Macon could be poised to make economic gains

Thanks to its central location in the state, Macon could be poised for economic gains, but only if the community bands together with firm goals, a speaker told more than a hundred community leaders Wednesday at NewTown Macon’s annual community meeting.

Bruce Green, a director at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, told the audience new incentives for redevelopment of downtown properties and job growth will create a swell of developers looking to invest in downtowns across the state.

With Macon’s central location and historic properties, the city could be in a position to reap the benefits, but only if its leaders are prepared.

“I don’t know if you’re prepared for this, but they are coming,” Green told the audience at the Macon Marriott City Center. “I think Macon is one of the jewels of the state. ... You couldn’t be in a better catbird seat.”

Green is credited with redeveloping downtown Tifton before going to work for the state, and saw some of the same potential with Macon. But he said it’s important for community leaders to come up with goals for which to strive.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘What is the strategy of developing Macon?’ ” Green said. “What do you expect to get out of this?” Green told the audience that the city’s founders strove to build “one of the finest cities in the world.”

There are a lot of ways the city could improve the downtown area, Green said, even doing simple things such as better signage for tourists.

He also said the audience assembled at the meeting has the responsibility to serve as Macon’s ambassadors.

“Every person in this room has the responsibility to talk well about this town, to sell this town,” he said. “You have to lift your thoughts up about what you want this city to be.”

Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said the prospects of what Green described has him excited for downtown. “I took from it that we have to sell this area and market it,” Hart said. “We have tremendous potential. I got excited when I listened.”

Also on the agenda at Wednesday’s meeting was an audit about NewTown’s finances. According to the report, NewTown had net finances of $3.66 million at the end of fiscal year 2009, down from the $5.3 million the agency had the previous fiscal year.

Several factors played into the reduced numbers, said NewTown President and CEO Mike Ford, including the state of the economy, which caused the organization to lose roughly $500,000 in money that had been pledged previously.

NewTown, however, was presented with a $250,000 grant at the beginning of the new fiscal year by the Peyton Anderson Foundation to maintain operations.

The foundation also has created a challenge grant, in which it will award NewTown another $250,000 if NewTown can raise matching funds by October 2010. Ford said NewTown has already raised about $111,000 of that amount.

Also announced was a new downtown logo created by Bright Ideas Group. It’s a musical note in the shape of the letter “M,” with the top of the letter in blue and orange, representing the Ocmulgee River and Georgia clay.

NewTown also presented its Partners In Progress awards at the meeting. Hart and Macon Mayor Robert Reichert were presented with the R. Kirby Godsey Leadership Awards, while Macon City Councilman Larry Schlesinger won the Juanita T. Jordan Community Service Award.

Other award winners honored included: Talmadge Stuckey, for growing jobs; Mike Dyer, president of Cox Communications, for creating a sense of place; Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-chairwoman of the College Hill Corridor, for exhibiting a commitment to all three of NewTown’s initiatives; and Keith Watson of New City Church, emerging leader.

Presented with special recognitions were Terrell Sandefur, owner of the SoChi Gallery, and Catharine Sample, executive director of Macon Arts.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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