Downtown beginning to live up to its potential

Observers view the solar eclipse from the Wells Fargo Building parking deck in downtown Macon on Monday afternoon.
Observers view the solar eclipse from the Wells Fargo Building parking deck in downtown Macon on Monday afternoon. jvorhees@macon.com

Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that downtown Macon would be the hottest piece of real estate in Middle Georgia? Although it was always irrational, it wasn’t that long ago that people were afraid to come downtown after dark. There was little danger because there were so few people walking the streets there and next to none who called the area home. Much has changed.

Last week’s 2017 Tour of Progress sponsored by NewTown Macon gave the organization, established 21 years ago by the Peyton Anderson Foundation, a chance to show off the progress that’s been made — and is continuing at a dizzying pace.

Macon, in the words of the chairman of NewTown and president of Mercer University William Underwood, is undergoing a “renaissance” or “rebirth.” In the organization’s “Report of Progress” Underwood points to Orlando magazine that said, “Today, Macon has recovered its mojo.”

And that “mojo” can be seen in almost any direction in downtown Macon. The walking tour began at the northwest corner of Mulberry Street and Third Street, and while the building at the corner has been renovated it stands next to property that was built in 1904 that will, by the middle of next year, include 12 loft apartments in the upper floors of various layouts. At street level, Oldham’s Optician and Harp & Bowl occupy the commercial space and will remain open during the renovations.

Right next door, in the building formerly known as Jeneane’s Restaurant, will welcome Back to Edenz a vegetarian restaurant to downtown, and as is the pattern, two loft apartments will fill the upper floors. One of the most interesting projects is on Second Street just west of Mulberry. A two-story building, constructed around 1884, will soon add a floor and what will occupy the upper floors? Loft apartments, quite spacious ones at that.

Directly across Second Street is Lawrence Mayer Florist. The building that dates back to about 1850 will continue house the business, but a restaurant space is being constructed on the Cotton Avenue side and 10 apartments units are being added to the second and third floors. The apartments will feature front bay windows and outdoor decks in the back of the building.

As you would guess, Mercer is in the mix. The university helped start the downtown loft movement back in 2001 when it signed a master lease agreement with McCarty Property Group out of Atlanta to lease 45 of the units in the Broadway Lofts development. Now its presence will be on Second Street with an almost 10,000 square-foot building that will house a university gallery and studio spaces for undergraduate art students seeking one of Mercer’s newest degrees — Bachelor of Fine Arts.

The walking tour took in several more projects, more than we have space to describe here but the entire NewTown story can be found at newtownmacon.com.

Why is downtown the hottest real estate in Middle Georgia? Look at the numbers. In the last 15-18 years, downtown has gone from next to zero living spaces to 458 lofts according to NewTown, and as of last Wednesday, the occupancy rate was 98 percent. Forty-nine units were built last year. And if investors are looking for property that’s increasing in value, they have to look downtown. Don’t take our word for it. NewTown allows anyone to explore downtown lofts at newtownmacon.com/living-downtown/

What’s the profile of a loft dweller? A young, urban professional, just the kind of person, communities all over the country are trying to attract. They are doctors, engineers, software developers, logistics professionals, teachers, professors, artists and most everything else. They enjoy the urban vibe of the 50 restaurants and 15 bars and other shops and boutiques all within short walking distances in downtown Macon.

The continued success of the effort of NewTown Macon can be shared by many. There has been a lot of hard work by scores of residents over a long period of time. A lot of money has been invested and leveraged.

We are still a work in progress, but there is solace in knowing, that when you pick up a magazine, you might still read about the Greensboros and Chattanoogas of the New South, but you might also see something about a renaissance that’s occurring in a hamlet in the middle of the great state of Georgia, called Macon.