College Hill group focuses on Tattnall Square Park improvements, takes ideas from public

The centerpiece of the College Hill Corridor has always been Tattnall Square Park.

Bordering Mercer University, the businesses at Mercer Village and the homes in the InTown Macon neighborhood, the 16-acre park serves as a place where members of the community can get together for festivals, arts events and recreational activities.

Pat Madison, executive director of the College Hill Alliance, said when the corridor’s master plan was created a couple of years ago, park improvements were a key part of the plan. Now, the alliance is meeting with members of the community to come up with a design to implement those changes.

“This program was established in the master plan, but within that, there’s a creative license that can be added,” Madison said. “There are ample opportunities to be creative with that.”

After putting out a request for qualifications, a committee has selected four design firms to submit requests for proposals to give the park a makeover. A Knight Neighborhood Challenge Grant of $94,513 awarded to the alliance in August will pay for the design plans, Madison said.

The four firms — Mactec Engineers of Kennesaw; Pond/Ecos of Atlanta; T. Lake Environmental Design of East Dublin; and Total Planning & Engineering Alliance of Macon — have until Oct. 1 to submit their bids and design ideas to the committee, Madison said. Assuming the bids are relatively competitive with each other, Madison said, the committee will narrow the field down and let the finalists give their presentations to the community in mid-October. The community will be able to weigh in on which firm should be selected.

Dale “Doc” Dougherty, director of the Macon-Bibb County Parks and Recreation Department, said he’s eager to see what changes the design firms will propose.

“There’s so much more to today’s thinking (in park designs),” Dougherty said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what the pros come in with. There’s a blank slate. Let’s see what they can do with it.”

Public input

The alliance isn’t just waiting for ideas from the professional designers, however. The alliance held a community meeting last week to solicit ideas from area residents and asked what changes they wanted for the park.

Community activist Lindsay Holliday, who attended the meeting, said most of the people he has talked to want to see less hard-surface paths in the park.

“We want to see less pavement,” he said.

Macon City Councilman Larry Schlesinger, chairman of the council’s Community Resources and Development Committee, said he thinks the park is being underused.

“The only thing I do know is that it’s a great resource for the city of Macon,” he said.

“(Mercer University President) Bill Underwood would like to see it used for more activities, and frankly, so do I. ... I’m looking forward to seeing what the designers can come up with to enable the park to be utilized more than it is currently.”

Residents’ ideas ranged from adding new steps at the Alexander II Elementary School crossing to providing an information hub at the park. Residents expressed an interest in displaying art work at the park as well as improved lighting — ideas that were originally proposed in the College Hill Corridor master plan but haven’t been executed.

Madison said not all of the residents’ ideas are practical. For example, some want the tennis courts removed completely from the park. Madison noted the courts are used for tournaments the city hosts and are the only public courts residents can access in that part of town.

“Besides, (the master plan) wants people to play in the corridor as well,” he said.

Holliday said he understood that removing the courts might be impractical. Instead, he’d like to see three of the tennis courts converted into multi-purpose playing surfaces.

“Make them multi-functional,” he said. “Have it where you could play basketball, volleyball, badminton, shuffleboard, whatever on the surface. ... At least making them multi-functional means more people can enjoy them than just the tennis players.”

Madison and Dougherty said one of the feasible ideas for the park is a natural amphitheater built into a slope on the side that faces Adams Street. Already, the alliance uses the sloping landscape to host its outdoor movie nights. With the amphitheater, there also could be live music and theatrical performances.

Being realistic

Though Madison said the alliance is hopeful the design plan will be finalized by January or February, actually putting the changes in place is another matter. Madison said it will take a combination of public and private funds to make the necessary improvements.

The alliance can’t start putting together a budget until the design firm is selected and its plan approved.

“We have to be realistic,” he said. “This isn’t the old economy, where you have a $5 million or $6 million project,” he said. “That’s not going to happen (in this economic climate). We’re going to have to piece together the money from a number of different sources — federal and state grants, foundations.”

Madison said he hopes to create a Friends of the Park volunteer organization that could raise funds and contribute sweat equity to maintain the park.

“With a complete set of plans, what we can now do is phase in the changes within the context of the larger plan,” he said. “With a shovel-ready plan, it’s a lot easier to find sources of funding.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.