Mayor facing resistance to spending $1.5 million to renovate historic building

A roundabout could be constructed at the intersection of Forsyth Street, Pine Street and Spring Street near the Navicent Health downtown complex.
A roundabout could be constructed at the intersection of Forsyth Street, Pine Street and Spring Street near the Navicent Health downtown complex. wmarshall@macon.com

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert’s plan to spend $1.5 million to renovate a historic downtown building is drawing resistance from some county commissioners.

The mayor is sponsoring an ordinance to use the $1.5 million to restore the Robert S. Train Memorial Center, commonly known as the Train Recreation Center, which has been dormant for years. If improvements are made, the Georgia Cooperative Extension Agency office would move in, while other space could be used for other governmental or charitable purposes, according to the resolution.

Renovations would be paid for with proceeds from the 2017 special purpose local option sales tax bond.

Reichert’s ordinance is scheduled to be discussed at Tuesday’s County Commission committee meetings.

The Train Recreation Center, at 715 Oglethorpe St., has been on the Historic Macon Foundation’s Fading Five list since 2016. The building was purchased by the city of Macon in 1966.

County Commissioner Joe Allen said he would not support the restoration unless money is found to start the Jeffersonville Road project. Construction on the first phase of the east Bibb road initiative has been delayed after utility relocation costs increased by about $1.7 million.

“They should have thought about that a long time ago,” Allen said of the Train Recreation Center. “That building has been sitting there, sitting there, sitting there. I couldn’t justify (spending the money) there and let infrastructure of Macon go down. Not right now. You take care of Jeffersonville Road, then I could do something for it.”

Commissioner Virgil Watkins said using SPLOST blight remediation funds on the center would seem to run counter to what he thinks attention should go toward.

“I really think our focus on the residential properties and neighborhoods should be primarily what we’re doing when it comes to blight,” Watkins said. “Not to say that we’re not doing public spaces, but $1.5 million would account for two years of blight (money) that we have in our SPLOST proceeds now.”

Built by the Bibb Manufacturing Co. in 1920, the Train Recreation Center has faced problems with rot and neglect over the years.

Its current condition has made it too challenging for smaller nonprofits or other organizations to take on the extensive repairs themselves, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.

“Right now we need to get it in working order before anyone is going to look at it,” he said.

Some new Macon properties were added to Historic Macon Foundation's Fading Five list released Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017.

New roundabout

A new roundabout could be coming to a downtown Macon intersection.

The commission’s Operations and Finance Committee could decide Tuesday whether to have the full commission vote on starting negotiations for a roundabout near the Navicent Health medical campus. The roundabout would be built at the intersection of Forsyth Street, Pine Street and Spring Street.

If approved by the commission, the county would work with Navicent and/or the Macon-Bibb County Hospital Authority to finalize details about the circular intersection, the resolution said.

It would be paid for with SPLOST revenue.

Navicent leaders proposed putting in a roundabout to the County Commission in April as part of a series of road changes designed to improve access to the campus.

That area has undergone a recent transformation, including the new Lofts at Navicent — a 60-apartment unit and retail space on Spring Street. Construction is also expected to be completed in 2019 on the new Children’s Hospital.

Roundabouts are becoming a more common traffic calming measure in Macon. The Georgia Department of Transportation is putting in a miniroundabout, which will later be replaced by a larger one, at the dangerous Arkwright Road, Bass Road and Ga. 87 intersection.

Lizella park

A proposal to change the location and start construction on a new Lizella Park is on Tuesday’s committee agenda.

The park, which will include walking trails and an area for people to walk their dogs, would instead be built on county property in front of the animal shelter, according to the latest resolution.

The previous plan was to build the park slightly down the road, at 4280 Fulton Mill Road.

There is $494,626 in 2012 SPLOST proceeds remaining for Lizella recreation.

Blight remediation

Reichert and Watkins want to change how the county uses its blight remediation money, and they need help from the local legislative delegation in order to do so.

They are sponsoring an ordinance that would ask state legislators to amend the SPLOST law to make it easier to demolish structures on private property.

Currently, SPLOST revenue for blight projects is restricted to certain capital improvements. There is also an extensive process that local governments often must go through to acquire the properties before they can be torn down.

“We don’t want to have to own the property to do the work,” Watkins said. “We can then place a lien for the work, but not have to go through the in-rem foreclosure or acquisition to get it done.” (”In rem” means a legal action against a property instead of a person.)

The County Commission is winding down spending $14 million in bond money on blight projects across the county. There will be more money spent on blight remediation with the 2018 SPLOST.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph