Abandoned houses will give way to new athletic field in the future

The demolition of dilapidated structures started Monday at the future site of an athletic field near Riverside Drive.

Crews began tearing down houses along Wise Avenue, where $2 million in blight bonds is being used to revitalize a section of the Pleasant Hill neighborhood. Construction on the multipurpose field could start as early as this summer.

Sixteen homes will be demolished in the area where the field will be located. Once it’s built, people will be able to play soccer, football, lacrosse and other sports there. Among its amenities will be LED lighting, restrooms, concession stands, on-site parking and bleachers.

The field is part of a series of $14 million in blight remediation projects going on across the county. The new field ties into the Pleasant Hill mitigation work being performed as part of the Interstate 75 and 16 expansion, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert said.

“This neighborhood has been sad and dilapidated for quite some time,” he said. “It’s been very difficult to get anything positive to happen. But here we are on Wise Avenue where virtually every house ... has been empty for probably in the neighborhood of 10 years or more. Those few people that have tried to stay and do something have been dragged down and pulled down in their efforts by the blight, which is so pervasive.”

The kind of blight found on Wise Avenue is evident in other neighborhoods, and the effort to clean it up is important, County Commissioner Virgil Watkins said.

“We still have a lot of work to to do, but this is inspirational to the neighborhood, inspirational to not just this side of town but showing the folks we actually care and are doing boots-on-the-ground projects that matter to this community,” Watkins said.

The properties around Wise were acquired over about a year through the Macon-Bibb County Land Bank Authority. Officials and contractors worked with the Macon-Bibb blight consultant to get the project details completed.

Some of the other recent or soon to be started blight remediation projects include the removal of houses as part of a new $2.25 million Napier Avenue fire station and sheriff’s precinct and a road connection project in the Unionville neighborhood.

During the first wave of projects, commissioners spent $642,870 to knock down blighted properties in Lynmore Estates, Hillcrest Park and along Lynmore Avenue where a new playground will be built.

“If you really want to make a difference and eliminate blight, critical mass is what you look at,” blight consultant Cass Hatcher said Monday.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph