A large downtown Macon development could gain momentum Tuesday.
A Macon-Bibb County Commission resolution would allow the Urban Development Authority to issue up to $20 million in bonds for parking decks that would tie into a proposed mixed-use development along Poplar Street. Along with the parking decks, the Exchange Block Project would include a hotel, retail space and housing along two downtown blocks.
The first phase of the project, including parking, is estimated to cost about $55 million.
The Exchange Block is a joint venture between Miller Heath III, CEO of MMI Capital LLC, and Tim Thornton, CEO of Thornton Realty Co. The public-private partnership would result in about $60 million of “economic infusion” downtown, the resolution said.
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“It stands to be a catalyst for a new phase of redevelopment,” said Alex Morrison, executive director of the Urban Development Authority. “It’s a big project and something that is consistent with the Macon Action Plan in looking at more of an incremental approach to how we proceed on downtown development. It’s something I think would be a big turning point for that area and downtown in general.”
The resolution would give the Development Authority control of the properties at 674 Poplar St. and behind the Macon-Bibb County Government Center, where the decks would be built. The authority would also seek to enter into an agreement with the Bibb County Board of Education so that payment in lieu of taxes could be used to pay off the bonds.
“The parking decks will be public assets, so instead of using existing public dollars, it uses the new dollars generated from the development,” Morrison said.
The development would be located within the block surrounded by Poplar, Second, Plum and First streets. Developers have said construction could start in 2017. The first phase would include a 120-room hotel, 87 apartments, new parking and retail space, according to Heath.
He said he’s been impressed with how well the development’s partners have “kept their nose to the grindstone” throughout the process.
“There’s a lot to be done between now and when we start” construction, he said. “We have all the players in motion, and everything is coming together really well.”
A potential boutique hotel could be part of the next phase. The success of the first “brand name” hotel will depend on whether that project moves ahead, Heath said.
The Exchange Block development would become the latest addition to a growing urban core. There’s been a dramatic increase in the number of people living downtown, especially in lofts and apartments, in recent years. One of the signature ventures was renovating the Dannenberg Building on Third Street into lofts and retail space.
Plans also are moving ahead for the $25 million Capricorn project, which will create a mixed-use development with apartments, offices and retail space along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Another initiative has been the $8 million Second Street corridor project that will connect south Macon near Mercer University with downtown. Also, a $1.3 million “vision block” opened in 2014 along a section of Second Street, featuring reverse angle parking, painted bicycle lanes, new asphalt, shade trees and improved sidewalks.
With that growth, there have been hiccups, with parking among them. The Development Authority is now leading the charge to create a new downtown parking plan that aims to create higher turnover rates outside businesses.
The parking decks that would be part of the Exchange Block project would have about 800 spaces. They would be open to anyone coming downtown to places such as the hotel, the Macon City Auditorium or the Grand Opera House.
“Parking in downtown will be a big deal going forward, but by (working) with us and doing all the development at one time, the city doesn’t have to build that and hope to pay for it just through people coming off the streets,” Heath said. “With the parking deck, we’re trying to make sure it’s used in the day and night and on weekends, so we’ve kind of intertwined that to get as many parking spaces as possible at the lowest cost.”