New boutique hotel, apartments, entertainment alley planned for downtown

Historic Newman Building, parking deck included in Central City Commons between First and Second, Poplar and Plum streets

The+Central+City+Corners+project+would+build+a+new+152-unit+hotel+along+Poplar+Street%2C+a+six-story+apartment+building+at+Second+and+Plum+streets+and+renovate+the+historic+Newman+Building+across+from+City+Hall.

Proposed aerial view

The Central City Corners project would build a new 152-unit hotel along Poplar Street, a six-story apartment building at Second and Plum streets and renovate the historic Newman Building across from City Hall.

Downtown Macon developers have new plans for nearly a whole block of construction and a historic renovation project between First and Second streets.

Miller Heath III and Tim Thornton initially proposed Central City Commons several years ago with a Hyatt Place hotel, but the COVID-19 pandemic was blamed for derailing financing and killing a bond deal with the Urban Development Authority for parking decks near City Hall. Heath and Thornton later pitched only building a mixed-use residential and retail building with a parking deck behind City Hall, but UDA now is considering an agreement with another developer for a similar project to provide necessary government parking

The men have long dreamed of developing their business home base between Poplar and Plum streets, but now the real estate investment team of Opterra Capital has joined their vision.

That local partnership of MMI-Thornton LLC and the Opterra investors have applications before the Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission for a boutique hotel, a multi-family residence and retail building, an entertainment alley and a parking deck for up to 500 vehicles. Monday, the project failed to clear the Design Review Board, which asked for some architectural changes be presented April 18.

Crescent Corners would feature about 230 apartments, a commercial gym and coffee shop.
Crescent Corners would be built on the current site of Larry Bush’s Riverside Tire and the adjacent parking lot next to the Crescent Building. (Liz Fabian)

With necessary approvals, construction on the Crescent Commons residential lofts could begin as early as next year, Opterra’s Chief Development Officer Naomi Mirsky told the Design Review Board Monday.

“We envision this whole block to be an interconnected area with a lot of ways to engage the public,” Mirsky told the board.

She described the six-story, 230-unit, U-shaped apartment building as “a little bit more modern and in keeping with current standards” and “very welcoming and warm.”

But the board rejected the look of the mid-rise for the corner of Plum and Second streets – where Larry Bush’s Riverside Tire is now and the adjacent parking lot next to Heath’s Crescent Building. That empty lot had been approved for an Avid hotel in the prior Central City Commons proposal.

“It does feel very large for the area. I will say that,” DRB’s Carrie Robinson said. “I do feel that the architecture of the structure feels very flat and just as though it’s something quickly thought through to just meet a budget.”

DRB member Lauren Mauldin raised concerns about the height of the building compared to what else is along that southeastern section of Second Street heading toward Little Richard Penniman.

“If you’re coming down Second Street Corridor, off the interstate, it’s all flat, flat flat,” Mauldin said. “And the first thing you see… seems a bit jarring.”

Mirsky hinted of future development to come even farther down Second, away from Plum Street, in what has been proposed as “Mid-City Square.”

DRB staff also noted that the possible Mid-City development “will begin less than 150 feet down Second Street, and is intended to be of significantly larger scale and height than this building.”

Mirsky said: “Think about how this is going to be. This is a first in a series that is going to be happening in this area. We know that’s where things are going.”

The board voted to continue the certificate of appropriateness application until next month to give architects a chance to enhance the rendering to get more of what Robinson considers the “rhythm of downtown.”

In the rejected design, the first floor of the residence building would be a mixture of brick and EFIS exteriors, a synthetic stucco material known as Exterior Insulating Finish Systems. It will include 6,500 square feet of retail space housing a “national brand coffee shop” and 4,000 square-foot-gym that will offer memberships to non-residents. The remainder of the ground floor will be 180 covered parking spaces, partially underground with the slope of the land.

Boutique hotel, entertainment alley

A 152-unit boutique hotel with an entertainment alley is planned for 678 Poplar Street.

Walkways will connect Crescent Corners to a 75,000 square-foot-hotel with six floors and large windows fronting 678 Poplar St. The 152-unit hotel will be separated from Thornton’s realty office by a courtyard-like alley that will feature outdoor seating, sprawling artwork and an entertainment space for musical performances.

The second story bar lobby can open out to a deck, and they also plan to serve drinks in the alley.

The first floor of the Newman Building is expected to house a new restaurant, according to the application. (Liz Fabian)
The upper floors of the 1891 Newman Building will be used for a ballroom and event space for the new hotel. (Liz Fabian)

The developers also are seeking tax credits to restore the historic 1891 Newman Building with its towering turret on the corner of First Street, which will serve as event space for the hotel on the upper floors by connecting via a second-floor walkway. A restaurant is proposed for the ground floor.

Stephen Overcash, principal of design at ODA Architecture out of Charlotte, said the new hotel will pay homage to Macon’s history as a railroad town and incorporate rail elements in the design.

“You have a lot of great buildings in Macon so we felt like less detail might help show them better,” Overcash told the board.

The building will intersperse brick and EFIS panels in large sections of the front, with light-colored panels dominating about three-quarters of the façade.

Again, the board wanted to see an enhanced design, possibly featuring more brick accents.

“Something to take the vanilla out of those three pieces,” board member Will Stanford said.

Overcash countered with: “Less vanilla and more chocolate.”

The team will appear before P&Z next week seeking approval for the project before returning to the Design Review Board with the requested architectural changes later in the month.

In promotional materials submitted during Monday’s meeting, the team states: “Some 60,000 hotel guests per year and 500 full-time apartment residents will provide substantial new pedestrian traffic to surrounding retail stores and restaurants.”

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