Business owners seek to change perception of Macon business district

Adam Patel opened his first motel off Eisenhower Parkway in 1991, long before a host of other businesses followed suit along the busy corridor.

Over the last three decades, Patel has watched numerous businesses come and go, but with a relatively new effort, he says he's seeing signs of resurgence along the west Macon highway.

There are well over 100 businesses that make up the Eisenhower Business Improvement District, which uses some commercial property tax dollars to reinvest back into the area.

Since 2015, the district has generated about $970,000 that will be used in areas such as landscaping and other beautification improvements, security and marketing, and operations. The tax district was created after business owners who owned at least 51 percent of the assessed property value in the area agreed to do so.

The tax district will remain in effect through June 30, 2021.

"It's always been my focus to show the tangible results," said Patel, who owns the Days Inn, Comfort Inn & Suites and Best Western motels in the Eisenhower district. "The first was the security and cleaning up, and that’s been done. And now more lighting. That will definitely change the perception for better, and third is the beautification."

Those security efforts include having off-duty sheriff's office employees patrolling the area 10 hours a day. Part of the landscaping work involves mowing the grass twice a month and removing overgrowth and weeds along the medians and rights of way.

Other work has involved removing illegal signs and picking up trash along the corridor that stretches from the Interstate 475 exit to Oglesby Place, and includes shopping centers such as Eisenhower Crossing and the Macon Mall.

Also, $150,000 of blight bond money dedicated by Macon-Bibb County Commissioners Al Tillman and Gary Bechtel was used for such things as planting new trees and shrubs and removing litter, dead vegetation and diseased trees.

The business district is now awaiting approval from the Georgia Department of Transportation to install new street lights at four intersections and for a major beautification effort off the I-475 exit that could be ready in time for the summer.

Another component that will ramp up in the near future is more marketing through a social media presence and updating the website www.ebidmacon.com, said Jaime Arnold, executive director of the Eisenhower Business Improvement District.

"We really want to get the tangible things out there — the lights, the landscaping. We want it to be exactly as we want to be when we start marketing heavily," she said.

Tillman, who represents the neighborhood where the tax district is located, said he's been impressed with what's been accomplished in a short amount of time.

"It's great that a group is taking on this initiative and was able to tax themselves and raise funds to help improve this community," he said.

Changing business landscape

When the Macon Mall began losing some of its tenants and some other larger businesses moved away, Patel said he noticed business owners becoming more concerned about the future of the district.

There was some reluctance among some business owners about having to pay a higher millage rate when the tax district was being proposed, Patel said.

"I have been here a long time. I have seen when the light is out, we call and call and nothing gets done for a long time," he said. "Business owners were reluctant because nothing was getting done, because we were depending on someone else."

"We were able to convince everybody that this will be our decision. We will be able to get things done faster. We will have our own money. If the light is out, we can spend our own money to get it fixed," Patel said.

In the last year or so, the businesses district has seen some of its largest retailers leave or announce plans to close.

Last year, Target announced that it would close its store in the Presidential Parkway shopping center in February. HH Gregg moved out of its store in the Eisenhower Crossing Annex as the company filed bankruptcy.

That's part of a nationwide trend, with many big-box retails stores closing up as online shopping has become more popular, Arnold said.

But there have also been new businesses coming to Eisenhower.

In late 2017, a Wendy's opened on the property that for years was a dormant convenience store. Nearby is the new Cook Out restaurant at the former JL’s Open Pit Bar-B-Q site..

And opening soon are an Aspire Fitness club in the former HHGregg building and a Rockin' Crab seafood kitchen in what was formerly Captain Seafood and Ryan's restaurants.

There are also plans for two new restaurants to open along the business corridor, Arnold said.

"We're not trying to take credit for recruiting these businesses," she said. "That's something property owners and their commercial agents are doing. But I definitely think when it comes to making their final decision, I feel pretty confident that what we've done and plan to do had an impact on their decision."