Macon shows off downtown improvements to visitors

pramati@macon.comApril 3, 2013 

Despite Wednesday’s dreary weather, the light shined brightly on Macon as leaders from across Georgia got a firsthand look at the city’s progress downtown.

The Georgia Municipal Association and the Georgia Cities Foundation are rolling the annual Heart & Soul bus tour through nine Georgia cities, including Macon and Milledgeville, through Friday. Those taking the tour included state agency executives, economic development professionals, business leaders, downtown developers and philanthropists, who are getting a chance to see cities that are revitalizing and developing their downtowns.

After starting in Eatonton, the tour traveled through Milledgeville and arrived in Macon during the afternoon. Tour members stayed the night before heading to Hawkinsville on Thursday morning.

After an initial stop at the Ocmulgee National Monument, tour members got a look at Mercer University’s new football/lacrosse stadium now under construction. Mayor Robert Reichert and Mercer Senior Vice President Larry Brumley said it was an opportunity to show the college’s involvement with the city through initiatives such as the College Hill Alliance.

Brumley said the school’s revived football program has drawn so much interest from the community that what was originally going to be a 4,000-seat stadium was expanded to 7,450 permanent seats to meet ticket demand. Reichert also told those in attendance about the success of Mercer’s Robert McDuffie Center for Strings.

“In addition to football, we’ve got culture, y’all!” Reichert said, drawing laughs.

After passing through Mercer Village, tour members learned about plans to renovate the Dannenberg building downtown.

“It’s big having (the tour) here,” Reichert said. “It’s exciting. These are economic development people. These are people who are well-connected in the state, so it’s a thrill and a delight to have them here.

“It’s a chance to showcase Macon. We hope to have people better informed about the opportunities we have in Macon.”

Mike Starr, president of the Georgia Cities Foundation, said the cities selected for the tour are those that have drawn attention for the progress they are making in developing their downtowns.

“We try to get cities that are on the cusp of big changes,” he said.

Though Macon is going through consolidation with Bibb County, Starr said that wasn’t a focus of the tour. More interesting to the group is the recent surge in movies being filmed here, including “42,” which will be released nationwide next weekend, and “Need For Speed,” which begins filming in Macon later this month.

Billy Parrish, a downtown development consultant from Dunwoody, said he’s been impressed with the changes made in Macon over the years, including increased loft development in downtown.

“It’s impressive and timely,” he said. “The market for city living in cities of all sizes has never been hotter. Macon is one of Georgia’s finest cities. What makes an impression is the holistic approach (in development) with College Hill, Historic Macon, NewTown, (and) Main Street Macon, and Macon’s overall energy -- so many things are coming together. ... You have great leadership at the public level, and now the private sector is stepping up.”

After Hawkinsville, the tour will continue through Columbus, West Point, LaGrange, Newnan and Carrollton.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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