Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

2024 Preview – Part 4: More parking downtown, looming bus fare hike, Bicentennial finale, rising sewer rates

This is the last in The Macon Newsroom’s 4-part series that previews 20 things to look for in 2024
Liz Fabian
Cherry Street Plaza does not have parking meters but motorists are expected to pay for parking with the ParkMobile app or by scanning the QR code.

Change is coming in 2024 for downtown Macon’s parking system, Macon Water Authority sewer rates are rising, Planning & Zoning is rewriting historic district guidelines, the cost of bus fare could increase and the Bicentennial celebration continues.

16. UDA expanding downtown parking

Downtown Macon is expected to see construction begin on two new parking decks in 2024 as the Urban Development Authority completes its first year fully managing the county’s Park Macon system.

Visitors also should be aware that the lack of a parking meter on the sidewalk does not always mean parking is free. Park Macon signs are posted along Cherry Street Plaza in front of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and Tubman Museum, but there are no meters.

Motorists need to pay for parking online in those locations or face the possibility of a citation.

To add more parking capacity, UDA agreed to provide $18.5 million in bonds for the parking deck required for the planned Crescent Corners lofts at Second and Plum streets that will connect to a new hotel on Poplar Street. Construction is expected to begin in early 2024 on that private development, but UDA will own and manage the parking deck under the deal.

Construction of a municipal parking deck behind City Hall also is expected to get off the ground in 2024 with a project that involves more residential units at retail space along Plum Street near D.T. Walton Way.

Piedmont Construction CEO Scott Thompson said they are currently working on the design and pricing construction costs. After the first of the year, Thompson plans to finalize an agreement with the UDA to purchase the completed deck for county employee parking. The UDA would provide lease spaces for apartment residents and retail customers.

At the last UDA meeting of the year, Park Macon’s Steven Schroeder reported that updates to its Mulberry Street parking garage are nearing completion. That deck, which provides parking for the Bibb County School District, Gateway Plaza tenants, visitors to the Douglass Theatre and downtown patrons, will soon be covered by its own zone under the ParkMobile app.

An attendant will no longer be posted at the exit, so everyone must pay electronically.

License plate readers have been installed that will clock a vehicle’s entry and exit times and send a citation for non-payment, if necessary. Liz Fabian

17. Beyond the Bicentennial Year

New Macon 200 Bicentennial banners are up on the Otis Redding Bridge to commemorate the city’s history since its founding in 1823. (Liz Fabian | The Macon Newsroom)

Macon marked its 200th birthday in 2023, but the celebration will linger into 2024 with a planned musical finale and other projects currently underway.

The Macon-Bibb County Bicentennial Commission intends to hold its final event as a celebration of the community’s musical heritage once the amphitheater opens at Macon Mall in the spring.

Fundraising continues for the Bicentennial Park near the Mill Hill East Macon Arts Village off Main and Clinton streets and details will be emerging in the coming year.

A Bicentennial Park sub-committee has chosen three artists who will be telling the city’s history from its Native American origins through its first two centuries and current efforts to reconcile with the Indigenous descendants who were forced to leave in the years before the city was founded.

The Bicentennial History Committee also is compiling research from a dozen historical presentations presented in 2023 for a possible coffee table book that could also highlight Macon 200 events. The committee will be looking for input and sponsorships from local businesses and organizations.

After the first of the year, Macon200 Bicentennial essay competition winners will be announced from the contest sponsored by the Bicentennial Commission and the Mayor’s Literacy Alliance.

Public and private elementary, middle and high school students were invited to submit entries. Prizes will be awarded for the top three essays in each category.

Although the nearly two-dozen member Bicentennial Commission created by Macon-Bibb County officially dissolves at midnight on Dec. 31, several volunteers will continue meeting to tie up loose ends and oversee work on the finale, book and Bicentennial Park. Liz Fabian

18. Will there be a bus fare hike?

A Macon Transit Authority bus arrives at Terminal Station. (Liz Fabian | The Macon Newsroom)

The Macon Transit Authority may consider a bus fare increase in 2024.

Last year, the seemingly impending bus fare hike was staved off amid public outcry that followed the Macon Transit Authority board’s unanimous vote to increase the cost of fare from $1.25 to $1.75 at a meeting in February. The cost of a ride for paratransit customers was set to increase from $2.50 to $3.50.

Months later, the increase was nixed thanks to $375,000 from the Macon-Bibb County Commission. The county commission voted in April to allocate the money, a fraction of the $75.8 million it received in the American Rescue Plan Act, to help the transit authority cover most of the income the authority expected from one year of the fare increase.

It is unclear whether the transit authority will revisit plans for a bus fare hike in 2024. It also is unclear whether the county will make the same offer to the transit authority. Federal rules require the county to spend all of its American Rescue Plan Act money by December 2024.

Bus fare increases last in perpetuity once implemented. It has been 15 years since the last bus fare hike in Macon. – Laura Corley

19. Historic District changes on the horizon

The 800 block of Forsyth Street in downtown Macon will be restored for new retail and lofts in the historic business center that dates back to the late 1800s. (Liz Fabian | The Macon Newsroom)

The new year will bring changes to the guidelines governing two of Macon-Bibb County’s historic districts.

Planning & Zoning Commission Executive Director Jeff Ruggieri plans to hire Ethos preservation planners out of Savannah to conduct a thorough review of the historic district guidelines that govern renovation, restoration and construction design in the InTown and  Vineville neighborhoods. The guidelines currently used were originally drafted in 1986.

The Beall’s Hill neighborhood guidelines for new construction were drawn in 2007 and are not part of the review, Ruggieri said.

P&Z authorized Ruggieri to spend up to $100,000 on the contract with Ethos, which was the top bidder in the request for proposals that was due in late October.

The job requires the company to make recommendations based on “contemporary best practices, staff input, and information collected from public engagement efforts.”

“I envision them putting down a solid outline, creating citizen engagement and subcommittees,” Ruggieri said at the conclusion of a December P&Z meeting.

P&Z will request that Ethos seek input from historic property owners, developers and designers who frequently have business before P&Z and its Design Review Board, which interprets the guidelines and makes recommendations to the full commission.

P&Z regularly sees property owners who fail to follow the guidelines out of ignorance or obstinance. There are also new construction materials available to builders that were not included in the current guidelines that were written in 1986 and last updated in 1995.

Ruggieri expects the revisionary process to take between six and ten months. Liz Fabian

20. MWA sewer rate change

Greg Fischer’s bill history shows major spikes in September and October of 2021. The Macon Water Authority believes new meter reading technology could help detect leaks. (Liz Fabian | The Macon Newsroom)

Macon Water Authority rates will be going up again in 2024, plus residential customers will begin paying sewer fees for 100% of the water coming into their homes.

Until January of 2024, MWA has only been charging sewer rates for 80% of residential water used, and was only one of two utilities in the state that gave a sewer discount.

“When we’re looking at our peers, we’ve got to get back to normality,” MWA CEO Ron Shipman said in September when the change was approved.

Shipman and the board have been crunching numbers and realize the current rates will not keep pace with the amount of work that needs to be done to maintain aging water lines.

“I certainly love seeing the Macon Water Authority tearing up concrete and fixing stuff,” said Desmond Brown, as he made the motion to approve the new billing plan.

The Authority already planned incremental increases of 25 cents a year in the base charge for standard residential meters through 2025, and a 27-cent increase in the consumption rate per 100 cubic feet of water used.

The latest increases come just two years after residential customers began paying $4.99 a month for stormwater management.

When reviewing its budget and anticipated expenses, MWA Chairman Gary Bechtel said future hikes are on the table.

“I think over the next three months we need to start looking at a long term plan on potential rate increases,” Bechtel said.

The Authority also will study its pipe network and plan strategies in the coming decades for replacing the aging infrastructure.

“We’re a 200-year-old city and we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can so the citizens of this county have all the water they need,” Shipman said. Liz Fabian

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-302-2976. Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley reports on education, health, transportation, housing and public safety and may be contacted at [email protected] or 478-301-5777.

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