A vision for a revitalized south Macon neighborhood is one step closer to reality.
On Monday afternoon, a bulldozer tore down the first vacant house on Lynmore Avenue where a community playground will be built. A ceremony marked the second round of blight remediation projects across the county.
The playground will be maintained by the neighborhood organization South Macon Arts Revitalization Technology, or SMART. The park will be built in phases while money is secured for the rest of the project. Plans are to put in two basketball courts, a pavilion, walking trail and playground.
When the neighborhood group held its first meeting, it became a venting session for residents concerned about their community. The organization became focused on how to improve areas where walking by dilapidated houses had become all too common, SMART President Antonio Lewis-Ross said.
“The community started cultivating ideas,” he said. “The passion in this community is very strong. The passion for change is very strong.”
Commissioner Larry Schlesinger said he decided to use some of his blight money to cover the demolitions after being approached by the community group. They neighborhood group is an “example of how a neighborhood itself takes control of its own destiny,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to putting up a playground that, God willing, will start the regeneration in this historic neighborhood,” Schlesinger said.
Overall, there are 19 demolitions, including seven for the SMART playground, scheduled in February for various remediation projects. They include projects along Lynmore; Emily Street; West Bond Street, Third Avenue; Culver Street; and the Kings Park neighborhood.
The first batch of remediation involved spending $642,870 to tear down and purchase vacant lots for a Lynmore Estates project led by Macon Area Habit for Humanity, as well as for knocking down a structure in Hillcrest Park.
Another round of demolitions is expected to take place in March, Macon-Bibb blight consultant Cass Hatcher said.
With an estimated 4,000 empty or dilapidated buildings across the county, Macon-Bibb officials have made blight a priority in recent years. Over a two-year period that ended in 2015, Macon-Bibb County was able to tear down 225 houses. Without any money budgeted for demolishing houses in fiscal 2016, officials instead are using $14 million in blight remediation bonds to combat the problem.
Along with enabling an element of crime, blighted structures also lead to other issues, with lower property values and sometimes despair, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert said.
“They steal pride from the neighborhood and rob the community of initiative and purpose,” he said.
Commissioners have evenly divided the remaining $9 million of those bond funds among each other, while the remaining $1 million is designated for community engagement and waste disposal.
Each blight project must have an “end user,” someone who is willing to take over a particular lot or building and turn it into something sustainable. The county is working with the Macon-Bibb County Land Bank Authority to acquire the properties where the remediation will occur.