash flow. This method Among his most recognizable works is the Rue Du Grand of passive income has carried Camp throughout the years and has Fromage, the District’s “Big Cheese” — a towering classical-style served as a safeguard of sorts against the swelling housing bubble structure that welcomes in the time leading up visitors to the many to the recession. To shops and restaurants Camp, the advantages of of the area. From the owning the properties he overall appearance of works on far outweigh the buildings to the the extra hours he puts foundation below, in maintaining the Camp’s work is highly buildings. In fact, he recognizable and revels in it. “This is the uniquely his own. He only venue of its kind,” uses wood foundations he says. “And I couldn’t instead of traditional imagine any other place concrete and has I’d rather live than right established a way to in the middle of it all.” work faster and more As former mayor of efficiently on the Starkville and owner of less-stable soil of the 90 percent of buildings land. “Of course, they in the Cotton District, thought I was nuts at the 71-year-old developer first. Eventually, they has seen the best and Dan Camp's historic Cotton District neighborhood in Starkville. quit saying I was crazy worst of the industry in and began to copy my work,” he says. “If it’s good enough for the his years in the business. A self-made man in every sense of the beach, it’s good enough for us.” word, Camp’s success in the field of urban renewal comes as the However, Camp acknowledges that his model may not be suited result of 50 years of trial and perseverance. “The area I originally for fast-growing metropolitan communities like Olive Branch. worked with was so terrible, you would be shocked that it wasn’t His work fills a niche for a very specialized market, something included in any city government plan,” he says. “I guess, in some that developers have tried to emulate in burgeoning college ways, I did the community a little favor.” towns across the country. While much of Camp’s success can Deep in the heart of Bulldog territory, MSU students clamor for a be attributed to his architectural style and business model, he spot in the Cotton District, with nearly a 99 percent occupancy rate maintains that every dime he’s earned has come through following year round. Camp’s successful model can partially be attributed to the sage advice of his mother: “Never sell anything, never have a the fact that the Southern U.S. tends to have more renters than partner and always include a washer and dryer,” he says. “Mother other regions, especially in college locales. Each of Camp’s 90 was right.” buildings in the Cotton District packs anywhere from one to 18



CAMP | JULY 2013 91

Five that Survived the Crash  
Five that Survived the Crash