Mixed-use Macon riverfront project long in planning

jgaines@macon.comNovember 17, 2012 

After more than two years of discussions and incremental progress, the final puzzle pieces for a major new development on the Macon riverfront appear to be falling into place.

The land, a wedge of nearly 12 acres along Riverside Drive between Spring Street Lane and Second Street, is almost ready. Its handover to the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority will start an 18-month clock for Renaissance on the River LLC to buy the site for about $1.16 million.

That development group proposes a mixed-use development to draw residents, visitors and new businesses to that corner of downtown, fronting the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

Alex Morrison, development authority executive director, said Kirby Godsey, a former Mercer University president and current chairman of Myers McRae Executive Research and Consulting, is the man behind Renaissance.

“Dr. Godsey is currently the sole member of the LLC,” Morrison said.

Once Renaissance on the River has a firm option on the land, Godsey can begin “selling” the project to private investors, Morrison said.

In a November 2011 e-mail, Godsey said the project was on schedule and that designers had been selected.

“The developers are in conversation with several potential funding partners, and major equity capital has been committed to the project,” he wrote.

Godsey did not return several calls seeking comment for this story. But state incorporation records and the real estate agreement, together with previous statements about the project, provide many details.

Renaissance on the River, formerly called New Town Builders LLC, formed Sept. 28, 2009, according to Georgia Secretary of State records. Its listed address is the same Mulberry Street office suite as Myers McRae.

The company’s registered agent is Kevin Brown, the Atlanta attorney who in late 2010 drew up the plan for three tax allocation districts in Macon -- one of which exactly covers the Renaissance on the River site.

Long-time goals

Talk of redeveloping the riverfront site dates back at least to 2002, growing as public functions like the city radio shop and Macon Transit Authority depot, and empty buildings such as the former Skipper’s restaurant building were cleared, Morrison said.

“There were several proposals for the site over the years, most of which involved some level of housing and development on the site,” he said. “This is easily the most ambitious project and the one that would have the most impact for the community once completed, because of the mixed-use nature of it.”

The development authority didn’t buy any of the land itself, but governments and the Peyton Anderson Foundation put the parcels together.

“It’s been a years-long process,” Morrison said.

The site was assembled from 11 parcels of land, with a quarter of it bought by the foundation and the rest already owned by Macon or Bibb County, he said. The Peyton Anderson Foundation paid about $1 million for 4 acres, and turned it over to the development authority with the understanding that the foundation would be reimbursed from the sale price.

Under the current arrangement, Morrison said, the development authority will keep 10 percent of the sale price, while the rest will be divided proportionately among the city, county and Peyton Anderson Foundation.

“The lion’s share would go to the city of Macon. They transferred to the authority 51 percent of the total area, Bibb County 28 percent and Peyton Anderson 21 percent,” he said. The agreed-upon sales price means the foundation would get back about one-quarter of its money.

A 2008 appraisal valued the land at $2.3 million, and an update in 2011 didn’t change that much, Morrison said.

Present plans

Godsey made the current proposal to the development authority in August 2010. Over the following few months projected costs ranged from $39 million to $60 million.

The most frequent version calls for $49 million in private money and $8.3 million in public infrastructure. The private investment would include $11 million for office buildings, $32 million for a hotel and residential buildings, and a $6 million parking deck.

On Nov. 20, the Macon City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution from Mayor Robert Reichert that would transfer the final portion of needed land -- the city Central Services headquarters at 801 Riverside Drive -- to the development authority. The attached real estate option agreement details the latest plans for the site and sets a timeline.

First would be construction and sale of condominiums and retail space. Phase 1 includes presale and preleasing of those by Sept. 30, 2013; and financing arranged for the rest by the end of 2013.

According to the agreement, Renaissance intends to build 24 condominiums, a 42-bed hotel, 100,000 square feet of office/commercial space, a parking deck/garage, a river club and about 142 apartment units over ground-floor retail space in Phase 2.

The condominiums would have to be occupied by June 30, 2015, and the apartments by Dec. 31, 2016. The project could be scaled back by as much as 20 percent without further approval by the development authority.

The agreement notes that there may be “petroleum-based environmental contamination” on the Central Services tract which would require cleanup, but the document says that’s the only known environmental problem.

The resolution’s passage would start the 18-month purchase option period, for which Renaissance on the River is paying $15,000, and which could be extended by six months at no extra charge. Developers could break the agreement if any problems make construction infeasible, but if work doesn’t begin by Nov. 10, 2013, the city would get the land back.

Initially, Godsey sought a 20-year tax abatement for the site. Instead, the city, county and school system approved a tax allocation district, or TAD. That allows any future increase in property tax revenue to be used in repaying the cost of new public infrastructure on the site. This month Morrison told Macon City Council that the TAD and the land sale for half its appraised value were the only development incentives for the project.

New city digs

The final property transfer means Central Services has to leave its home of 33 years. Last summer Reichert persuaded the council, after several months of trying, to buy the former Macon Transfer Co. building at 1000 Seventh St. for $672,500. The former furniture store is being refurbished as the new Central services headquarters.

Friday, the warehouse-style building had long since been cleared of couches and end tables, retaining only a few utilitarian tables and chairs. Instead, piles of building materials lay scattered on the concrete floor as Central Services workers hung wall board on metal wall studs, creating new office spaces.

“We’re doing everything possible in-house to save the city money,” Central Services Director Gene Simonds said.

An average of 12 Central Services employees, perhaps a quarter of the available workers from all seven of the department’s specialties, are at work on the building, he said. The Central Services HVAC shop made all the new ductwork, and division managers such as Neal Davis and David Perry are putting in wiring and plumbing.

Simonds said he will do all he can to be out of the old building by March 2013. That will leave the Public Works Department two months to tear down the old structure. Before then, Central Services crews will salvage all they can from the Riverside Drive site for use in the new building or elsewhere.

Public Works crews were very helpful in cleaning up the new site, and Macon architects BTBB drew up the renovation plans, Simonds said.

He and Perry said the new location itself should save money through convenience: the city’s Vehicle Maintenance Department and fuel station are across Bay Street, and several important parts suppliers are just down the street.

Renovation was estimated to cost $402,000, Simonds said. That’s far below the $1.5 million a newly constructed building would have cost, and workers are trying to shave off more.

“My objective is to stay well below that cost estimate,” he said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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