Early downtown Christmas present

December 22, 2013 

Macon-Bibb County received an early Christmas present Thursday when the 43,000-square-foot Georgia Sports Hall of Fame reverted from state to local ownership at a price that is exceeded by many single-family homes, $138,000. Thus comes to a close one of the most trying chapters this community has faced.

The state, in its wisdom, built two signature buildings -- the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame -- in the heart of downtown Macon. It then decided to get out of the museum business, but not before it financially choked the facilities and made it impossible for them to complete their missions.

After the state set up a bidding war between Macon and other Georgia cities, the authority supervising the process decided to close the music hall June 12, 2011. The sports hall remained open but under local control that paid rent to the state. Both properties reverted to the State Properties Commission and were deemed “surplus.”

At the time of the music hall’s closing, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said, “I’m just bewildered. After 24 hours, we’re still trying to get over the shellshock, frustration, disappointment and bewilderment (of the authority’s decision).” Because the music hall was a gateway to downtown, Reichert also said closing it was “like knocking the front tooth out of a smile.”

While the sports hall will remain a museum highlighting the careers of athletes originally from Georgia, the music hall building was purchased by Mercer University after the music museum’s exhibits were scattered to the wind by the state. Mercer will convert the music hall into a medical education facility.

The specter of two large buildings sitting empty has been avoided. One of the things the new consolidated government must try to do is beware of state government when it comes bearing gifts. It could actually be a Trojan horse. What the state gives, it can also take away, depending on the political winds blowing at the time.

All in all, things have worked out, not because the state had much to do with it, but because committed local leaders and individuals used their influence to assure the buildings would not hinder, but help, downtown revitalization. And that’s a Christmas present we can all enjoy.

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