Boutique hotel/residential tower planned for spot near Gateway Park

Developers led by former Mercer University President Kirby Godsey want to build a $50 million project that would put a boutique hotel, residential high-rise and restaurant, and an upscale office building between Riverside Drive and the Ocmulgee River.

The idea was pitched Tuesday to the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority, which owns the 8 acres between Rotary Park and the Burger King near Spring Street.

The development, which would be built in phases, also calls for 7,000 square feet of street-level retail, more mid-rise office and residential buildings, a parking deck and a boulevard through a greenspace area.

“Obviously, our views are somewhat myopic,” Godsey told the authority, “but we think this Riverside project could be one of the transformative initiatives in our city.”

The developers want an 18-month option on the property. Godsey also asked the authority to consider 20-year tax abatements and assistance in obtaining grants and loans for infrastructure needs.

“As you can see, we’ve been at this a while, and we’ve made a good faith and substantial investment,” Godsey said following a presentation by architect Roger Miller of Atlanta, which included conceptual drawings of the plans. “If we’re going to continue, we’d like to know the authority was our partner in this process.”

The authority did not approve the option at Tuesday’s meeting, but it did give what member Ed Grant called a “vote of support” for the proposal. The vote adopted, in concept, the general outline of the plan but reserved the authority’s right to negotiate details, including the purchase price.

The plan would face some hurdles. Macon’s Central Services building, which city officials hope to relocate, and the old Skipper restaurant building must be demolished for the development to move forward, Godsey said.

And, of course, there’s the matter of financing the project. Godsey said developers have had “preliminary conversations” with investors and “we’re encouraged on that front.”

“Obviously these are perilous times economically, and credit is not what it used to be,” he said.

The proposal is not the first brought before the authority seeking to develop the Riverside property. None has moved forward.

One of those plans called for a mixed-use development, including a restaurant, office building and residential units. One of the developers of that proposal cited several challenges at the property, including a sanitary lift station, water lines and storm water lines crossing the land, slopes and poor soils.

Godsey’s three-phase plan would place a restaurant and lounge, the River Club, at the “premier position” at the tower’s top floor. The area also would have a board room and multipurpose room with banquet-style seating for 150 people.

The first three floors would be devoted to deluxe hotel rooms and suites. The next eight would be designed as three-bedroom condominiums of 2,700-3,000 square feet each.

The office building included in the initial phase would be 100,000 square feet.

“I think the market would be ready, particularly in a year and a half or two years, for a Class A office building,” Godsey said.

The overall development could include as many as 230 smaller residential units, “just as exquisite,” in mid-rise buildings, Miller, the architect, said.

Godsey said the plan, “as it develops out,” is probably a 10-year project and “no doubt would involve perhaps other developers.”

Grant suggested that the proposed option include clauses to allow the authority to buy back property that goes undeveloped.

“I’ve just seen in other situations where we’ve sold property and the person didn’t do anything with it,” he said. “And then years and years later, we don’t have any control. We’re out of the game altogether.”

The authority will learn next month whether it has gained federal approval as a certified development entity, which would allow it to use New Market Tax Credits to encourage investment in low-income communities.

Mayor Robert Reichert, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said the tax credits might be a financing option for the development. The authority also could consider setting up a tax allocation district as a funding mechanism, he said.

Reichert, who said he found the plan “intriguing and exhilarating,” also suggested developers take steps not to “exclude the public from the public realm.”

Godsey said plans include exploring ways to possibly connect to the riverwalk.

“We want this to be a place that draws people in. The public realm is an important piece of the puzzle,” he said.

The authority’s blanket tax abatement program covers multifamily housing, provided the authority has some sort of long-term lease, said authority attorney Chix Miller. The developers would have to appeal to other taxing authorities for abatements for the hotel, restaurants, office space and other uses.

The authority voted later in the meeting to allocate up to $30,000 to grind and dispose of rubble from the Skipper building if the city agrees to knock it down, which Reichert said is likely. Also, members discussed possibly borrowing money to relocate Central Services into a new building, which would be paid back in rent.

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.