“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
-- Buffalo Springfield, 1967
There is a slow, nearly imperceptible movement going on in Bibb County that will take the next 20 years or more to play out. If you had not noticed, there are loft-style apartments springing up all over the county, particularly downtown and around Mercer University. The retail area surrounding Bass Road and Interstate 75 is growing. The Macon Mall, once a disaster, has been cleaned up and is poised to rise again.
While it’s difficult to exactly predict, developers of retail and housing space obviously see something most of the community is unaware of. These developers aren’t waiting around to see if the rush of people materializes. They’re busy preparing a place for them to land. And we have to get ready.
Where does this activity begin, and how do we handle it? There are clues that take decades to form. If history repeats itself, and in development most times it does, when you have an interstate interchange and a major five-lane road and a surrounding population of middle and upper incomes, the combination usually leads to retail development -- and once that ball begins rolling it’s difficult to stop. That’s what residents along Zebulon Road are fighting. As soon as that road was widened, beginning in 1996, the march toward retail development was on its way. For the residents whose homes share front yards with the five-lane road, its been, and will continue to be, a nightmare. Inevitably, as the neighborhood ages, there will be some residents who will decide to get out while the getting is good and sell to developers. We’ve seen this happen in Columbus, Augusta, Savannah and the poster child for development, Atlanta.
With development comes people, and while the city’s core has been losing population for decades (the city lost 1.5 percent between April 2010 and July 2013) and the county area showing stagnation (0.5 percent population loss between 2010 and 2013), much of that is in the process of reversing, although at a glacial pace. On Jan. 1, 2014, Macon went from being a city of roughly 90,000 people to a Macon-Bibb County of 154,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And it’s not just Bibb County. When you take the combined populations of Bibb, Houston, Monroe, Jones, Twiggs, Peach and Crawford counties, the population is more than 400,000. Bibb County is in the center with three interstates, a major rail hub, two airports and a trainable workforce.
And there is another attraction. Real estate prices are more than reasonable.
Some of the people who will migrate to this area have different ideas, which will shake up most everything we have come to know. But it’s nothing we can stop and something we should embrace as we learn collectively how to deal with it and move into the future.
“I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down.”