Penniman house, other Pleasant Hill work ongoing

State plans many moves, improvements in neighborhood

jgaines@macon.comJanuary 17, 2014 

Pleasant_Hill

The childhood home of Little Richard Penniman in Macon’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood is surrounded by a fence put up by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

WOODY MARSHALL — wmarshall@macon.com Buy Photo

The plan to move the childhood home of rock music pioneer Little Richard Penniman and turn it into a community resource center in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood should be underway within two months.

“Everything’s just moving along according to the schedule,” said Clinton Ford, the project’s manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The roof of the 94-year-old house at 1540 Fifth Ave. West has been covered, and the house is fenced off. Meanwhile, state experts have assessed the property for renovation, Ford said.

“We’ve actually owned the Little Richard house since the middle of last year,” he said.

Purchase of the former rental house was announced around the time Penniman got an honorary doctorate from Mercer University last May, Ford said.

Once the house is moved four blocks to a new park on Craft Street, across Interstate 75 from its current location, the renovated house likely will be turned over to the Macon-Bibb County government, Ford said.

Penniman was born in Macon in 1932 and lived for a while in the two-bedroom house. He started his music career in a family gospel group and later had a record contract lined up when his father was slain, so he returned to Macon to support his family, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Eventually he returned to the stage in Macon, and in 1955 released his breakthrough hit “Tutti Frutti.”

State transportation officials acknowledge that many residents of the Pleasant Hill neighborhood had cause for anger half a century ago when Interstate 75 split their community.

But in the ongoing widening project for interstates 16 and 75 through Macon, planners say they not only want to be as sensitive as possible to the affected communities but also are planning to spend $10 million on improvements in Pleasant Hill as partial amends for the earlier damage.

Moving Penniman’s house is part of that, but 26 more houses also have been bought by the state, Ford said. For now, like Penniman’s former home, they’ve been fenced off and covered in plastic, he said.

Six owner-occupants were eligible to be moved out of those houses, with the state paying their rent elsewhere until the houses are fully refurbished, at which point the owners could move back in if they choose, said Jeff Dickerson of Enviro-Resolution, a firm working with the state to plan the mitigation.

The other 20 houses were rental properties. Those were to be bought outright, Dickerson said. All 26 were also to be moved to new sites. That’s still on tap, but the state must do environmental assessments of the now-empty lots -- farther from the highway -- to which the houses may move, Ford said. Federal rules prevent the state from approaching the landowners until that assessment is done, he said.

“The next major step would be actually starting to relocate the houses,” Ford said.

Design work on the park where Penniman’s house will be located is “probably 90 percent complete,” Ford said. Design on another park -- to be named for Jefferson Long, a Pleasant Hill resident and the first black congressman from Georgia -- is about half done, as are designs for streetside improvements and landscaping on several blocks, Ford said.

Other work in the neighborhood includes replacing a chain-link fence with solid sound and sight buffers, Dickerson said. The pedestrian bridge over the interstate will be rebuilt, with better lighting and without its sharp corners, and an open culvert will be covered, he said.

A small group from the neighborhood has been working on design details for the noise barrier, Ford said. A proposed final design should be ready soon.

“We’re planning to try to meet back with the community -- it’ll probably be early February -- about the noise wall,” he said.

Construction on the interstate isn’t scheduled to begin until 2018 at the earliest.

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