Downtown designers talk plans for Macon’s core

Comments still wanted on public presentations

jgaines@macon.comFebruary 6, 2014 

Two urban design firms, each backed by a line of potential subcontractors, showed off their respective ideas for creating a new master plan for Macon’s urban core Thursday night.

More than 100 people, many of them downtown residents or business owners, filled the theater at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame to hear representatives from K2 Urban Design of Savannah and Interface Studio from Philadelphia.

Both firms agreed that Macon’s downtown has plenty of potential, with heavy infrastructure, historic buildings and lots of interested parties, but they said it’s time to do something to connect all those assets.

Chris Sheridan, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority -- which is sponsoring the plan, with $450,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Peyton Anderson Foundation -- said the plan that emerges from the chosen firm will serve as a guide for the UDA and other groups for the next five years.

“This is not going to be something that sits on the shelf,” he said.

Both firms have done similar planning work in other cities of about Macon’s size, and have either worked here or are partnering with local firms.

Kevin Klinkenberg of K2 said many plans have been developed for the downtown area, some of them overlapping, in the past few years. His firm’s role would be to get local groups working in concert, with local development policies amended to spur connections, he said.

Others associated with K2 said they’d aim to draw the widest possible public involvement, using events such as street fairs to draw people who wouldn’t normally participate.

Klinkenberg said K2 would use an experimental approach, trying things like temporary street closings to test design ideas and holding public workshops to gauge approval.

Scott Page of Interface said his team would cover urban design, transportation, public outreach and other vital points, but would tailor its approach to Macon.

“We don’t bring a ‘canned’ approach,” he said.

The urban core has made encouraging strides in recent years, but many people are frustrated with its slow pace, Page said. That can be increased by tying together people and places where improvements already are happening, he said.

Interface team members talked about revising longstanding ideas on urban parking and the importance of taking economically feasible small steps to reach ambitious goals.

Alex Morrison, UDA executive director, said the winning firm will be announced this month, starting a yearlong planning process.

The presentations will be posted at www.maconbibbuda.com for future viewing and public comment, he said. The UDA also wants ideas about what people want to see in a downtown planning process, Morrison said.

Those social media comments should carry the hashtag #maconurbancore, he said.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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