Business

$50 million hotel, retail development planned for downtown Macon

A proposed new $50 million commercial development in downtown Macon -- the largest in decades -- would encompass nearly a whole block.

The mixed-use development would include at least one hotel with about 120 rooms, apartments with 120 to 140 units, retail shops, a restaurant and a multi-level parking garage with about 575 spaces. It would be built in the block bounded by Poplar, Second, Plum and First streets, except for a corner lot at Plum and First.

The master developers of the development, called the Exchange Block Project, are Miller Heath III, CEO of MMI Capital LLC, and Tim Thornton, president of Thornton Realty Co. Heath and Thornton formed a joint venture for the project and have been working on it about 18 months.

“We think the location of the block is fairly important,” Heath said. “The city has been pushing the Mid-City Square project (at Second and Pine streets). We’re hoping as part of this project we can facilitate the extension of the Second Street corridor, which will connect up with the proposed Mid City Square.”

The Exchange Block Project would be a link between other businesses and lofts in the core of downtown and the city’s planned square, Heath said.

“Until this segment gets done, I think it’s going to be a barrier -- it’s going to be a pedestrian barrier to link up with what the city is trying to do over here,” he said. “So a key component of all of this is we want to keep it very much that downtown feel with walkable space.”

Heath and Thornton either already owned or recently acquired several of the parcels for the development. Several buildings and businesses within the block will remain.

Heath and Thornton presented the project to the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority during its meeting Thursday. The authority supported the development concept, but there are details related to the sale of property still to resolve, Heath said.

Those include the prospective sale of a .61-acre parking lot at 674 Poplar St. -- a key piece the developers need to make the project work -- which protects the authority if the project proves unfeasible. Those details could be resolved, perhaps in time for the next authority meeting, Thornton said.

The majority of the development will be new construction, but it will include some existing structures such as the Thornton building on Poplar Street and the Newman building on the corner of Poplar and First streets across from the Macon-Bibb County Government Center.

“We do anticipate complete renovation of the Newman building,” Heath said.

Thornton Realty, a real estate brokerage and development firm, opened on First Street 65 years ago and has been on Poplar Street since the mid-1970s. MMI Capital has developed office and institutional facilities across the Southeast and has operated in the block since 1982. Both offices will remain.

According to the preliminary plan, at least one hotel would face Poplar Street, and either condos or another hotel would be on First Street. The apartments would be built in a L-shape from Second Street along the alley and over to Plum Street -- essentially wrapping around Larry Bush’s Riverside Tire business at the corner of Second and Plum streets. The parking deck would be built in the interior of the block, and the alleys would remain open.

DIFFERENT DEVELOPERS WOULD BE INVOLVED

Retail shops and a restaurant are planned on the street level of the development.

“This is still up in the air, but we anticipate that some of the parking deck would be available for special events downtown during non-peak times,” Thornton said. “But it’s primarily to serve the hotel and the apartments and shops.”

At this point, only two buildings would be demolished -- the Coggin & Mann Printers building on Poplar Street and the former Biomat USA building on First Street, Thornton and Heath said. Neither building is deemed to be historically significant.

Heath and Thornton will oversee the project, but they have arranged different developers for the various components of the project.

“We have an apartment developer doing the multi-family part,” Heath said. “We have another developer who will do the hotel or hotels. We have another developer who possibly will do condominiums.”

The apartment developer “seems to think that there is very strong demand” for more apartments downtown, Heath said.

“It’s ideal for the people who work at the Medical Center, (Navicent Health). They would be within easy walking distance. It will be about 900 feet from the Medical Center. That’s a pretty good commute.”

The apartment building would be about five stories and is expected to have balconies.

Heath and Thornton said they hope to start on the parking deck in January 2016, and other developers would begin their work a few months after that. A portion of the parking deck may be underground.

The project would still need to get zoning approval, and Heath and Thornton would go back to the Urban Development Authority.

“It’s all very real financially,” Health said. “All the market information has come back very strong. We will be asking the Urban Development Authority for a bond inducement (an arrangement where bonds are sold to help finance the development). When we have contracts in hand and everybody committed, then it’s time. ... Depending on the final hotel brands that are chosen, (the dollar amount of the project) could go up. Most of the hotels have their own financing in place.”

The business partners have had people ready to sign contracts since January, Heath said.

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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