Work on Commercial Circle will improve drainage, change aesthetics

chwright@macon.comMay 19, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Tony Robbins, a Commercial Circle property owner, can’t stand the rain. And his buildings don’t weather the storm.

But work to alleviate storm drainage problems in the area may soon be underway, along with a tweak to Commercial Circle’s appearance.

“Suffice to say, I eagerly look forward to the water going someplace else other than the offices inside my building,” said Robbins, also a member of the Downtown Development Authority.

Warner Robins officials say they are finalizing plans on Commercial Circle that could be the beginning of turning the area around. Robbins and his fellow business owners said it’s long overdue.

“I am personally taking this on because the people want it,” said Mayor Chuck Shaheen. “I’ve told (city staffers) that now that the (law enforcement center) is done, we need to start working on Commercial Circle.”

The southeast quadrant of the circle will have stormwater redirected to Watson Boulevard, power lines installed underground, wider sidewalks, trees and new lighting.

Walter Gray, city engineer, said work may begin this summer.

“It started off to improve drainage, which it will definitely do,” Gray said. “But at the same time as improving drainage, we said let’s go ahead and clean it up and make it more pleasing for pedestrian use.”

Robbins, who owns four buildings in the area, knows all too well the need to first correct drainage problems. He has battled the waters from heavy rains since the 1970s. In 2011, Robbins requested the city pay $20,000 for flood damages to his building because it had failed for so long to correct the problem. City Attorney Jim Elliott said the city’s insurer approved $18,000.

“At least it’s on the table to be fixed,” Robbins said. “It’s something that has been on the drawing table for a long time.”

Robbins said flooding hasn’t been as bad in the past year after the city cleaned heavy trash from the storm pipes, but it still needs the upgrades.

A few years ago, City Council approved $150,000 for work on Commercial Circle, which will be used for the project.

Right-of-way acquisitions and planning have delayed the project, Gray said.

“There’s one designing engineer down here working on things, and that’s me,” he said. “And majority of my work is not design. Majority of my work is other things. I do as much as I can when I can.”

Gray said the Margie Drive widening, Willie Lee Parkway extension and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard roundabouts have all needed his attention.

Now, though, Commercial Circle is priority number one.

Gray said he needs only one more week of dedicated time to the plans, and the Georgia Department of Transportation must approve work for the drainage on Watson Boulevard, which is a state highway. Then, the city’s Public Works Department can schedule the project.

Still, the upgrades will only be to a fraction of what city officials hope to one day be Warner Robins’ downtown area.

“Warner Robins ... was built in more of a strip manner (and) never really took on the downtown look of so many communities,” Gray said.

He said the work will start reenergizing Commercial Circle to “make it look attractive to developers, so they’ll want to come down here and reinvest in this area.”

Several plans for Commercial Circle have been done over the past decade. But all call for outside funding, through grants and developers.

Ken McCall, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority and owner of McCall’s restaurant in Commercial Circle, agreed financing is hard to come by.

He’d like to ask questions about how the wider sidewalks will affect parking and see what the fixtures, such as lighting, will look like. But he is happy to hear changes are coming soon.

“If the city can do it in stages like they’re doing to improve the different areas as they can, it seems like a pretty good plan to me,” McCall said. “Baby steps.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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