East Macon arts village part of redevelopment plan

Several dozen Macon-Bibb County leaders were on hand Thursday for the unveiling of a large-scale redevelopment plan that includes details of an east Macon arts district.

The 138-page Macon Action Plan, or MAP, aims to revitalize the urban core of Macon. Among the first projects is an arts center at the former Bibb Mill Auditorium to go along with a possible expansion of the Ocmulgee National Monument into a national park.

MAP's roadmap of changes to downtown and surrounding neighborhoods also ties into ongoing plans in the College Hill and Beall's Hill neighborhoods, and the Second Street Corridor. Also emphasized in the plan is more housing around downtown, economic development and better connectivity through transportation improvements such as more bike trails and improved parking, said Shannon Fickling, a member of the MAP steering committee.

"It's about creating an unparalleled urban core experience with a downtown that is clean, safe and is fun to be in," she said.

[Update: Macon arts village taking shape]

Thursday's ceremony was held outside the proposed Mill Hill arts center, on Clinton Street, that will be the centerpiece of an arts village where more than 20 homes will be rehabilitated into artists' residences.

The improvements planned in the Mill Hill neighborhood, located across the street from the Marriott Macon City Center Hotel, is one of the many MAP initiatives that would create a stronger, walkable and business-friendly center of Macon, said Chris Sheridan, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority.

"It's about connecting roads, but also connecting people," he said.

Collaboration on the action plan began in July 2014. Over the next year, input came from Macon residents, community leaders, business owners, various organizations and educational institutions.

The plan also includes strategies and longer-range ideas such as creating a Macon health district involving places such as Mercer University; the Medical Center, Navicent Health and Coliseum Medical Centers. One goal is transforming Navicent's downtown campus with streetscape improvements, new housing and a signature gateway on Forsyth Street.

MAP also proposes more commercial development, including a light industrial area and a modern industrial park along portions of Third and Seventh streets.

Also, an enhanced Cotton Avenue Plaza would involve closing down a portion of the street to vehicle traffic, and also adding outdoor amenities, according to the plan.

The Macon Action Plan cost $450,000 and was funded by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Peyton Anderson Foundation.

The funding of MAP projects could come from various sources such as grants or local and federal government funding. The timetable for many of the projects listed in the plan could be completed in the next decade or so, said Alex Morrison, executive director of the Urban Development Authority. Some initiatives, though, would take longer, he said.


The improvements in the Mill Hill area were highlighted Thursday as the first major initiative of MAP.

About $2 million in bond money has been used to purchase the 20-plus homes to be restored and property that will become a park on Clinton Street. Later, the neighborhood will receive upgrades to sidewalks, streetlights and parking, Morrison said.

The Macon Arts Alliance is seeking grants and other assistance to help cover the nearly $1 million needed to turn the Clinton Street auditorium into an arts center, said Jan Beeland, executive director of the arts alliance.

Bibb Manufacturing Co. built the auditorium in 1920, she said, as a place for entertainment.

"We want to restore it back to what it was before," Beeland said.

The neighborhood also would be impacted by an effort to expand the Ocmulgee National Monument by 2,000 acres, turning it into a national park. An expansion bill was sponsored by U.S. Reps. Austin Scott and Sanford Bishop, said Brian Adams, president of the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative board.

The improvements to the Mill Hill area are much-needed, said the Rev. Ronald Terry, who pastors the nearby New Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.

"Living in this east Macon community, which seems to have been for so long to have been overlooked and somewhat blighted, I'm wondering if this is the beginning of something good," Terry said. "I'm very grateful."

To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623 or find him on Twitter@stan_telegraph.