Council members updated on Second Street project

Mayor Robert Reichert’s proposal to use Second Street to connect the city’s major employment and activity centers took center stage in a Tuesday night City Council work session, but questions about the project’s specifics still loom.

The project aims to create a green, pedestrian-friendly corridor running from Mercer University and The Medical Center of Central Georgia to the central business district, the Macon Coliseum and beyond.

Representatives from Atlanta-based engineering consultant firm CHA and development consultant firm Huntley Partners, also of Atlanta, presented Tuesday to City Council the results of a community study about revitalizing Second Street.

That study created a master plan for the project, which involved measuring community interest and potential for private investment. The team also outlined future plans, which will include creating a design for the Second Street project, refining funding options and getting detailed costs. Walter Huntley, president of Huntley Partners, said his company’s research found overwhelming community support for the Second Street Corridor.

“We want to make sure that Macon takes itself to the level it should be,” Huntley said.

He outlined conclusions drawn from the team’s study, saying the transformation will benefit all residents, that there are interested investors and that Second Street can become a gateway into the city.

Huntley said the project is intended to ensure Macon’s future as the hub of Middle Georgia.

Clara Axam, who worked with focus groups on the Second Street project, said the groups -- made up of residents of affected neighborhoods such as Tindall Heights and Beall’s Hill -- showed that residents are ready for a Second Street transformation.

“For the most part, people are hungry to be involved,” she said.

Axam said people interviewed expressed desire for the corridor to be walkable, bicycle-friendly, safe and family-friendly.

Craig W. Clements, an urban designer from Savannah who helped with the master plan, said Macon is rich in existing assets that will make the project a success. He pointed out Macon’s well-designed city grid, the Ocmulgee River, existing green space and “unmatched” historic buildings.

“As an urban designer, what makes this project really exciting to me is Macon’s incredible bone structure,” he said.

Macon also has economic assets such as two major hospitals, a growing arts community and a large university presence, he said, all of which are represented in the proposed corridor.

One of the main focuses of the project will be the idea of connecting these assets, which would include better transportation along Second Street.

Daniel Foth, project manager with CHA, said the current options being explored include a streetcar system, among others.

Foth said the team will be focusing on the projected ridership and cost of transportation options and come up with a detailed funding plan in the project’s next phase.

Rick Padgett, a senior partner at Huntley Partners, said no funding has been concretely secured from private investors. A special purpose local option sales tax approved by Bibb County voters last fall dedicates $8 million to the Second Street renovations, but options also exist from the upcoming Transportation SPLOST and funding from private investors.

Padgett said the project could create up to 2,100 new jobs over the next 10 years and significantly increase the amount of office space downtown.

CHA and Huntley Partners cited examples of other Southeast cities that successfully revitalized their downtowns including Asheville, N.C., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Greenville, S.C.

Reichert, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, voiced his support for the project.

“This kind of economic development and job creation ... is going to take courage, but it’s doable,” he said.

Some City Council members voiced concerns.

Councilman Tom Ellington, for example, asked how much of the necessary funding the T-SPLOST accounts for, since it has not yet gone before voters.

Padgett responded that, while T-SPLOST failing would be a blow, it would not kill the project.

“It’s a potential source but certainly not a necessary source,” he said.

The project’s second phase is set to begin in July and should take about nine months. Until Phase II is complete, the team will not have a timeline for the completion of the entire project.

To contact writer Liz Bibb, call 744-4425.