A proposal to enlarge and improve the park across the street from Macon City Hall is quickly running into trouble -- not for its physical changes, but for the suggestion of renaming Rosa Parks Square as Macon Civic Plaza.
The ordinance, submitted by Mayor Robert Reichert and headed for discussion in the City Council’s Appropriations Committee, would do several things: accept a $10,000 donation from State Bank, approve a tentative design which would use that money and more, and change the name.
The last part drew immediate criticism from the council. Councilmen Ed DeFore and Henry Ficklin noted that the square was once named for Ozzie Bell McKay, a local civic volunteer who died in November of 2004. It was renamed in March 2007 for Rosa Parks, a civil rights hero who died in October of 2005.
Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said she wants to hear the whole proposal, with details of the plan and cost. But she already is opposed to changing the park’s name and focus.
“I’m in favor of the name remaining Rosa Parks Square,” she said. “We even went to the extent of getting the (McKay) family’s permission to rename it for the civil rights icon.”
The grassy square at the corner of First and Poplar streets is diagonally bisected by a brick walkway. It’s bordered by two small parking lots: one between it and an empty building at 745 Poplar St., and the other between the park and City Auditorium.
The park is already home to a number of small monuments.
A stone marker in one corner of the park, from 1982, recognizes McKay’s volunteer efforts and “countless contributions to the citizens of Macon.” Nearby, a large marker from 2003 memorializes the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 visit to Macon. Beneath a flagpole stands a stone engraved with “Medal of Honor,” for Marine Sgt. Rodney M. Davis.
Next to the Poplar Street sidewalk is a stone bench announcing “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans.”
Halfway down the brick path is a plaque on stone commemorating Rosa Parks. A bit further is a similar stone for Dr. DeWitt Talmage Walton Jr., a local dentist, activist and philanthropist who died in 2007. Finally, a small plaque on the ground next to a tree -- planted on Arbor Day in 2002 -- memorializes Maj. W. Cole Hogan Jr., killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Keith Moffett, the city’s Internal Affairs director, said since the park already contains monuments to several different people, Reichert envisions the “civic plaza” as including sections for many individuals, including room for Parks and future honorees.
State Bank’s donation is not contingent on the name change, Moffett said. The bank just wants to be part of the project.
The current project would remove the two small parking lots and grade that land, to “kick-start” further changes, said Chris Floore, city director of External Affairs.
“We’re roughly doubling the size of the park,” he said. That will cost about $16,000: the $10,000 from State Bank, and the rest from the city’s Public Works Department budget, Floore said.
The building next to the park has been bought by a group of doctors, who swapped their lot next to the park for space behind their own building, Moffett said. The doctors plan to build a two-level parking deck behind their building, leaving the city free to remove the two small surface lots next to the park, he said.
Floore said there’s no cost estimate for the major changes shown in the concept drawing.
“That’s kind of the big vision,” he said. “It’s not a final plan.”
The main idea is to enlarge and improve a park in the center of downtown, so the proposed renaming is open for discussion, Floore said.
“It can be amended and changed,” he said. “We certainly want to work with council on that.”
And that change will surely come up, Councilman Charles Jones said. He thinks the ordinance also will have to go through the council’s Community Resources and Development Committee, and he’s sure the name change has no future there, however favorably the council might look upon other parts of the plan.
“If it is up for a vote, I’m certain when the vote is cast, it would still be Rosa Parks Square,” Jones said.