Frank Amerson, longtime Macon Water Authority board chairman who is credited with turning around the authoritys dire finances and helping to bring countless industries to Bibb County, died Friday night from surgery complications. He was 83.
Amerson, who served as the authoritys chairman for more than 35 years, died at The Medical Center of Central Georgia.
This is a great loss, said authority board member Frank Patterson. He put a lot of his heart and soul into the Water Authority. When he first got there, (the authority) was almost bankrupt. (Now) it has become one of the best water authorities in the Southeast.
County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, the authoritys attorney, said Amersons vision and determination made the difference.
I think our community has lost the closest thing we have to an indispensable community leader. The deals he thought of and worked hard to make happen had a great impact on this community, Edwards said. He was better at putting deals together when he was asleep than other people when they are wide awake. He knew how to use his position to get things done.
Although Amerson was hard as nails ... and came off with a rough, tough exterior, Edwards said, underneath that tough exterior was a heart wanting to do good for this community.
Tony Rojas, the authoritys executive director, called Amerson a visionary who hit upon the idea of the authority building a large water reservoir as early as 1988. The $15 million reservoir project in Jones County was completed in 1994.
Some people thought he was crazy, Rojas said, but now other cities are envious of the MWA reservoir that would now cost about $150 million and take 15 years to complete.
After the Flood of 1994 overwhelmed the authoritys ability to deliver clean water to authority customers, Amerson helped the authority get about $100 million in federal and state money that was paired with $15 million in local funds to build a new water treatment plant next to the reservoir, Rojas said.
Other than the Macon Water Authority, economic development was among Amersons biggest passions.
In 1998, Amerson worked with the state Legislature on a charter change that would allow the authority to contribute $704,000 a year for 25 years into a special fund used to pay for infrastructure at industrial sites. That fund paid for the I-75 Business Park, home to Sara Lees distribution center and a soon-to-arrive 650,000-square-foot Tractor Supply Co. distribution center, Rojas said.
The main road at the I-75 Business Park is named for Amerson, as well as Amerson River Park, formerly known as Amerson Water Works Park. It was but one of the accolades he received in recent years. In January, he was named Citizen of the Year by the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce.
Amerson, who also was responsible for developing Sofkee Industrial Park, served as chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority from 2005 until he resigned from that post in 2008 but remained a voting authority member. At the time of his death, he was the authoritys vice chairman.
He was strong-willed and had a good vision, but he knew you couldnt do anything without others working with you, Rojas said.
In his younger years, Amerson was a giant in local development, building such downtown Macon landmarks as the Fickling Building, the Bank of America building and the Wells Fargo building, Rojas said.
He was all business, Rojas said. He would tell you that he never made a political decision in his life. All his decisions were business.
Cliffard Whitby, current chairman of the Industrial Authority, said he has lost a great ally and a great friend.
Many people dont know the sacrifices he made for what he thought was the best thing for our community, Whitby said. The whole community should know that we lost a giant here.
Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen, who served for about a year and a half with Amerson on the water authority board a little more than a decade ago, said Amerson could be firm and loved to debate.
You could not ask for a better guy, Allen said. You might not always agree with him, but he always gave you something to think about.
Amerson is survived by his wife, Mary; two sons, Carl and Steve; and several grandchildren.
Telegraph Executive Editor Sherrie Marshall contributed to this report. To contact writer Andy M. Drury, call 744-4477.