Holder brings energy, experience to College Hill 2.0

pramati@macon.comFebruary 2, 2013 

It’s been just under a month since Heather Holder began work as the new executive director of the College Hill Alliance, and she’s had to hit the ground running.

There’s getting up to speed with the various stakeholders in the College Hill project, which began as a partnership between the city of Macon and Mercer University to improve the neighborhood between the college and downtown economically and aesthetically. The project has evolved into what has been dubbed “College Hill 2.0” after the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded a second grant that will run through the end of 2015.

As part of the grant, Holder and the College Hill staff spent much of last week working with JumpStart America, which the Knight Foundation has commissioned to help the midstate improve economically.

Holder, a Georgia College & State University graduate, has been working with various public-private partnerships in Macon and Milledgeville for the past 12 years, and she has partnered on projects with College Hill in the past. In Milledgeville, she was part of an initiative called Digital Bridges, which helps Baldwin County residents use advances in technology to help address the community’s problems.

“I was part of the (College Hill) master plan process, and I served on a steering committee,” she said. “I worked with College Hill when I was with Digital Bridges, so I’ve been aware of what’s happening. ... This was an opportunity to become involved again with Macon and to be a part of a project that has had unbelievable success.”

Part of Holder’s challenge is not only to maintain the alliance’s past successes, such as the Second Sunday concert series and the Soap Box Derby, but also to fulfill one of the project’s original goals: to attract and retain creative people by making the area more appealing.

“What’s next? How do we make sure we don’t stagnate? That’s what we’re going to continue to explore, to see how we can capitalize and maximize the potential that’s here and make it a really special place,” she said. “I think by the end of 2.0, the nation is going to know that this is a special place.”

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, who helped make the decision to hire Holder after former director Pat Madison resigned at the end of 2012, said she brings experience and vitality to her new job.

“That’s a hard combination to beat,” Reichert said. “She’s had success in Milledgeville that’s led to vitality and growth. She has drive and purpose that I think will serve us well.”

Holder served as director of Milledgeville’s Main Street program until 2008, when she was named president of NewTown Macon. Then she returned to Milledgeville, where she served as director of Digital Bridges, a partnership between Georgia College and the Knight Foundation.

Beverly Blake, program director for the Knight Foundation in Georgia, worked with Holder as part of Digital Bridges.

“Heather’s experience is broad,” Blake said. “She’s worked with local and state government and with the Main Street program. She understands the power of technology to build a community. She brings enthusiasm and she brings the perspective that people in the community know what’s best for the community. She’s done great work in Milledgeville in getting people to work together.”

Holder said one of the strengths of the College Hill program has been the community’s level of involvement, going back to the planning stages. During her time with NewTown, she said she saw the passion people have for various community projects.

“There’s a philanthropic climate here,” she said. “There’s a pride from the residents here. You can define people here from the organizations they support.

“We want to get people engaged. The challenge is organization. (The passion is) something that’s easy to take for granted in a community, but it’s an incredible asset for Macon.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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