Jay Carroll says he and his wife, Mary Katherine, are downtown rats.
About two years ago, they moved into a loft on the second floor of the Newberry Building at the corner of Cherry and Third streets.
I love living downtown, Carroll said Tuesday after walking out of the building, which tenants share with Market City Cafe. I like everything being in walking distance that we like to do.
Carroll and the thousand or so households in downtown Macon are poised to welcome a few hundred new neighbors in the coming years.
Speaking to a group of Macon Rotary Club members Monday, leaders of NewTown Macon pleaded with business owners to invest in the residential boom so they can keep up with and capitalize on the demand for housing downtown.
My job is to convince one of you to build a project downtown, Mike Ford, NewTowns CEO, told the group. Were highly confident these projects will work.
With the demand for residential units downtown at an all-time high, Ford told potential investors their returns would be high.
Dannenberg coming to life
Contractors started working in the Dannenberg building at the corner of Third and Poplar streets last year, transforming the old department store -- one of the Southeasts largest retailers at one time -- into 69 lofts and retail space.
The first 20 units should be available for rent as early as March, with the remainder ready by midsummer, NewTown officials said.
The Dannenberg has been called the keystone project of NewTowns Phase III downtown revitalization plan, which focuses on a block-by-block strategy to transform the area. A portion of the plan calls for adding 125 new apartments downtown over the next five years.
To help fund the Dannenberg project and others, NewTown joined forces with the Development Authority of Bibb County, issuing $5 million in bonds backed by the county for gap equity funds.
This public-private partnership, coupled with demand, makes investing in downtown Macon properties a sweet deal, Ford said.
Why do we think an investment (downtown) is a good idea? Ford asked Rotary Club members. Returns are great with tax incentives.
Carroll said living downtown couldnt be more convenient. He said he doesnt even need a car.
He does most of his grocery shopping at the Mulberry Street Market.
Every Wednesday, we buy our in-season vegetables, free range chicken, free range eggs, beef, dairy. ... Another lady sells breads. J&Ls (IGA) Market is down the street. ... I dont have a car. I pretty much walk everywhere. Im a regular at the (Golden Bough) bookstore, the library, Washington Park. ... We walk out of our lobby and were in Market City Cafe. Live music at the Hummingbird, and we go to all the live shows at the Cox Capitol Theatre.
Trouble keeping up with demand
For all the people who want to live in downtown Macon, there are not enough properties ready to accommodate them.
A NewTown study last year estimated that 235 residential units could be developed in downtown Macon for each of the next five years and that number still wouldnt keep up with the demand.
That study sounds spot on to Bryan Nichols of Nichols Investment Group, owner of several properties in and around downtown.
Earlier this week, he had contractors working feverishly at 546 Poplar St. in the former Bright Blue Sky Productions office. Hes putting in a coffee shop and art gallery on the first level and four lofts upstairs.
I just got a call from a lady who was willing to start paying rent on an apartment thats not available yet, he said over the sounds of workers drilling and other loud machinery. Im already receiving applications for building space, which he anticipates should be ready by summer.
During the last few years, Nichols refurbished rental properties on Arlington Place and all rented before we finished.
I just rented an unfinished duplex yesterday, he said.
As much as I own down here, I keep thinking itll change, hit a peak, but it hasnt slowed down. ... Theres demand in all price ranges, ... $500 (a month) to $1,200
Aubrey Newby of Damaste Real Estate, which owns downtown rental properties, has had no problems finding tenants.
Our properties stay full, he said. Were 100 percent occupied and if something comes available, after two showings, its rented.
Damaste owns the Newberry Building and the Myers Building on First Street.
Im sure most of you in here remember a time when downtown was the place to shop, David Lanier, regional president of BB&T and NewTowns chair of resource development, told the Rotary Club members.
The boom times of years past went bust with the advent of malls and big box shopping centers in the 1970s and 80s, but the pendulum is swinging back -- with force -- to downtown, he said.
When I look at Macon, I see an opportunity to turn a downtown thats gone sour to a place thats vibrant.
To contact writer Harold Goodridge, call 744-4382.