NewTown’s downtown development mirrors Columbus model

pramati@macon.comOctober 17, 2012 

As part of its plans to redevelop and grow downtown, NewTown Macon has always gotten inspiration from Columbus.

After all, Columbus replaced its crumbling, decrepit downtown with one that has become a model of urban redesign. And, as the first city and county to consolidate in the state, Columbus and Muscogee County could be an example as the process of unifying Macon and Bibb County begins.

At NewTown Macon’s annual meeting Wednesday afternoon, more than 100 community and business leaders listened to Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson talk about the measures her community took to create the thriving downtown of today.

The meeting was held inside the Poplar Street parking deck, which is adjacent to the Dannenberg Building revitalization project -- a symbol of the progress NewTown has been making as it wraps up its second five-year master plan.

“We’re indebted to NewTown for their leadership in implementing so many of these projects,” Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said. “They continue to lead the way for the redevelopment of downtown.”

Tomlinson said Macon has shown great progress, and is probably further along than most residents think.

“You’ve got the right parts here,” she said. “You can see the vibrancy. I saw the farmers market (on Mulberry Street) earlier, which shows that there is something there that people want to go to. It’s shopping in a new, hip way. When you have an eclectic, non-traditional experience, you see the people buy into it.”

Tomlinson noted several times that consolidation should help to speed revitalization along for a few reasons. Not only will the government be more streamlined in its operations and services, but having one government also produces less obstacles when it comes to attracting industry to an area.

Tomlinson said it took a while for Columbus to come together the way it is now. But $600 million worth of investment since 1983 -- including $153 million from public funds -- brought the city to where it is in the present.

“It takes a lot of fortitude,” she said. “You do indeed put your money where your mouth is. Getting people to live downtown is an essential part of revitalization.”

In other parts of the meeting Wednesday, Kristi Harpst of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission gave a presentation as to how NewTown’s next five-year plan will unfold, including focusing on a three-block area encompassing Second and Third streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in one direction and Cherry, Poplar and Plum streets in the other.

NewTown also presented an evaluation of the five-year plan that was just completed. NewTown exceeded its goal of netting 60 new businesses for downtown, bringing in more than 80 between 2007 and 2012. During that same period, it secured $125 million in investments by private developers, far exceeding the goal of $50 million, and restored 34 building facades, surpassing the goal of 20.

NewTown’s report said it is still in the process of adding 1,000 new residents to downtown, because the recession stalled development efforts. It’s also in the process of extending the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail to 15 miles and developing Amerson River Park.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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