Proposed new residential development in downtown Macon 'a watershed moment'

The old Capricorn Records recording studio, at left, on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in downtown Macon is expected to be renovated as a small part of a new loft development by Jim Daws of Sierra Development.
The old Capricorn Records recording studio, at left, on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in downtown Macon is expected to be renovated as a small part of a new loft development by Jim Daws of Sierra Development.

The first multi-family development to be built in downtown Macon in about 40 years will include a legendary music landmark and help transform a blighted area.

The proposed $25 million Lofts at Capricorn project would be built in the same block where the Capricorn Records building -- which would be returned to its original use -- sits in the 500 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Plum and Poplar streets.

Sierra Development Group and Southern Pines Plantation, in partnership with NewTown Macon and other partners, plan to build a mixed-use development with apartments, offices and retail stores that will occupy most of the block, said Jim Daws, president of Sierra.

Mercer University is planning to operate the Capricorn facility "as a music venue that pays homage to its historic use and incubates recent talent in central Georgia," Daws said. Mercer President "Bill Underwood would love to have the next Allman Brothers Band come out of this music incubator."

An official news conference about the project is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the building, where Mercer will disclose more of its plans. The Capricorn building will be open to the public for tours.

Lofts at Capricorn would include 137 one- and two-bedroom apartments with 10 different floor plans, a club house with a cyber cafe, a fitness center and a gated parking lot with 200 spaces. Some units will have direct access to a private garage and top floor units will have balconies.

It also will include something that currently can't be found downtown: an outdoor swimming pool.

"We plan to break ground in the first quarter of next year," Daws said.

The developers are purchasing the Capricorn building and much of the 3-acre site from NewTown Macon, which bought the historic structure in 2011. That's when the Peyton Anderson Foundation donated money to NewTown's transitional properties fund for it to acquire the property, replace the roof and stabilize the structure "until we could find a developer," NewTown Macon President/CEO Josh Rogers said.

The building has been vacant about 12 years, and several different plans were proposed over the years but nothing developed.

"There were a lot of (earlier) plans that were going to preserve the building, but not preserve the legacy," Daws said.

The developers plan to donate the Capricorn building to Mercer University, "and we will also be contributing a significant amount of money for the restoration of the building," he said. "And then Mercer has to raise an additional $1 million to complete the restoration."

Rogers has been working with the developers on the project about eight months, he said.

"It's just beyond our wildest dreams for anything that could happen with the studio and the surrounding land," he said. "If you had asked me a year ago what my dreams would be, it wouldn't be as ambitious as what's happening. ... We will have legal interest in making sure the development happens exactly as it's proposed and making sure the studio is protected forever. But we have no ongoing financial interest."

Jessica Walden is ecstatic about the plans. She is the daughter of Alan Walden and the niece of Phil Walden, who both had ties to the Capricorn building.

"The Capricorn Studio will be saved," she said. "It's hard to say (how many musicians) recorded there. ... It's amazing who all walked through those doors."

As a child, she played in the Capricorn, and some of her drawings on the wall are still visible.

The building originally was bought as studio space for the legendary Otis Redding and soul artists who worked with RedWal Music, a music publishing firm operating by Redding and the Walden brothers, according to a historical account provided by Rogers at NewTown Macon. But when Redding died in 1967, plans for a recording studio were put on hold for the time being.

Jessica Walden said it is ironic the news conference is on Dec. 10 -- 48 years to the day since Redding died.

"It makes it even more special," she said.

In 1969, Phil Walden launched Capricorn Records. The talent he assembled included the Allman Brothers Band, Marshall Tucker, Wet Willie and Elvin Bishop. By the mid-1970s, the executive offices of Capricorn Records were on Cotton Avenue, and its recording studio was at the building, which is now on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Rogers said the proposed development "is an important moment for downtown ... a watershed moment."

"I think this is the first of many new construction projects that will be announced over the next several years," he said. "I couldn't be happier with (the developers). They have such an incredible track record with these types of mixed-use projects across the county."

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223 or follow her on Twitter @MidGaBiz.