Politics & Government

Arts village concept sought for east Macon

The Macon Arts Alliance wants to turn a run-down area of east Macon into an arts village with space for artists to live and sell their work.

The concept would start with the renovation of a small existing auditorium in the area, between Coliseum Drive and the Ocmulgee National Monument, Jan Beeland, arts alliance executive director, told Macon-Bibb County commissioners Tuesday. The Mill Hill East Macon Arts Village would be just northeast of Clinton Street, which is to be reworked as a new Ocmulgee National Monument entrance.

The commission’s Operations & Finance Committee members unanimously backed a resolution endorsing the arts alliance’s application for a National Endowment for the Arts grant. The amount sought is $100,000 to $200,000, according to the resolution.

If received, local sources would have to match the grant, Beeland said.

Reichert said he and arts alliance members were inspired by a similar arts village in Bradenton, Florida. Creating one here should spur more redevelopment nearby, he said.

The grant endorsement as well as other items approved in committee Tuesday will be back for a final vote by the full commission Dec. 9.

RIVERSIDE DRIVE WORK

It may take some digging to remove contaminated soil from a 10-acre Riverside Drive site that Macon-Bibb officials hope to develop, attorney Andy Welch told commissioners. Testing will soon start, going down 15 feet -- as deep as a basement-level parking area would go, he said.

Welch, who is a Republican state representative from McDonough, said the testing is needed as part of an effort to get the site reclassified by the state Environmental Protection Division as eligible for residential development. If contaminated soil is found within 15 feet of the surface, it will have to be removed within 90 days, he said.

“But if you don’t undertake that level of risk, then you also won’t have someone come in for development,” Welch said.

The wedge-shaped site bordered by Spring Street, Second Street, Riverside Drive and the Ocmulgee River was bought and cleared by public agencies, and a development group headed by former Mercer University President Kirby Godsey planned a huge, upscale mixed-use project there. But the deal fell apart in December 2013 when Godsey discovered state environmental restrictions, which barred some of the site from residential use.

A portion of the land was once the site of an Atlanta Gas Light Co./Georgia Power plant that turned coal into gas for heat and light. That left the ground contaminated with lead and coal or oil residue. It was taken off the state’s hazardous site inventory about 2011, but it remained limited to nonresidential use without further cleanup.

If the EPD eventually approves the site for residential use, the land will again be marketed to developers by the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority.

EMPLOYEE HOLIDAY

This year Christmas Eve, which Macon-Bibb employees would normally have off along with Christmas Day, falls on a Wednesday. Reichert asked to alter the holiday schedule this year to have employees work Christmas Eve -- but get Friday off instead, giving them a four-day weekend. Committee members unanimously agreed.

TRAIL GRANT

A $100,000 grant application to the Georgia Recreational Trails Program got unanimous committee approval. If received, it would be used to build part of a trail connecting Amerson River Park with the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

SENIOR CENTER

There’s a new possibility for the site of an expanded senior citizens’ center, aired before commissioners Tuesday: an addition to the existing Bloomfield Community Center.

The special purpose local option sales tax passed in 2011 includes $2 million to replace the current center. Nearly a dozen locations have been considered, including -- most recently -- the Frank Johnson Community Center.

But Tuesday, Recreation Director Dale “Doc” Dougherty suggested the Bloomfield center instead. A recent survey of current senior center users confirmed previous indications that they want a replacement to include a computer room, kitchen, exercise room, indoor walking track, chapel, media room and much more, he said.

“What we basically learned from each of the surveys is that they would like everything,” Dougherty said.

The best option likely would be to add to a site such as the Bloomfield center, which already has some of those amenities, including a swimming pool, he said.

Commissioners said they generally liked the idea. Dougherty said he intends to draw up more detailed plans for seniors’ inspection.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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