Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Mayor ponders creating new police force, reacts to recent jail break

Crime, blight, housing, economic development, tourism and a guitar-shaped beacon for travelers featured in Ask Mayor Miller

The escape of four inmates from the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center and complaints about the condition of the 43-year-old jail drew national attention, but Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller said the building is not to blame for the Oct. 16 jail break. (00:20 into video)

“The age of that jail, in my personal opinion based on what I know about it, has absolutely zero to do with the escape. You could build me a $100 million jail, give me a chisel and some electric tools, and give me two or three hours and I can get out of that jail, as well,” Miller said during the October Ask Mayor Miller program. “So, you’ve got to have the management, the capabilities there, the personnel and the guidelines set up to stop something like that. So, no matter how much you spend on a new jail, if you don’t do the other things, you’re going to have someone escape there.”

The jail, which is expected to be replaced under the next Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax proposal, is under the purview of Bibb County Sheriff David Davis, the county’s top lawman after consolidation dissolved the Macon Police Department.

During last month’s interview, Miller said the lack of a municipal police force under the mayor’s control was a flaw of the government merger.

This month, Miller said he has looked into what it would take for him to be able to create his own law enforcement agency and whether it would be economicaly feasible. (3:03)

“We have to make sure that we don’t, you know, throw the baby out with the bathwater. We don’t want to get a situation where we’re spending extra money and not betting better services,” Miller said.

Since taking office in 2021, Miller has beefed up the code enforcement department to relieve the sheriff’s office of some of the more menial tasks and free up deputies to investigate serious crime. (5:12)

Miller said that he has seen a greater law enforcement presence downtown since a summer homicide resulted in changes in bar closing times and food truck hours. (4:40)

Surveillance cameras installed in recent months also are helping, Miller said.

The mayor also is waiting for year-end crime statistics to evaluate the success of programs funded through the Macon Violence Prevention program and determine where money is best spent in the effort to reduce crime.

Luring tourists, making a good impression

The future “High Note” Fixed Base Operation at Middle Georgia Regional Airport will be the only FBO in the world shaped like a guitar, visible from the air, Mayor Lester Miller said. (Macon-Bibb County designs)

This week, the mayor revealed part of his strategy to grow the local economy by sprucing up the welcome mat at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport. (5:13)

The county took over the Fixed Base Operation, or FBO, to maintain the facility where private pilots and charter jets land, refuel and service the aircraft.

“It’s also sometimes the first gateway, the first impression a million dollar- or billion dollar-company has of Macon-Bibb County. When you land at the airport there, what do you see? Right now, it’s not the best thing that you see, not the best amenities you have. But we want to make sure that we give them a good first impression because sometimes that’s all you get to do and we want those companies to bring those good jobs to our community,” Miller said.

Private planes housed in hangars at the airport also contribute to the tax base from ad valorem taxes.

“That airport is an untapped goldmine out there,” Miller said. “A lot of these planes may cost $14-15 million dollars and the ad valorem tax alone per year is $200 to $300 thousand dollars. That’s nothing to shake a stick at. It helps our whole community provide the services that we need.”

The winning “High Note Aviation” design features building shaped like a guitar and lit up to be seen from the sky. The windows on the perimeter of the building mimic keys on a piano. There’s nothing else like it in the world, the mayor said.

Miller said the plans play off Macon’s music heritage and complement the new amphitheater which will open next spring at Macon Mall.

Miller soon expects to announce some more acts already booked at the amphitheater beginning in March. The VIP suites and private boxes are close to selling out, he said.

Prepping for pickleball, national park

In addition, what is believed to be the world’s largest indoor pickleball facility is expected to have a soft opening around Nov. 18, Miller said. (11:52)

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller expects the world’s largest indoor pickleball facility to have a soft opening around Nov. 18 with memberships available by Christmas. (Lester Miller)

The Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority is partnering with Visit Macon to run the facility and schedule tournaments. A small tournament is planned for mid-December, but other competitions expected to draw 700 to 800 people are already on the books for next year, Visit Macon CEO Gary Wheat told the UDA Thursday.

Visit Macon is expected to contract with Sports Facilities Companies to manage the as of yet unnamed courts in the old Belk store.

“Picklemall,” which locals have unofficially dubbed the facility, had already been trademarked.

The county envisions the space to be a multi-use facility with the main controlled access from the outside parking lot. Membership information will be available in the next few weeks with sales expected to begin before Christmas.

Walk-up players wishing to rent a court will likely be able to do so after the first of the year, he said.

Miller said the west side of town is already seeing an economic resuergence since work beghan on the amphitheater and county offices in the mall. (12:33)

“You’re going to see some new loft developments, I expect, in the near future there. You’’ll see some new restaurants that’s already working on agreements there on what may come to that area. People are starting to fix up some old properties, as well, and they’re trying to sell some properties,” Miller said.

The UDA and Bibb County School System also plans to rehabilitate the old Butler Collison Center at 2122 Eisenhower Parkway to create a new center for Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education, or CTAE. (13:05)

“The school system’s going to be out of the box getting kids jobs right there across from the mall to do training with our College and Career Academy,” Miller said.

The east side of town also is poised for an economic explosion if Congress creates Georgia’s first national park at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park. (13:40)

A delegation of more than 50 Macon-Bibb County leaders took a charter flight from Middle Georgia Regional Airport to Tulsa, OK, in September. (Liz Fabian)

Miller said he expects the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to not only be a big part of managing the park, but to contribute to economic growth. Future flights between the nation’s current home of Tulsa and the Macon airport are also a strong possibility.

“They do a good job of doing hotels, as well, and the east bank area over there could use some nice hotels, certainly around the mall, as well. So I think in the very near future, we’ll have some announcements come that make sure they’re a part of that,” the mayor said.

In June, the county purchased about 21 acres across from the Macon Coliseum to clear the way for a potential major development site.

After the first of the year, money also will be available for low-cost loans to address blight, build more housing and help people afford to repair their homes.

Mayor Miller answers the public’s questions each month on Ask Mayor Miller. Send questions, comments or concerns about Macon-Bibb County to [email protected]

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-957-2829.

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