Mayor says violence prevention is working, I-16 homeless camp cleared, Macon Mall renovation progressing

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller answered the public’s questions through the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Ask Mayor Miller

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller says early success in the Macon Violence Prevention program could lead to expanded programs in the future.

Miller answered the public’s questions during the late October taping of the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Ask Mayor Miller program that covered the topics of homelessness, economic development, Macon Mall renovation, the prospect of Ocmulgee Mounds becoming a national park and Macon being in the limelight on CBS This Morning.

The mayor said the Macon Violence Prevention program, his signature anti-crime initiative, was only funded in February and March, but already is showing promise in reducing violence. (0:40 into the video)

“You’ll see some dramatic decreases in certain elements of crime. So we’re very excited about it,” Miller said. “It’s a long-term process that we’re looking at for violence prevention, but I think that we’ve had a lot of early success that we’re going to build on.”

Violence interrupters working in Pleasant Hill strive to reach gang members and others who might be prone to conflict and try to diffuse tense situations.

“They are directly on the streets,” Miller said. “When the incident happens, maybe a conflict arises, they get boots on the ground.”

The mayor is looking to expand that program to other parts of the county to counteract crime.

Homeless camp cleared

County workers cleared six truckloads of tents and other personal items from under the Interstate 16 exit ramp recently in the latest effort to combat urban campsites. (16:24)

Miller said that the Brookdale Resource Center that takes in homeless people at the old elementary school near Payne City is only one aspect of getting people off the streets.

His administration is putting together community organizations to work together to assist people, but Miller said he will not allow urban campsites to take hold.

“You must claim your public spaces. You must make sure that you maintain that, otherwise you will become an attraction if you just allow this to happen like that,” Miller said. “We need economic development and those things affect economic development, and we can’t have good jobs and good quality of life and allow people to take over our public spaces because that decreases the amount of money you have on these various services we’re trying to provide.”

The mayor says the county wants to show compassion while exercising common sense.

“We’re going to be very compassionate to help folks out, to meet them where they’re at and get them off the streets,” Miller said. “At the same time, we must use common sense to know these are public spaces. These mean a lot to everyone and not just one group of people, and we can’t just let those things happen.”

National park and economic development

Miller and other local officials are optimistic the Ocmulgee Mounds will be designated Georgia’s first national park in the coming months. (8:25)

The county is about to close the deal on the purchase of land at the old Bibb Mill site in an effort to lure developers for an estimated $400 million complex of a hotel, residences, offices, restaurants and retail off Coliseum Drive at I-16.

Miller said he’s already heard from some people who are interested in developing the property.

“They realize there’s a great possibility for a national park there and will increase our visitors from around 150,000 a year to upwards of 1.3 million visitors,” Miller said. “Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

Miller said the Macon Mall renovation project is running on schedule. Beams for the amphitheater could be going up in the first quarter of next year. (13:05)

Send your questions for our monthly Ask Mayor Miller program to [email protected]Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.