Warner Robins RDA approves study for revitalization of Watson Boulevard’s east end

chwright@macon.comJune 10, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- The Redevelopment Agency board approved a $17,500 study Monday that will give a detailed plan on how to revitalize the east end of Watson Boulevard.

The board voted unanimously for the study at a meeting where they also received updates on beautification and drainage plans for a quarter of Commercial Circle. Those plans have sparked interest from community members, including a local entrepreneur and the Fine Arts Society of Middle Georgia.

“Warner Robins is at a tipping point,” said Peter Rice, a member of the Fine Arts Society. “It can either go back to where it was, or it can be a vision of the future.”

For the study, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia will combine three overlapping plans from the past five years, interview City Council and community members, hold a half-day planning session and develop an implementation plan for what leaders want to be the city’s downtown area. It will take about six months to complete.

RDA Executive Director Gary Lee said this plan will provide a more comprehensive strategy than the others. It also will give a road map for elected officials to follow even when there is a change of guard.

“We’re going to put the pieces in place for it to happen, but it’s up to our politicians to help make it happen,” he said.

Meanwhile, improvements to the southeast quadrant of Commercial Circle are closer to beginning, said City Engineer Walter Gray. The initial plans were to improve storm drainage, but officials decided to also include wider sidewalks, decorative lighting and landscaping.

Gray told the board he needs to bid a couple contracts and finish right-of-way acquisitions. He said in May work could begin this summer. Most will be done in-house to control costs in the $150,000 budget.

“This is the closest I’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel in a long time,” Gray told the board Monday.

The improvements have been on the table for a few years, but Mayor Chuck Shaheen recently named them a priority. Lee said the city is serious about finally revitalizing the area, and he wants residents to know it’s now more than just talk.

“The same thing for the law enforcement center. It was talk. But now, it’s happened,” Lee said. “We want to focus on this area and actually start finishing things.”

Because of the movement, resident Taylor Alderman said she has planned to open an upscale gelateria, which would sell an Italian frozen treat called gelato, in Commercial Circle once the improvements are finished. She said the upgrades aimed at making Commercial Circle more pedestrian friendly are key to her concept because she wants it to be a social atmosphere.

Alderman said she’s confident the improvements are imminent.

“I can speak to the last two or three months, and I’ve seen major progress as far as getting things moving,” she said.

Andy Alley, a member of the Fine Arts Society of Middle Georgia, said the organization came up with an idea just last week to build a cultural center, which would include a museum, gallery and studio. The organization was founded 13 years ago but has no physical location, Alley said.

“We would love to be part of this,” Alley said. “They have some wonderful plans and drawings.”

RDA Chairman Randy Meade asked the group to come back next month with a business plan.

Lee said the interest in the area is inspiring.

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

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