by Clarence Thomas, Jr.
NewTown Macon is arguably downtown's gatekeeper of development. And one of its greatest platforms of residential economic empowerment is the organization's Developer's Academy.
Launched in January 2015 and presented by BB&T Bank, the Developer's Academy is designed to assist everyday persons interested in nominally priced downtown real estate investing. It was created by NewTown Macon executive director Josh Rogers to offset the number of downtown development projects under $2 million dollars that were being bypassed by big time developers. Graduates of the class are able to create professional quality project proposals for investment property, including construction, development and operating projections according to NewTown Macon's web site. These skills provide graduates with the ability to put together and/or invest in new construction and historic rehabilitation investment opportunities in downtown Macon, and to understand and leverage all of the relevant incentive programs, including historic tax credits. "Having local developers on these projects preserves diversity. It makes local landlords more successful and contributes greatly to the economy by letting local developers control projects," says Rogers.
To earn the right to developing downtown property, participants must successfully navigate a rigorous course. Applications are accepted every December. Classes start the following month (January) and go through each June culminating with the graduation of those who were able to meet for two hours each month. While Developer's Academy meetings don't take place frequently, they pack a powerful punch. Students receive loads of information during the class provided by financial experts, architects and builders to name a few. Along the six-month trek, they are charged with mastering the information and eventually meeting and exceeding the expectations of a NewTown created board of development experts using curriculum requirements and their expertise to see if students are development ready.
In Class 1 attendees learn about the economic benefits and motivations for real estate investment. Class 2 allows participants to learn additional concepts in evaluating potential return on investment and put the skills from the first class to work by evaluating real-world projects through in-class exercises. Students dive into financing tools and strategies that can be used to make marginal deals attractive to investors and lenders in Class 3. The class will also learn about tax credits, tax abatements and other tools that can enhance the economic returns on projects. Students in the fourth class learn more about preparing persuasive and effective loan applications for lenders and the required components of loan applications. In Class 5 participants learn the basics of the developer's responsibilities in construction management. In the last class of the Academy, attendees will need to combine all of the skills and expertise developed over the past five months.
Two Developer's Academy graduates from last year's class are winning. Trace Butler, a Macon family businessman with Parts Central, decided to enhance his working knowledge of real estate development and become personally vested in the future of downtown Macon. While he had some experience as a regular property developer, he had never upgraded a historic structure before. George Shepherd of Spearman Investments in Macon decided he wanted to get in on the surge of center city enhancement and tapped the Developer’s Academy to get it done. Butler says the knowledge he received in the course has greatly facilitated the two current projects he has under way in downtown Macon. Construction on a Second Street project is slated to begin this month. Another at the Lawrence Mayer Building at Mulberry Street and Cotton Avenue along with living spaces on Third Street will come on line later this summer. Shepherd's overhaul of historic downtown property begins this November and will result in transformed living and retail space next summer. "The Developer's Academy made our group tremendously stronger and able to participate in what New Town had," said Shepherd. "There’s no way we would be doing this in downtown had it not been for this academy and the eye opening opportunities presented." "It's been very helpful. I would recommend it to anyone interested in developing downtown," Butler observed. "It gives you the ability to utilize the resources the academy provides and be successful."
Rogers is pleased to hear this kind of feedback. It's why he implemented the academy from the beginning, and why New Town goes the extra mile to ensure the success of participants by providing scholarships to financially challenged students and oversight during and after the completion of the course. He finds it exciting that everyday people get a shot at improving the local economy through this specialized opportunity. "I'm certain we will get back what we put into the program because they know what they are doing," he stated. "The interests and ambitions of the participants run the gambit. And if they just walk away with a better understanding of the development process and history of downtown Macon that’s good enough for me."
The learn more about New Town Macon's Developer's Academy call 722-9909 or visit their web site at www.newtownmacon.com.
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