UDA signs off on Macon Mall bonds, waives taxes for Baconsfield apartments

Central City Commons developers met with the Urban Development Authority about downtown project


Liz Fabian

Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority Executive Director Alex Morrison signs the resolution Thursday to provide up to $44 million in bonds for the renovation of Macon Mall and new amphitheater.

Before taking a vote to issue up to $44 million in revenue bonds for the Macon Mall amphitheater and renovation project, Urban Development Authority Chairwoman Kay Gerhardt asked if there were any questions.

“Seems like we ought to talk more about $44 million,” Gerhardt said after multiple members motioned to approve the proposal summarized by attorney Blake Sharpton.

The authority and Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller have been working for months on the new entertainment complex and plans to convert old stores into county offices, courtrooms and an indoor pickleball complex. The Mall’s owner, Hull Property Group, is donating the property to the UDA.

“We’ve talked a lot,” UDA Executive Director Alex Morrison told the board. “I think it’s an exciting opportunity for Macon-Bibb County to inject this type of investment into the heart of the Unionville community. … A lot of people in the state of Georgia have memories of the Macon Mall. We’re doing something interesting and different.”

The price tag for the project is expected to be about $42.8 million, but the county approved a cushion to cover financing and other fees.

Sharpton assured the board that the county is guaranteeing the bonds through an Intergovernmental Agreement signed in March.  Miller expects to make the bond payments from the mall’s rent revenue and amphitheater proceeds over the 30-year term.

The exact dollar amount of the bonds, payments and interest rate won’t be known until the bonds are marketed and sold, likely by June, Sharpton said.

The authority, which is the owner of the county’s portion of the mall, also agreed to take on a piece of Macon history.

“The relocation of the USS Macon,” Morrison told the board.

They agreed to amend the intergovernmental agreement to take possession of the model of the battleship that is currently in the lobby of City Hall.

“Plans are for it to go back to the Armed Forces recruitment center,” Morrison said.

“More people will see it there,” board member Charles Richardson said.

Tax break for new Baconsfield apartments

The old Baconsfield Office Park that burned multiple times in recent years is slated to be developed into 60 apartments. (Liz Fabian)

The UDA board approved including a Baconsfield blight remediation in the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, or PILOT, program that defers taxes on qualified projects.

Baconsfield Office Park owners Ashok and Kunj Patel plan a $3 million renovation of the office complex that burned multiple times in recent years, Morrison said.

Plans call for converting the office park to 60 apartments, he said.

“You can see that they’ve done a lot of work already,” Morrison told the authority

Contractors have already replaced the roof on the Baconsfield Office Park that was damaged by multiple fires. (Liz Fabian)

NewTown Macon also is lending money to the project to close the financing gap with the bank as a primary lender, NewTown’s Executive Director Josh Rogers said.

“It meets several of our strategic plan goals including blight elimination, residential unit production, new price points and sizes of units, property value increase and enabling projects owned by people of color,” Rogers said in an email.

Morrison explained to the UDA board that the PILOT program abates taxes over 10 years to encourage development. The first five years are tax-free with taxes gradually ramping up to full taxation by the end of the 10 years.

“This is exactly the type of project that is intending to be induced – adding apartments, residential units, to an area that needs it. Without this incentive, these type of projects wouldn’t go forward,” Morrison said.

Central City Commons

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. (Proposed aerial view)

Developers hoping to build a six-story apartment building and new boutique hotel in downtown Macon met behind closed doors Thursday with the authority.

Tim Thornton, of the MMI-Thornton partnership with Miller Heath III, has been working on the Central City Commons project for about a decade. He attended the executive session with representatives of the Opterra Capital real estate investment company that has joined the team trying to get the project built between First and Second and Poplar and Plum streets.

Although the private meeting did not result in the authority taking any action in open session, Thornton told the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission days earlier that he was planning to ask the authority to partner with developers to build a new parking deck on the interior of the block.

In April of 2019, the county and UDA agreed to issue $20 million in bonds to finance two parking decks – one behind City Hall as part of a multi-use, residential complex, and the other which was key to securing a promised 122-room Hyatt Place hotel on Poplar. The Hyatt deal fell through when COVID-19 struck the tourism industry, but developers have a new boutique hotelier in mind for the revised project.

Although another developer has proposed partnering with UDA to build a parking deck behind City Hall with a development along D.T. Walton Way and Plum Street, the latest Central City Commons design relies on a deck to park hotel vehicles. The apartment building features ground floor parking at the base of the building.

Thornton called it a “win-win-win” that could provide parking for the hotel, retail and restaurants downtown as well as residents of the Macon Exchange Condo Association at Poplar and Second streets.

Monday, P&Z commissioners told developers they needed to have binding agreements with the nearby condominium residents, who would lose their private parking spaces according to the initial development designs submitted.

P&Z continued the application until April 25 to give developers a chance to meet with property owners and the county to secure the necessary alleys required for construction before the project will be approved.

The Design Review Board also objected to the exterior designs of the buildings and developers are expected to present revisions to the board at its meeting next week.

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