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Cornelia Walker Publisher
Downtown Macon - Central Georgia's Hot Property

by Clarence Thomas, Jr.

Theaters, living spaces, restaurants, retail, art galleries, events and businesses all within a few blocks of each other in the heart of Macon – downtown. The stuff of which great cities are made of. And the primary economic engine of our town.

A major change is taking place in the central city in case you haven't noticed. Morning, noon and night now, downtown is a beehive of activity. It has gone from being on life support to being one of the hottest properties in the city. The numbers don’t lie. According to Josh Rogers, Executive Director of NewTown Macon, there are 150 residential units under construction with around 100 units in pre-development. The value of the projects that are under construction exceeds $28 million. A $20 million dollar plus hotel, retail and residential space and parking deck across from the government center on Poplar Street will begin soon.

Josh Rogers
Newton Macon
President and Chief Executive Officer

Rogers says the 2014 consolidation of Macon and Bibb county played a role in downtown's reversal. But he adds that the partnership between NewTown, Macon-Bibb County and the Macon-Bibb Industrial Authority has driven so much of what is happening. With Macon-Bibb providing bonds, the Industrial Authority issuing them and NewTown managing government funds, a winning combination has come about. "The whole community is working together in a way I've not seen since I’ve been here. Everybody is working on the same plan with dependable partners," Rogers said. "And that's Macon-Bibb's success not just downtown."

Cliffard Whitby
Macon-Bibb Industrial Authority
Chairman

The evidence of this effort that Rogers is talking about can be seen. For instance, 50 eateries, 15 bars, 13 music venues and 6 art galleries can be found in downtown Macon. Since 2012, 293 additional housing units have been constructed and leased to 350 new residents. These statistics support Cliffard Whitby's assertions. He chairs the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, the lead agency responsible for supporting the economic health of Macon, and believes a vibrant, healthy downtown Macon is essential to the success of the entire city. "This is the center of commerce for our community. When companies see good things happening downtown when deciding whether to come here, it's like a welcoming smile," Whitby said. "So goes downtown, so goes Macon."

David  Davis
Bibb County Sheriff

The Industrial Authority is putting its money where its mouth is by co-creating young entrepreneurs in partnership with Mercer University through the Innovation Center – a laboratory of resources designed to encourage and equip millennials to stay and invest in Macon along with Reimagine Macon, a platform of development for creatives interested in bettering the city. These initiatives combined with major downtown friendly projects like the Georgia Department of Transportation's overhaul of I-75 and I-16 make for an impressive one two punch. "Downtown Macon is a magnet for every part of this community. We are intentional about supporting downtown and consider doing so an honor and pleasure," Whitby said.

The results of Macon's successful downtown development are an increase in property, money and people passing through or setting up shop in the city's center of commerce. It doesn't hurt then having the headquarters for the Macon-Bibb County Sheriff's Department downtown according to Sheriff David Davis. Following the revitalization of the former Sears building on Walnut St. and its conversion into the sheriff department's new digs, local law enforcement has downtown Macon covered well. Davis is pleased to have what he describes as "bookend" locations in the form of the annex on Walnut Street and Law Enforcement Center headed south near Mercer. He considers having a presence in the heart of the city a mutually beneficial opportunity. "The presence of deputies and sheriff office facilities give downtown visitors, workers and residents some peace of mind that we will be close by in case of trouble. However, we have to be mindful that too much of a presence makes people feel there are crime problems which would necessitate an increased presence," Davis said. "So, we strive to strike a balance between being available to quickly respond without being overbearing."

Doretha Curtis owns LeFace Face Salon on Cotton Avenue. The Chicago native took a chance five years ago on downtown because of the vibrancy she felt. Initially her business started out at another Macon location that was logistically challenged. And while she desires to see more foot traffic, a greater range of businesses and consistent upkeep she is happy she decided to move downtown. "I'm very glad that we decided on this location. We thought it was a good idea to get in and get stable before revitalization started in earnest," Curtis said. "I hope people will put more faith in downtown and come back. I want to see more people driving to rather than driving through downtown."

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