Thirteen things to watch in 2013

A baker’s dozen for the coming year

jgaines@macon.comDecember 31, 2012 

One thing is certain about the new year. Like the old one, it’ll be full of surprises. Those, no one can predict. But the hazy outlines of 2013 are visible on the horizon, defined by events we know to expect: anticipated anniversaries, construction schedules, legal landmarks and firm plans. Here are 13 things to look forward to in the coming year. Some are happy, some sad, but all herald changes for Middle Georgia.

1. Middle Georgia College and Macon State College are expected to merge into one new entity, Middle Georgia State College, after a state Board of Regents vote Jan. 8.

That’s one of four such mergers statewide that got approval in December by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Work is under way with the help of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government to combine the schools’ employees. Some may have their pay frozen for a time, but none will take pay cuts.

2. Warner Robins police can look forward to a new home at the end of January. The long-awaited Warner Robins Law Enforcement Center is scheduled for completion Jan. 31, though landscaping and moving in $350,000 worth of furniture will remain to be done.

The two-story building contains about 40,500 square feet and will cost nearly $7 million. Most of the department’s 161 employees will work in the new building at 100 Watson Boulevard, which houses administration, records, patrol, K-9, evidence storage, investigations, criminalistics and traffic divisions.

3. Actor and comedian Jerry Seinfeld will bring his stand-up routine to Macon on Feb. 1, performing at the City Auditorium.

Best known for starring in the eponymous television series from 1989 to 1998, Seinfeld has spent the past 14 years acting, writing and returning to his stand-up comic roots.

Tickets went on sale at the Macon Centreplex Coliseum Box Office and through Ticketmaster this past November.

4. A restored Fort Hawkins should rise again over Macon, using some of the $750,000 voters allocated in a November 2011 sales tax referendum. Work is supposed to begin in 2013 on a recreated 10-foot-high log palisade, and a log visitors center fronting on Emery Highway. A former gas station on the visitors center site already has been torn down.

Despite a recent illness, project coordinator Marty Willett said he’s dedicated to celebrating Georgia Day at the fort Feb. 12. More archaeological work at the 1806 fort site will precede the palisade construction.

5. Wesleyan College moved to its current location in 1928, but its original building -- redubbed the Conservatory -- and adjacent Pierce Chapel remained on College Street.

Until Feb. 24, 1963. Then both structures, along with three nearby apartment buildings, burned down. That was 50 years ago, but an echo of the original Wesleyan remains: The College Street post office, now on the site, was built in a style echoing the Wesleyan building’s look.

6. The Shoppes at River Crossing will mark five years in business March 19. The open-air shopping center held its grand opening on that date in 2008, though Belk, Ulta and DSW didn’t open until October of that year.

General Manager Bill Baker said there are no specific plans as of yet for an anniversary celebration. Some new leases are being discussed, but those won’t be announced until the tenant agrees, he said.

7. President Larry Rivers will leave Fort Valley State University on June 30, after seven years in charge. He inherited budget challenges, declining enrollment, aging buildings and loss of accreditation for teacher training. But under Rivers, that accreditation was restored, enrollment grew by 80 percent, several buildings were renovated and new ones were built. A month before he announced his departure, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission lifted a year-old warning and reaffirmed the university’s accreditation.

8. Mercer University is scheduled to field a football team for the first time since 1941, and the Bears will play in a new 6,000-seat stadium. Mercer announced in November 2010 that it would reinstate football. Work on the $14 million facility next to the University Center and Claude Smith Field started in October 2011. Coach Bobby Lamb was hired in January 2012, and Mercer joined the Pioneer Football League in June. Tickets for eight home games went on sale in August, and the stadium is slated for completion in September 2013.

9. On Nov. 5, voters across Macon and Bibb County -- except for the small portion of Macon in Jones County, which will be de-annexed -- will elect a countywide mayor and nine new commissioners for the consolidated government that will take office in January 2014. Expect heavy campaigning for most of the year, since several possible contenders for the mayor’s office already have emerged, and up to seven of the commission districts could see battles between city and county incumbents.

10. Likewise, Warner Robins voters will choose a mayor and three of the six City Council seats, and many familiar names are likely to appear on the ballot. It’s possible that some of 2009’s candidates will run for mayor, and other names mentioned for mayor include current and former council members. Current council members could run for re-election, but it’s a wide-open race.

11. The case against Carmen Collins of Kathleen may go to trial early this year, according to Houston County District Attorney George Hartwig, though Collins’ defense attorney said he doesn’t expect it that soon.

Collins is charged with murder and arson in the July shooting of her 12-year-old sister, India Ja’Nai Collins. Police say after her house was set on fire, the teenager took the family dog and fled to Columbus, where her father’s .40-caliber handgun was found in a trash can outside a barbecue restaurant. Police say Collins used that gun to kill her sister. Houston County public defender Nick White said Collins denies killing her sister and did not leave willingly.

12. Houston County students can look forward to two new elementary schools and a stadium, which will be shared by Veterans and Houston County high schools, along with many renovations paid for with a $125 million education special purpose local option sales tax. Voters approved the tax in November 2011.

The rebuilding of C.B. Watson Primary School is to be finished in August. Another school, as yet unnamed, will be built on Langston Road. Current students of Perry Primary School will be among its users, while the existing Perry Primary School will be turned over to the city.

13. Despite deep suspicions from residents of Macon’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood that stem from half-century-old bad memories of Interstate 75’s construction, 2013 is the year the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to start buying more land in the neighborhood for highway widening. I-75 bisects Pleasant Hill, and the DOT proposes to buy and move up to 26 houses to now-vacant lots, renovate them at state expense, build two new parks, put up noise barriers and landscape surrounding streets. One of the houses is the childhood home of singer Little Richard Penniman, to be turned into a community resource center. Many of those sites aren’t needed for construction space, but the state plans to spend about $10 million in mitigating the impact of the interstate work. Actual construction isn’t scheduled to begin until 2018 at the earliest.

Telegraph writer Jenna Mink contributed to this story. Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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