A plan to put a $50 million development — anchored by a boutique hotel — between Riverside Drive and the Ocmulgee River would face a number of hefty hurdles.
The former Skipper’s restaurant building must be demolished, the city’s central services department must be relocated and the group proposing the development wants a 20-year tax abatement.
But the biggest thing keeping developers from having it their way might be a conflict with Burger King’s plans to expand and rebuild on Riverside Drive.
“They’ve got some real problems with that,” Chris Sheridan, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority’s properties committee, said at Tuesday’s committee meeting.
The authority owns the 8 acres between Rotary Park and the Burger King near Spring Street. The restaurant’s owner, Schuster Enterprises of Columbus, has been in talks with the authority about acquiring a small parcel for expansion.
The developers group, led by former Mercer University President Kirby Godsey, has asked for an 18-month option on the entire property. Authority Chairman Bob Lewis has suggested that Schuster build a more upscale Burger King, similar to a two-story version in Columbus, that might fit in with the development.
Sheridan, who met recently with Godsey’s group, said, “Their response was to put it across the street where the old tire place was.”
The authority voted Aug. 26 to support the concept, called “Renaissance on the River,” while reserving the right to negotiate details. However, some members Tuesday expressed reluctance about moving forward at Burger King’s expense.
“I’ve got a real problem in doing something that might stymie their growth for something that may or may not happen,” Lewis said. “We need to show this corporate citizen who’s been here all these years as much consideration as we do anybody else, or more.”
Authority member Ed Grant wondered if the authority is “dealing with a 500-pound gorilla who’s going to come in here and take complete control.”
Grant said the Godsey-led group has “the wherewithal to make things happen” but warned “the devil’s going to be in the details.”
The city has tentatively agreed to demolish the old Skipper’s building, with the authority disposing of the rubble.
However, that process might become more complicated than expected due to asbestos contamination in the building.
Tom Driver of Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants said Tuesday that earlier tests showed asbestos in floor components and more tests likely were needed before the structure is knocked down.
There’s also a question of whether the authority must clear the demolition with zoning officials. The structure was built in 1907 and in the 1930s became home to the Macon Little Theatre. Authority member Maryel Battin, who’s also a local historian, suggested the building might be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, which would complicate having it demolished.
The Peyton Anderson Foundation donated parts of the property, Battin said, so it would have to sign off on any deal to develop it.
“We’ll need a list of exactly what we have in it or what we have to pay back to determine a purchase price,” she said.
The property already is being enhanced a bit by an unrelated sidewalk renovation by the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, and the authority plans to take down the Skipper building regardless of whether the hotel plan moves forward.
“It’s been a haven for the homeless for at least 10 years,” Lewis said.
Sam Henderson, executive assistant to Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, told the committee the city is still agreeable to demolishing the building.
“It’s a matter of figuring out where we get the money from,” he said.
Henderson also passed on the mayor’s request that the authority consider floating a bond issue to pay for a new home for central services. The city, he said, has explored the possibility of moving central services into the former driver’s license office in Central City Park.
Henderson said vehicles, equipment and supplies would be stored off-site, but the idea still failed to generate much enthusiasm from the committee.
“Ideally, Central City Park would go back to being a park one day,” said Sheridan.
The demolition of the central services and Skipper’s buildings are among the requests the hotel group has made to the authority as part of its plan to build the development. Others include the 20-year tax abatement on the entire project, infrastructure improvements and a favorable purchase price.
The group wants an 18-month option to buy the property, where it would build the development in phases. The first phase would include a boutique hotel with deluxe rooms, 24 upscale condominium units, 12,000 square feet of office space, commercial space and a restaurant and lounge — the River Club — on the top floor.
The second and third phases would take an estimated 10 years and involve other developers, with the group retaining design control as master developers. It would include mixed-use development with as many as 230 residential units.
To contact writer Rodney Manley, contact 744-4623.