New library annex, architectural firm approved for Macon Mall renovation

Macon-Bibb’s mayor supports putting library with county offices at renovated shopping center that will include new amphitheater


Liz Fabian

Macon-Bibb County is renovating 104,000 square feet of Macon Mall to move several county offices to the west side of the shopping center.

More than 104,000 square feet of Macon Mall is about to undergo a major transformation.

At a called meeting Thursday, the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority selected Dunwody/Beeland, Architects to carve out and design spaces for county offices and a library annex in the Burlington side of the mall. The vote came about two hours before county officials broke ground for the new amphitheater in the mall’s east parking lot not far from the former JC Penney store.

February 10, the UDA selected a separate, four-faceted design-build team for the amphitheater. That team is already working on the project and participated in Thursday’s groundbreaking where dignitaries arrived on a tour bus as a coming attraction of the acts the county hopes to draw.

Mayor Lester Miller, who wore Allman Brothers Band attire and a faux tattoo sleeve to the ceremony in homage to resurrecting Macon as a music city, plans to secure $40 million in revenue bonds to fund both projects. The financial deal has yet to be finalized and the actual cost of the amphitheater is still not known.

That design-build team is led by architects TVS, known for Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame and Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta as well as other major projects across the nation like the renovation and expansion of the Javits Convention Center in New York City.

Stage Front out of Savannah will handle the audio-visual system while HGOR will specialize in landscaping. Macon’s Piedmont Construction Group will build the amphitheater and adjoining buildings.

UDA Executive Director Alex Morrison said the project begins with the design phase and then site preparation before any construction begins.

“We will have a final budget after the design process,” Morrison said in an email response to a Macon Newsroom inquiry. “The bond process is underway as well and will include a feasibility report for the project.”

As the amphitheater goes up, local county offices will be preparing to move to the west side of the mall, also currently in the design phase.

Morrision said Dunwody/Beeland had the highest score in the closed bid procurement process that began about a month ago. The local company beat out another Macon firm, DeLoach Architects, and Atlanta’s Smallwood, that has the contract for the City Auditorium renovations, which also are underway.

Although the office plans are still fluid, the Request for Professional Services that closed February 10 outlined some potential Macon-Bibb County offices that could move to the mall. These include the Board of Elections, Planning & Zoning, Business Development Services, Economic and Community Development, Middle Georgia Regional Commission and a Middle Georgia Regional Library annex.

The Macon-Bibb County Library Board approved the new location at its meeting Tuesday evening.

Middle Georgia Regional Library Director Jennifer Lautzenheiser said the new location will fill the void on the county’s west side after the closing of the Thomaston Road location, which was the most expensive to operate and least used branch.

“The expense came from very unfavorable lease terms and it just wasn’t able to be renewed,” Lautzenheiser said. “It’s always been on our radar to try to restore service on the west side, so we’re excited about that.”

The mall location will be a smaller branch, like the one in the Bloomfield-Gilead Recreation Center at 1931 Rocky Creek Road, which opened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The advent of the coronavirus social distancing requirements revealed how cramped staff was at Washington Memorial Library, so some administrative offices will also be moving to the mall.

The focus and theme of the new library will be determined once the space is laid out and other neighboring tenants are revealed.

“It’s really important for us as part of our mission that each library reflects the community it serves,” Lautzenheiser said. “Many of our other libraries have a unique feel once you’re in it. It will really depend upon who is visiting that library.”

Mayor Miller indicated the library could go near the Ole Times Country Buffet wing that fronts Eisenhower Parkway.

A new library annex has been approved for the Macon Mall and could go near the Ole Times Country Buffet on the Eisenhower Parkway side of the shopping center. (Liz Fabian)

John Mulherin, Vice President of Government Relations at Hull Property Group, which is progressively donating the mall property to Macon-Bibb County as a tax write-off, was pleased to hear a library would be part of renovations.

“We’ve done that in two of our other malls and it’s a great use,” Mulherin said at Wednesday’s meeting of the Eisenhower Business Improvement District.

At one of those Hull locations, the branch offers regular “you fix it” programs where patrons are taught how to fix common household items or learn how to do simple things.

“They have a lot of people coming on a regular basis,” Mulherin said.

Hull remains the mall property manager, but UDA will approve leases for the new offices, Morrison said.

Plans are also progressing for indoor pickleball courts in the old Belk space, but requests for proposals have yet to be issued. The idea of a casino also has been discussed, but the Georgia General Assembly has not yet approved that type of commercial gambling in the state.

Under Miller’s plan, the revenue generated from mall rent will pay back the bonds.

Architect Gene Dunwody left the UDA meeting with somewhat mixed feelings as he has always advocated for keeping county offices downtown.

“That decision’s already been made,” said Dunwody, who was excited to land the project.

Now he will be designing new spaces for many of the offices currently occupying Terminal Station, which is owned by the Macon Transit Authority.

Morrison said a satellite office for business licenses also could be included.

“Because of the offices included in the RFP… you can finally get that one-stop-shop we’ve been looking for. That’s one of the things we’re hoping to accomplish,” Morrison told the authority board.

Miller also has floated the idea of building new courtrooms in the mall, which could free up space in the courthouse and negate the need for a downtown addition that is included in the 2018 SPLOST.

The latest estimates show a downtown courthouse project would cost about $30 million, which could be diverted to other underfunded projects such as the City Auditorium renovation.

SPLOST Project Manager Clay Murphey said Sheridan Construction is doing a cost estimate on the preliminary plans for the auditorium improvements.

In June of 2020, Macon-Bibb County commissioners got their first look at preliminary plans for a $10 million upgrade of the nearly 100-year-old Macon City Auditorium. (Smallwood)

There are not enough funds currently allocated for an ambitious glass lobby atrium that was presented to county commissioners in June of 2020. Estimates last year showed that addition alone would cost about $6 million.

“Due to rapidly rising material costs and a ‘dream’ concept for the facility, the estimated costs far exceeded the budget,” Murphey reported to the SPLOST Advisory Committee last month.

Murphey hopes to have an adjusted scope of work so that construction can begin this spring or summer and be completed in time for the 200th anniversary of Macon’s founding in 1823.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.