I read with great interest a recent editorial in The Macon Telegraph concerning the progress, or lack thereof, in Macon’s downtown development prior to the current administration taking office in 2008. The editorial stated emphatically, that only inertia existed prior to that time. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Proverbs 27:2 states, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth.” I normally adhere to this Godly advice, but as we enter the season of thanksgiving, I am going to break that rule and give thanks to the many partners, public and private, that worked with and in conjunction with my administration to put downtown redevelopment on the fast track from 1999-2007.
Yes, downtown Macon has gone through a lot of starts and stops since the 1970s when the Macon Mall was constructed. However, to state as fact, as was done in the aforementioned editorial, that no movement was happening and that inertia had broken out all over does not stand up to scrutiny.
Please allow me to set the record straight, while recognizing the many men, women, institutions and organizations that worked so hard and gave so much of their blood, sweat and money to make things happen during my administration. As they say on one of my favorite National Public Radio programs, “Marketplace,” let’s do the numbers.
1. Technicon Company (I will refer to as Urban Pioneers) was the first private sector business to renovate a deteriorating building and convert it into Class A office space. Technicon relocated from Hillcrest Industrial Park to its current location on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, next door to the now completely renovated former Trailways Bus Station, which houses the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
2. In partnership with NewTown Macon, Mercer University and a private developer, the old Happ Shirt Factory on MLK Jr. Boulevard., was converted into the first large-scale loft project in downtown Macon.
3. Working with other public and private partners, Dr. Allen Justice and his associates renovated Poplar Street between Third Street and MLK Jr. Boulevard, into ground floor doctor’s offices and upstairs lofts.
4. The Poplar Street Project (a vision of my predecessor, Mayor Jim Marshall) was completed from First Street to MLK Jr. Boulevard.
5. The Terminal Station was purchased and major renovations were undertaken leading to the relocation of the Driver’s License Office from a very sub-standard facility in Central City Park, along with the Transit Authority administration office and the Public Transit Transfer Station all being relocated to the Terminal Station.
6. The first high rise, Class A office building (Gateway Plaza) was constructed in downtown Macon (first in over 30 years) with help from the city by providing parking spaces, an elevator and a walkway to connect the building to the city-owned parking deck.
7. Georgia College and State University located its Macon campus to downtown Macon, which was made possible by the city providing free parking for its students in the city-owned parking deck.
8. Capital City Bank moved its offices to the corner of MLK Blvd and Fifth Street.
9. The Beall’s Hills Development Corporation was created (consisting of the city of Macon, Mercer University and the Macon Housing Authority) to develop houses around the old Oglethorpe Homes project site. This site was demolished and developed into modern mixed income housing with the help of a $21 million Hope VI grant from the federal government. My only regret was not being able to convince the Medical Center of Central Georgia to join this partnership.
10. The new streetscapes around the Bibb County Courthouse and making the Grand Opera House handicapped accessible by lowering the sidewalks to street level were other major improvements in downtown Macon.
11. The new Tubman Museum was constructed.
12. The intown Dog Park was created.
13. The College Hill Corridor was commissioned.
14. Cherry Street Plaza was constructed between the Tubman Museum and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
15. Last, but definitely not least, was the queen/king of them all — the public-private partnership that resulted in an over $40 million investment ($25 million private and $15 million public — taxpayers money) to build an impressive four-star Marriott Hotel, the largest single investment ever in east Macon.
As a matter of fact, between 1999 and 2007, it is estimated that public and private investments combined were approximately $300 million, while creating hundreds of jobs. I love downtown Macon and have been one of its biggest boosters. I commend those who continue to make downtown Macon a better place to live, work and play.
As much as I am a supporter of downtown Macon and its revitalization, I am reminded of the words of my mentor and role model, the late Maynard Jackson (first African-American mayor of Atlanta), who stated, “Downtown development is great, but if you don’t pay an equal amount of attention to all neighborhoods the shine on the downtown buildings will soon lose their glow.”
Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks to all who made it happen!
C. Jack Ellis is a former mayor of Macon.