Consultants charged with designing improvements to Second Street asked area residents Thursday what they’d like to see done with the corridor that runs from east Macon through downtown.
A number of city officials, people from various local agencies, and about two dozen ordinary citizens gathered at the Middle Georgia Regional Commission office on Emery Highway to talk with facilitators from Clarification & Mediation Inc. and planners from CHA Consulting and Huntley Partners.
“What we’re going to talk about today involves listening to you,” said Walter Huntley, president of Huntley Partners.
Mayor Robert Reichert wants to transform Second Street into a pedestrian-friendly corridor stretching from the east side of the Ocmulgee River through downtown and on to Mercer University. That’s expected to take years, but the special purpose local option sales tax voters approved last November includes $8 million for the first phase: building a curving connector between Second Street and Little Richard Penniman Boulevard.
City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas thanked the hosts, but said she and other representatives of east Macon were “very, very determined” to see collateral development from Second Street spill over into their side of the Ocmulgee River.
“That’s the part that we’re most interested in,” she said.
There’s also concern at the thought of increased traffic from Second Street being dumped into east Macon streets, Lucas said.
Clay Murphey, recently hired by the city as project coordinator for Second Street redevelopment, was present along with several city department heads, and councilmen Henry Gibson and Frank Tompkins. Reichert stuck his head into the room about halfway through.
Clara Axam from Clarification & Mediation led the presentation. She said a public work session, or charette, will be held Sept. 21 through 25 on working out ideas for Second Street. Before then, consultants will take what concerns they gathered from Thursday’s meeting and work up more specific proposals, Axam said.
“And yes, we have talked with some interested investors that will support the transformation,” she said.
Studies and previous meetings have determined that Macon residents are ready to transform the city center, connecting many features; and that the existing street plan and buildings are perfect for the project, Axam said.
“A lot of cities are struggling to do what you’ve already got,” she said.
Problems include a large physical area, blight outside the downtown core and lots of vacant buildings, Axam said.
A bus circulator or, eventually, a streetcar are good ways to improve movement along Second, said Daniel Foth, project manager for CHA. A bus line could be set up in 30 days, and its success could justify federal funding for a streetcar line, he said.
Huntley said a market analysis found strong demand for office and medical development, retail and residential development on and around Second Street. Developers see potential, but first want to make sure improved infrastructure will be there, he said.
Gibson said new development won’t succeed unless abandoned buildings along the way are dealt with.
“What’s going to happen to the eyesores?” he asked.
Huntley and Axam agreed they’re a problem, but Axam said right now there’s no hard-and-fast solution. Right now they’re looking for ideas on dealing with such problems to add to a comprehensive Second Street plan, she said.
Lucas urged the consultants to talk more about what they could do for her side of town.
“We’re jealous of the Second Street project,” particularly the $8 million allocated for construction so far, she said.
“We don’t have those answers yet,” Axam said. That was the point of Thursday’s meeting: to find out what area residents do want to see, and turn that into a viable and comprehensive plan that affects the whole surrounding area, she said.
With that, Axam asked the crowd to split up in groups and come up with ideas to be developed at the upcoming charette.
To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.