Long-awaited arts center takes a bow on opening day

Blues and barbecue help open new community arts center

The Robert Lee Coleman Band opened the Mill Hill Community Arts Center Monday night. The center opened in the former Bibb Mill auditorium on Clinton Street.
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The Robert Lee Coleman Band opened the Mill Hill Community Arts Center Monday night. The center opened in the former Bibb Mill auditorium on Clinton Street.

Back in 2015, the Macon Arts Alliance announced a grand plan to create an arts village in a historic Macon neighborhood.

The signature piece of redevelopment was turning a decrepit former Bibb Mill auditorium into a community center focused on the arts. On Monday, the 7,000-square-foot Mill Hill Community Arts Center opened to the public, with a late-afternoon celebration of the $1.6 million project, near Coliseum Drive in east Macon.

The auditorium, located at 213 Clinton St., will be used to host various performances and as a place for artists and residents to connect. It also can be rented for various events such as wedding receptions.

“You walk in and you just have this marvelous feeling about this space for this neighborhood,” said Jan Beeland, the recently retired executive director of the Macon Arts Alliance. “We’re bringing back the community center that was once the center of Bibb Mill and is now again the center of Fort Hawkins neighborhood.

“It can be a learning experience, a listening experience, a participation experience for the whole community, but especially for the Fort Hawkins neighborhood,” Beeland said.

The auditorium will become an "artists hub," but there's another significant part of neighborhood revitalization: Dilapidated homes are being restored into cottages, where artists can live and host demonstrations.

About $2 million in bond money is being used to rebuild about a dozen homes on Schell Avenue and Hydrolia Street, to be sold to artists.

Also, a "linear park" will be built next to the community center.

"This facility can be available for people who have conventions and conferences, and they can spend time at green space in the park," said Kathy Hoskins Nolan, a communications consultant for Macon Arts Alliance. "It's really going to bring some vitality and vibrancy back into the area."

The auditorium in the Mill Hill Community Arts Center features a stage that will be used to host various performances and other activities. Stanley Dunlap sdunlap@macon.com

Major restoration

Restoration of the 1920s-era building required a lot of effort, said J.R. Olive, project director for the Mill Hill effort.

The roof was replaced, and one side the of the building had to be leveled. The original floor was restored to new life, and new lighting and a sound system were installed.

Inside the building, the auditorium has a large stage. There's a commercial kitchen where culinary classes can be held, office space and a small gallery area.

There's also an artist workspace that will be like a "tech tool shed," Olive said.

"We imagine some computers in here, some tools and technology for artists to use. ... Physical tools — saws, hammers, a 3-D printer — if that's what people want," he said.

A combination of private and public funds was used to complete the community center.

There was about $800,000 in blight bond money earmarked by some County Commission members. An anonymous donor contributed about $211,000 to replace the roof, while other community sponsors have also supported the project.

The Arts Alliance received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that was matched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. That money will pay for an artist to be the center’s administrator for six months.

The renovation project was designed by Dunwody/Beeland Architects and led by Piedmont Construction Group.