Reichert’s plan to expand Macon's Rosa Parks Square revisited

Mayor Robert Reichert is trying to resurrect the idea of expanding Rosa Parks Square and turning it into a downtown Macon gathering place adjacent to City Auditorium.

Reichert is operating within a small window of time, hoping to pull together a still vaguely defined deal that rests on land swaps and the purchase of the former Shrine building across from City Hall. The currently envisioned transaction would require the approval of City Council and participation of NewTown Macon and the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority.

The time component comes from the fortress-like Shrine structure, which a group of Warner Robins doctors bought from NewTown Macon in February 2007. A clause in the purchase contract allowed NewTown to buy back the building for the amount it sold for, about $700,000, if the doctors did not begin making improvements to the building. The building remains vacant and unmodified.

NewTown’s right to buy back the former Shrine property expires May 9, giving Macon limited opportunity to maintain some leverage in the situation, Reichert said. And money still has to be found to make the purchase, which the mayor suggested might be available through the sale of development authority bonds. Reichert’s thought is that NewTown could exercise its right to buy the building back, transfer ownership to the Urban Development Authority, which in turn would give the city part of the property needed for a civic square in exchange for parking space Macon owns behind the building.

He said the effort could yield a “legacy-type” development for the city, an enhanced public space that could host music and arts events.

“It would be fantastic for the community to have,” he said, walking through the property with council members last week.

The council had initially been on track to vote on endorsing a plan Tuesday, but the Public Properties Committee postponed consideration until it could get more information. It appeared a special called meeting might be necessary to finish the deal before the May deadline.

Developing the square is not a new idea. Pieces of progress have been made on it over the past few decades, officials said, including the rerouting of Cotton Avenue during the 1990s to help create the space in the first place. A conceptual plan for the final project already had been commissioned by the Urban Development Authority prior to that, said its executive director Sid Cherry.

That same plan is what officials are looking at for inspiration today. It shows a terraced greenspace, multiple rows of trees and a reflecting pool with a waterfall. It also includes the front of a historic building that once stood in the square but has since been taken down. The development envisioned is estimated to cost about $1.1 million. Lying between the stately facades of City Hall and the City Auditorium, the square makes for ideal public space, Cherry said, although financing still remains the largest obstacle. He said the development authority is looking at what options might be available.

“I think the authority certainly agrees with the mayor that the plaza needs to be completed,” he said.

NewTown Macon CEO Mike Ford said the Shrine building itself needs “quite a bit of work” — between $300,000 and $400,000 worth of improvements to its electrical and plumbing infrastructure, among other things. But he said his organization of downtown boosters is ready to move forward to help reclaim the property and is interested in seeing the square filled out as well.

“That would be a nice thing to do for the city,” he said.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.