Say what you will about Robert Reichert as a mayor, manager of people and/or politician, you’d have to admit that he is by far one of Macon’s greatest cheerleaders.
He’s also not afraid to show measured humility. Does anyone remember the time he approached City Council’s Appropriations Committee and asked for putting aside a little seed money? “Please consider that,” he said. “Pretty please with a cherry on top, consider that.”
August 2009 wasn’t that long ago when Reichert was originally peddling a plan that would enhance the haggard area along Second Street downtown.
What once seemed as another run of the mill promise is really beginning to take shape. The recently approved special purpose local option sales tax plan, also known as SPLOST, has given the so-called “Gateway into Macon” development plans a huge shot in the arm.
The image the mayor has conveyed the past several years is one that turns a dilapidated area of our city into what is defined as a “green, family-friendly, prolonged corridor.”
Over lunch at the annual joint Rotary meeting in January 2010, Reichert unveiled a detailed presentation of this venture that was successfully enhanced with graphics, facts and figures by Interface Studios of Philadelphia. The $28,000 presentation was paid with grant funds from the Peyton Anderson Foundation.
It was the first time I caught the vision of a Second Street remake where opportunities and possibilities thrive if and when we convert the old, run-down district, into a pedestrian and business-friendly environment.
Something I remember Reichert said during the Rotary luncheon that was very important to the success of this project was that he would have to build enough support to get the project moving forward. As the mayor finished his production, he said he wanted to provoke conversation about Second Street and declared, “I’m confident it can be done.”
Admittedly, on that cold Monday, people in the Coliseum’s Monument Room seemed interested but leery as to the relevance of the idea and chuckled when Reichert confessed he didn’t know the cost of such an elaborate revitalization plan.
Bill Causey, head of Macon’s engineering department, once estimated the project would total $18 million. The chief concern is the replacement of the steep angled Second St. railroad bridge. (Many a car owner knows the importance of crossing that bridge very slowly.)
A recent session with Atlanta’s CHA Engineering Consulting and Huntley Financial Consultant Partners revealed the initial connection of Second Street and Little Richard Penniman Boulevard, would easily consume the $8 million approved in the recent SPLOST.
To Reichert’s credit, he hasn’t let the major improvements planned for Second Street get lost in the daily minutia of city business. Reminding the community at every turn of the potential of a new entryway, he gained support from the important regional transportation planning agency, the Macon Area Transportation Study. He lobbied hard to have the agency work with members of Congress and our state’s two senators to help where possible.
I believe this will end up being Reichert’s greatest legacy that will be completed long after he’s departed the job.
The monotonous process can be moved along a bit more swiftly if the tax allocation district can be created in a timely manner and there is cooperation from members of City Council.
Whatever the project is called -- “gateway” or “corridor,” it shouldn’t be viewed as another political vehicle, only to be driven off course over the dangerously steep-angled Second Street bridge.
Hopefully, the 15 members of council will catch some of Reichert’s optimism. It is time to welcome the possibilities that could benefit the area and at the same time, enhance a very unattractive business environment.
Kenny Burgamy serves as a marketing consultant and is co-host of the Kenny B. Charles E., TV, radio and Internet program.