When the Belos were moving from Richmond, Virginia, to Macon two years ago, the couple wanted to live in a similar neighborhood — an area near downtown that was a good place to raise a family.
They decided to move into Macon’s Beall’s Hill, a neighborhood undergoing a long-term transformation. Brad Belo works downtown and his wife, Amy Nichols-Belo, is a professor at nearby Mercer University. That proximity, as well as the academically strong Alexander II Magnet School in the neighborhood, made Beall’s Hill an attractive place, he said.
“When we saw the energy that is in the neighborhood, the improvements going on, that reminded us of the things we love about living in a bigger city like Richmond,” said Belo, president of the Beall’s Hill Neighborhood Association. “We can transplant ourselves many more hours from our families because we’re excited about what’s going on there.”
Beall’s Hill’s next infrastructure improvements will be new sidewalks and street lights that would be put in from Oglethorpe Street to Ross Street and down to First Street. County officials could vote on a construction bid as early as this month, said Ethiel Garlington, executive director of Historic Macon Foundation.
Beall’s Hill’s boundaries encompass a portion of College Street on the west side and Telfair and First streets on the east side. The northern boundary includes a section of Hemlock Street, while the southern edge cuts off along Edgewood Avenue.
The money for this portion of work is coming from $2 million in blight bonds approved by the County Commission. Those sidewalks and lighting will continue to make the area a model for “complete streets” by offering people more places to walk and bike, Garlington said.
“I think we’ll see shovels in the ground this calendar year,” he said.
The sidewalks and improved lighting are a component of the streetscape improvements to make the neighborhood more pedestrian-friendly. Efforts to revitalize Beall’s Hill began in 2001 as community leaders and residents sought to change the image of the area.
The neighborhood has received investments that include $3 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, of which some funds went to energy efficiency and a facade improvement programs and to rehab homes. Mercer University has also purchased property within the community and offers employees incentives for buying new homes in the neighborhood.
A signature project in Beall’s Hill is Tattnall Place — a mixed-income development that replaced the Oglethorpe Home public housing development when it was torn down about 15 years ago. The neighborhood’s landmarks include Tattnall Square Park.
“We knew it would take a long time and many resources. In 2014, when we got the investment from the Knight Foundation, is was an affirmation of the good work we’ve been doing,” Garlington said. “It was a commitment from them and our organization to continue the work in Beall’s Hill and see it through completion.”
Beall’s Hill has become one of the more popular “in town” neighborhoods within Macon, Mayor Robert Reichert said.
The changes have been made without forcing out the good people that were living there prior, Reichert said.
“Over the last 20 years they have transformed what was a crime-ridden, blighted community where nobody wanted to live and some people were trapped because of financial reasons,” he said.
The $2 million of blight bonds will help continue that progress that’s been a partnership of various organizations — the Beall’s Hill Neighborhood Association, Macon Housing Authority, Mercer and others, Reichert said.
“This is not an overnight success but has been the persistent, dedicated efforts of a number of partners,” Reichert said.
The demographics of the neighborhood were also attractive to the Belos.
“We wanted to live in diverse neighborhood,” Belo said. “I think that’s something the neighborhood values — not only white and black (residents) but also diversity with income levels.”