College Hill Corridor grant announcement scheduled for today

Mercer University and local officials will announce this morning “a major grant” awarded to the College Hill Corridor project, according to the university.

Mercer officials declined to elaborate on the details but said Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, Mercer President Bill Underwood and U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., are scheduled to attend. The news conference is set for 10 a.m. at the fountain in front of Mercer Village on Montpelier Avenue.

The College Hill Corridor project represents a partnership between the college and the city to develop the neighborhoods between Mercer and downtown Macon both culturally and economically.

“You can expect a major, exciting, groundbreaking announcement about an exciting new partnership,” said Mercer law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore, who serves as chairwoman of the College Hill Corridor Commission. “This will enable us to move forward in an exciting way.”

City officials are also keeping mum.

“We’re just looking forward to the press conference,” said Andrew Blascovich, Reichert’s spokesman.

Last summer, the commission was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation that was designed to help develop a master plan for the corridor. The grant period ended in April, when a final report was delivered to the Knight Foundation.

The commission used the money to hire Interface Studios of Philadelphia to develop a master plan, covering everything from transportation issues to environmental concerns to activities designed to attract residents and businesses to the corridor area. The master plan should be finalized this summer, officials said.

The commission also has received several smaller grants from the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, which it has used for operational expenses. The money has helped fund some of the projects the commission already has put into place, such as the Mercer Bike Week program held a couple of months ago.

The commission has applied for another grant with the Knight Foundation as well as reauthorization funding of $5.75 million from the federal Transportation Enhancement Act. That money would be used to develop the infrastructure in the corridor area, said Gigi Cabell, Reichert’s grants director.

“That program gets reauthorized every five or six years,” Cabell said. “(This) is a year of huge opportunities, with the federal stimulus package and the transportation funds.”

Gerwig-Moore said the commission is looking at several sources of funding from government sources and nonprofits.

“We’re working so that money is not coming out of the city’s general fund,” she said. “We’re ... working with all of our partners to be creative in coming up with ways to fund the project.”

Marshall said officials are still waiting to hear if the city will receive the transportation money. Mercer has committed to match 20 percent of any amount the government awards the project.

Marshall said that when he served as Macon’s mayor, the first person he met with was Kirby Godsey, who was then Mercer’s president, now chancellor. “Mercer is a terrific asset for Middle Georgia in general and Macon specifically,” Marshall said. “We’re pretty much in this together.”

Marshall pointed to previous successful collaborations between the school and the city, such as revitalizing the neighborhoods of Beall’s Hill and Oglethorpe Homes. He said the College Hill Corridor project could have a big impact on the city and university.

“If the project is successful, studies done have shown this should have a pretty significant impact and increase the number of businesses through the entire corridor,” he said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.