Opinion Columns & Blogs

With Bass Road area growing, what to do with Macon-Bibb’s empty stores and strip malls?

The Macon-Bibb County Commission voted to expand Bass Road around the Interstate 75 bridge. It is badly needed. As a resident just off that road, I cannot begin to describe for you the nightmare it is to navigate in the mornings and afternoons. Frequently, traffic backs up from the bridge all the way to Rivoli Drive in the mornings.

My wife most frequently takes our children to school in the morning. If she leaves our house by 7:30 a.m., she can typically get the kids to school in 15 minutes. If she leaves after 7:30 a.m., it can be a 25-30 minute drive down Bass Road to Tucker Road. The traffic is most often predictable, which is good, but at a high volume, which is bad.

The traffic will get worse as there are new big-box stores on Bass Road. What became blight on Eisenhower Parkway has moved up to Bass Road to recapture wallets and attention. I do not begrudge commercial real estate. At the edge of my neighborhood, some land owner has bulldozed all his trees and is clearing land for office space. It is his land. Good for him. So long as I can get out of my neighborhood and his office space is not attracting crime into my neighborhood, have at it.

But I do wonder if we have a problem that our Planning and Zoning Commission needs to address and perhaps reconsider. They have been, thankfully, very pro-development. We need that in Middle Georgia. We need the jobs. As I get older, however, and have lived in Macon now for more than 20 years, I do look on the abandoned shopping centers and decrepit big box stores with more apprehension.

The Target shopping center is no longer a Target shopping center, but an urban wasteland with a few stores left. Some of those stores are closing even now and relocating to Bass Road. What will happen to that land and those stores? Drive Eisenhower Parkway or Pio Nono or Mercer University Drive and prepare to be stunned at a once shiny future that is now a crumbling past. At least during Halloween some of the temporary Halloween stores will crop up to use the space.

Americans, not just in Middle Georgia, seem terrifically good at building aluminum and steel retail space and really terrible at filling it when the original tenants move out. Sure, I am a bit bitter we lost the Target and have to trek to Warner Robins. Sure, I am frustrated we do not have a Costco. But it is troubling to see a lot of asphalt and vacancies. As much as the Macon-Bibb County Commission worries about residential blight, we have a lot of commercial blight as well.

I would be remiss in not pointing out that there are ways around it. The Macon Mall is a good example. They bulldozed the wing they had constructed in the ‘90s and worked hard to revitalize the space they had. It has not been an overwhelming success, but it has absolutely been a success. As economic fortunes churn again and people move again, will we one day be faced with a vacant Riverside Crossing? Perhaps.

Though I do not have an answer and do not want to see a building moratorium, I do hope our elected leaders and the Planning and Zoning Commission might find ways to deal with these empty shells. Putting government offices in them is an admission of failure. We need something better.

Erick Erickson is host of “The Erick Erickson Show” heard statewide on radio.