Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

2024 Preview – Part 3: Guitar-shaped airport, new plan to attract business, pedestrian safety challenges and the fate of state charter schools

The Macon Newsroom compiled 20 things to look for in 2024 in a 4-part series that will be published between Dec. 21 and Jan. 2

Looking ahead to 2024, Bibb County residents can expect airport construction, state decisions on the futures of the Academy for Classical Education and Cirrus Academy,  loan money to come available for developers to build housing in several neighborhoods, a governmental focus on growing retail and a transportation safety director to take the helm of the county’s efforts to end pedestrian deaths.

11. Airport construction projects

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. (HighNote Aviation design for Macon-Bibb County)

By spring of 2024, Macon-Bibb County is expected to launch its search for a contractor to build a one-of-a-kind, guitar-shaped building to service private aircraft and charter flight passengers at Middle Georgia Regional Airport.

The new $12 million “High Note Aviation” facility will replace the old Lowe Aviation facility that operated for more than three-quarters of a century and will continue its charter service. The county’s new building, which will serve as a fuel center, maintenance operation and terminal for private aircraft, is not the only major project getting underway at the county’s two airports.

The long-awaited $30 million runway expansion project at Middle Georgia Regional Airport, which Mayor Lester Miller called a “game-changer,” will add 600 feet to lengthen the main runway to 7,100 feet, which will allow larger jets and loaded passenger planes to land on the airstrip in south Bibb County.

The extension could not only help the county lure more passenger flights to Macon, but provide greater opportunities for local aerospace companies to do more business.

The Federal Aviation Administration also approved construction of a new air traffic control tower for Middle Georgia Regional Airport.

At the Macon Downtown Airport, formerly known as Herbert Smart Airport, construction begins Jan. 8 to reconstruct the runway which currently does not comply with the FAA’s line-of-sight requirements.

Macon-Bibb Aviation Director Doug Faour said it should take about six months to level the runway so that pilots can see both the approach and departure ends and avoid collisions and other mishaps.

The County accepted a $5.3 million grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation and agreed to a matching grant of over $1 million for the runway reconstruction. Reeves Construction was awarded the nearly $5.8 million contract and Goodwyn Mills Cawood will bill nearly $565,000 for consulting services on the project. – Liz Fabian

12. State Charter School Contracts Up For Renewal

Staff and board members of the State Charter Schools Commission visited Cirrus Academy on Aug. 23, 2023, to discuss the school’s eligibility for renewal of its charter contract. The current two-year probationary charter expires in June 2024. (Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom)

The State Charter Schools Commission will decide in February whether it will renew charter contracts for 10 state charter schools including Cirrus Academy and the Academy for Classical Education in Macon.

Cirrus Academy is completing its final year of a two-year probationary contract during which the school has struggled to meet the terms of its charter in areas of governance, academics, finances and operations. The school was placed on a “probationary status” in September and is required to submit corrective action plans in addition to more frequent status updates to the State Charter Schools Commission. In December, the governing board for Cirrus voted to approve adding two new board members as part of its corrective action plan to meet the minimum board capacity its bylaws require for a quorum.

Cirrus Academy opened in 2016 in the old Eugenia Hamilton Elementary School near Pio Nono Avenue and Anthony Roads. It enrolls about 500 students each year.

The Academy for Classical Education is in its 10th year of operation. The school, which serves kindergarten through 12th grade, was granted a five-year charter contract with the State Charter Schools Commission in 2019. The school’s test scores for high school grades have consistently soared above local and state averages. Even so, the school continues struggling with issues including a lack of diversity and disproportionate discipline of non-white students. – Laura Corley

13. Nonprofit to launch revolving loan fund for affordable housing developers

A crew employed by Stafford Construction works on a new home on Ward Street in Macon’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood. Pleasant Hill is one of the places carved out for work by a new, federally funded affordable housing non-profit group of which Stafford Construction is a member. (Grant Blankenship | Georgia Public Broadcasting)

A newly formed nonprofit that received millions from Macon-Bibb County is set to begin accepting applications next year for its revolving loan fund meant to help develop affordable housing in four neighborhoods with high rates of poverty.

The Macon-Bibb County Affordable Housing Fund Inc., a private nonprofit established by the county last January, received $7.5 million of the county’s COVID-related federal grant money to establish a revolving loan fund meant to incentivize developers to build affordable housing in Pleasant Hill, along Houston Avenue, in pockets of East Macon and at Tindall Fields.

The board includes representatives from the Macon-Bibb County Land Bank, the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority, the Macon Housing Authority, the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, Synovus Bank and Stafford Builders & Consultants.

Everett Verner, executive director of the land bank and board chairman for the nonprofit,

said the nonprofit will need to hire an executive director for the nonprofit before it begins accepting loan applications.

“We want to get the new person in before we start making more work for them,” Verner said. “I’m telling people who are interested in borrowing that we hope to have RFPs or just an application portal up and going early next year.”

Since the Macon-Bibb County Affordable Housing Fund Inc. is a nonprofit, its meetings and business are not open to the public. – Laura Corley

14. Macon-Bibb honing retail strategy

Crescent Corners would feature about 230 apartments, a commercial gym and coffee shop.

Macon business and development leaders are joining forces in 2024 to identify retail recruitment strategies for the whole community.

The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, Visit Macon, NewTown Macon and the Urban Development Authority are hiring a firm based in Birmingham, Alabama, to analyze needs and assess trends that will identify opportunities for new businesses and growth.

Retail Strategies promotes itself as a national expert in recruiting businesses and strategically planning growth.

“Our team sees a tremendous opportunity to elevate, diversify, and redevelop retail in the entire County, bringing greater exposure to the vision of leadership and momentum that will serve as an extension of leadership with a focus on retail,” Mill Graves, the senior director of community partnership for Retail Strategies, said in a news release.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller said the company will help strengthen the entire community with retail investment that would best serve those neighborhoods.

“With Retail Strategies, we will be better placed to bring new options, bring back favorites, fill vacant storefronts, and create new development… all which will better serve that area, our entire county, and our entire region.”

Retail Strategies has clients in 200 communities with offices in Atlanta, Fort Worth, Texas, and Starkville, Mississippi. The company’s connections to retailers, brokers and developers across the country will extend Macon-Bibb’s reach to recruit new businesses, according to the release. – Liz Fabian

15. Pedestrian Safety

As of mid-December, Bibb County was on track to report a decrease in pedestrian deaths for the first year since the Macon-Bibb County Pedestrian Safety Review Board was created nearly a decade ago.

Two people on foot, one with a walker, negotiate the dirt path on Pio Nono Avenue in Macon after it passes under Interstate 75. The spot is one of the most deadly for pedestrians in Macon with five people killed within about a quarter mile of it since 2006. (Grant Blankenship | Georgia Public Broadcasting)

Fourteen people were killed walking or biking on roads in Bibb County in 2023 as of Dec. 15. A man was hit by a car on the county’s north side Dec. 17 and was seriously injured. Should the death toll remain at 14 through Dec. 31, it would mark the first decrease in annual death tolls since 2015.

The slight reduction comes on the heels of two straight years of record high numbers of pedestrian deaths. Seventeen pedestrians were killed in Bibb County in both 2021 and 2022.

The pedestrian safety board was created in 2015 and tasked by county ordinance with reviewing each such death, determining the cause and making recommendations for how to make the area safer for those on foot or bike. The board meets monthly and, for at least the past five years, has not reviewed any pedestrian deaths.

In November 2022, the county commission approved outsourcing the board’s responsibilities to a private company. Months later, in February, Mayor Lester Miller said he would consider revising the county code to reflect what the board actually does, which is promote safety through education and awareness campaigns.

The county also plans to hire a traffic safety manager in 2024, but there is no timeline for when the opening might be filled. The person hired for the position, according to the county’s job description, would serve as “an expert advisor” on preventing pedestrian deaths in keeping with the county’s Vision Zero action plan. Vision Zero is a safety campaign aimed at eliminating all pedestrian deaths in Bibb County by 2040.

Earlier this month, U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock announced Macon-Bibb County would receive a $400,000 grant to update its Vision Zero plan from 2020. The grant money comes from the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill congress adopted in 2021. – Laura Corley

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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