Macon officials hold off on plan to spend $1.5 million restoring downtown building

Historic Macon announces 2017 Fading Five

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

An effort by the Macon-Bibb County mayor to spend $1.5 million to renovate a downtown building was put on the back burner Tuesday.

The County Commission’s Operations and Finance Committee tabled an ordinance sponsored by Mayor Robert Reichert to restore the Robert S. Train Memorial Center, a dormant building located at the corner of Oglethorpe and First streets. The decision came after some commissioners questioned using a large chunk of money designated for blight on the building commonly known as the Train Recreation Center.

The mayor’s request also caught some commissioners off-guard, they said.

And unless another source of funding can be found, the county being able to pay for the renovations seems unlikely for awhile.

Commissioner Virgil Watkins said he, along with some other commissioners, were blindsided when they learned about the proposal. While Watkins applauded trying to find a use for the building, he said it was worrisome that $1.5 million would swallow nearly two years worth of special purpose local option sales tax blight money.

There is $12 million budgeted for blight as part of the $280 million SPLOST.

“The idea of using pretty much the balance of our (blight) funds for one parcel is disturbing to me,” Watkins said.

Reichert said he thought about using SPLOST blight money to re-purpose the building after learning that the Georgia Cooperative Extensive Agency needed more space than its current facility. The agency, along with other groups, could help bring the blighted property back to life, the mayor said.

The Train Recreation Center was built by the Bibb Manufacturing Co. in 1920. It has been on Historic Macon’s Fading Five list of endangered structures since 2016.

“I told (Watkins) I certainly didn’t mean any offense,” he said. “I certainly didn’t mean to misappropriate or take away money from (other) blight projects.”

Navicent, Middle Georgia State

The county may soon begin negotiations with Navicent Health and Middle Georgia State University officials on several proposed road projects.

Navicent is asking for the county to install a roundabout at the intersection of Forsyth Street, Pine Street and Spring Street, which would be located beside the new Children’s Hospital. And Middle Georgia State University officials said they want to build a new main entrance onto campus and make safety improvements to Ivey Drive.

The Operations and Finance Committee OK’d the separate measures Tuesday that would allow the mayor to get more details on the projects, including how they could be paid for.

The following items are scheduled to be voted on by the County Commission on Nov. 7 after being approved by committees Tuesday:

▪  A plan to build a dog park on Fulton Mill Road property located by the animal shelter.

There is $494,626 in 2012 SPLOST proceeds remaining for Lizella recreation. The full County Commission will vote on the measure at its Nov. 7 meeting.

▪  Signed off on asking state legislators to support changing the SPLOST law so the county can tear down blighted structures on private property.

Watkins said that two local legislators are open to presenting the idea to other state officials for consideration.

Macon-Bibb County could start work on having a downtown area ready to host events.

▪  Spending $150,000 for the new Poplar Street Commons park, which would be situated between First and Second streets.

The idea for the park was part of a compromise among Macon-Bibb officials after controversy surrounding an alcohol ban at the nearby Rosa Parks Square. The $150,000 would provide enough money to do some “stop-gap” work until money can be found for more improvements to both venues, Reichert said.

The estimated pricetag for improvements to Rosa Parks Square and implementing the full-scale plan for Poplar Street Commons is at least $6 million.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph