Another round of demolitions begins in Macon

Under a steady downpour, Macon city leaders huddled Friday morning beneath umbrellas to watch a bulldozer tear down the first of nearly three dozen shoddy housing units that will be demolished over the next several days in the Bartlett Crossing community.

The work, starting at a vacated duplex apartment complex on Ernest Street off Napier Avenue, is part of a broader plan to take down 100 dilapidated structures before July 2009. Officials picked that location to hold a news conference to mark the beginning of demolition and to send a message that other nearby land owners need to clean up their blighted property.

“We were not going to go another day,” said Kevin DuBose, director of Macon’s Economic and Community Development Department. “Today, we say enough is enough.”

Over the past year, the department has reorganized itself to take a more aggressive approach to removing blighted property and trying to repopulate the city. In April, the department retained a new environmental consulting company to help quicken the pace with which Macon tears down dilapidated housing.

And earlier this month, the city began to overhaul the code enforcement process, writing new laws that make it easier for the city to foreclose on nuisance properties and have them redeveloped.

The city has kept a waiting list of more than 250 residences that have been slated for demolition, but most have sat untouched through the years. In past years, about 50 housing units have been added to the list annually, and some have been waiting more than five years to be torn down.

Macon leaders hope not only to meet Mayor Robert Reichert’s goal of 100 houses this year, but they also want to clear the city’s docket of structures awaiting demolition during the next five years.

“These are exciting times,” said the Rev. Ronald Toney, pastor at Lizzie Chapel Baptist Church. Lizzie Chapel, through its nonprofit organization Manna Ministries, also has worked to revitalize the Bartlett Crossing community that it serves.

Toney said he hopes that as rundown housing is removed, families will move back into the neighborhood and children will once again play in its streets. Reichert agreed and said that by removing the vacant buildings, sources of drugs, prostitution and crime are being erased as well.

“Together, we can reclaim this neighborhood,” the mayor said.