County intent in destroying downtown

Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution Travel section had a cover story about Greenville, SC, highlighting its vibrant downtown, a true success story. The article illustrates the resurrection and metamorphosis of a downtown in a city smaller than Macon, and that today has an award-winning city center that is the cultural, dining and entertainment hub of its section of South Carolina.

It took a concerted effort, a good bit of public and private money and a government that valued and respected the importance to the city of its downtown, and those who own and operate businesses within its boundaries, but the effort succeeded.

This same article makes the salient point that Greenville’s compact core allows for walking between its varied and numerous amenities. Greenville’s downtown is quite unlike the downtown Macon that will exist after the relocation of Bibb County’s judicial facilities. Relocating this facility will greatly harm downtown, and will blur the traditionally acknowledged edges of our compact, walkable center that has struggled for decades to maintain its integrity and strength.

Thecity and county have benefited from the millions of tax dollars originating from those downtown businesses and building owners. Now, these people are being slapped in the face by county leaders choosing to ignore their hard work and fortitude, and who are instead insisting that building a new judicial center in a neglected section of town is a perfect solution to attracting investment into this fringe neighborhood, thus detracting from and weakening Macon’s historic downtown core. And, the city leadership is supporting it wholeheartedly.

I find it quixotic that, given today’s economic meltdown, anyone could envision this area of town benefiting from new development (it can hardly be considered redevelopment) brought on by the construction of this one complex, especially at the expense of the many establishments which exist in Macon’s true downtown, several for over 50 years.

Recently, the National Trust for Historic Places released its annual “Dozen Distinctive Destination” awards. Was Macon listed? No, but Athens, a city less than two hours away, was noted. It is considered by the National Trust to offer an experience of fine dining, historic architecture, and a vibrant cultural scene, within a walkable, warm and inviting downtown.

It is a pity decisions such as the one recently made by our county and endorsed by our city will prevent us from ever being included on this list or any other similar ones. Instead, we will make the list of those downtowns whose obituaries made the front page, above the fold.

John Wood is a resident of Macon and a downtown business owner