Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

2024 Preview Part 1 – Building boom, Gray Hwy safety, school closings, honoring a hero, marketing Macon

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.
Liz Fabian
Demolition crews dismantle the old Joseph N. Neel store to make way for new residential lofts and retail space.

The New Year is expected to bring multiple construction projects to Macon-Bibb County, possible safety improvements on Gray Highway, school closing decisions, a tribute to Sgt. Rodney Davis and expectations of increased tourism with a new national park.

1. Building boom for downtown Macon

Construction cranes will become part of the Macon skyline in coming months with major development projects on the horizon and more than 600 new lofts going up or opening in downtown. 

Demolition of the old Joseph N. Neel’s and Blair’s stores will continue into January as Robbo Hatcher is building 95 loft apartments, three retail spaces and several offices in their wake.

The $25 million L-shaped, four-story building will front Cherry and Third streets. 

Piedmont Construction CEO Scott Thompson expects construction to begin shortly after the demolition is complete. 

Thompson also is in the design phase of another new 146-unit loft building near the corner of Plum Street and D.T. Walton Way. He plans to meet with the Urban Development Authority in the first quarter of 2024 to work on a developer’s agreement to build a municipal parking deck behind City Hall that would be run by UDA and used by county workers and loft residents. 

Thompson expects it will be at least the third quarter of 2024 before construction could begin on the estimated 15-month project. 

Work also is expected to begin on the long-awaited $130 million Central City Commons project that includes building 230 loft apartments and retail space in Crescent Corners at the corner of Plum and Second streets.

Naomi Mirsky, of Opterra Capital real estate investment partner, expects groundbreaking sometime near the end of the first quarter of the year, or beginning of the second quarter. 

“We are still in the thick of the project development work and looking forward to groundbreaking,” Mirsky stated in an email to The Macon Newsroom. 

Opterra is partnering with local developers Miller Heath and Tim Thornton on the project that was initially proposed about 10 years ago.

Plans call for a new hotel fronting Poplar Street, renovation of the Newman Building at the corner of First Street, and a new parking deck in the middle of the block. 

The UDA has committed $18.5 million in bonds to build the deck that it will own and manage at the end of construction. 

Late 2024 is the expected completion date for the Otis Redding Center for the Arts that is under construction on Cotton Avenue across from Hotel 45, according to the Center’s website.

The Urban Development Authority also plans to renovate the Dempsey Apartment building it bought five years ago that currently is managed by the Macon Housing Authority. 

The contract with The Department of Housing and Urban Development ends in 2025 and the Authority is exploring its options for the future. 

UDA posted a Request for Proposals for adaptive reuse of the old hotel at the corner of Third and Cherry streets. 

The RFP seeks to identify a development partner for either a public/private partnership, possible joint venture, long-term lease or sale of the property. The deadline for proposals on the Dempsey project is Jan. 5. 

The first month of the year also is expected to bring a judicial ruling on Macon-Bibb County’s proposal to purchase the old Hilton high-rise hotel on First Street, which is in receivership after the owner failed to complete renovations and reopen.

Mayor Lester Miller intends to bring plans for the property to the County Commission in coming meetings which resume Jan. 8.

Affordable housing, medical school

By mid-January, the Housing Authority expects to have up its new leasing website for the Central City Apartments –

In March, leasing is expected begin on the 80-unit workforce housing project at Walnut and Seventh streets near Carolyn Crayton Park. 

“We are excited to be providing quality housing downtown for under $1,000 per month for working individuals and small families,” said Kathleen Mathews, of the Housing Authority’s non-profit housing development arm, Infill Housing, Inc. 

The project is being built with Depaul USA which runs the neighboring Daybreak daytime shelter. The apartments will include several units for those living on the streets and in need of a medical respite. 

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for May, said Macon Housing Authority CEO Mike Austin.

At a December hearing, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission also approved an additional 57 loft apartments to be built in old warehouses at the corner of Seventh and Mulberry streets. 

Macon-Bibb County also plans a new entrance to the Macon Coliseum off Second Street and the mayor is hoping to lure a major residential, hotel and retail development to the other side of the Wilson Convention Center on the east bank off the Ocmulgee.

Former Mercer President Kirby Godsey continues his quest to develop what has been called the “Renaissance on the River” project that is expected to bring a mixed-use development to the West Bank of the river along Riverside Drive near New Street.

Although no plans have been announced yet, Mercer’s Medical School is looking to build a new location downtown with the help of a $5 million grant from the Knight Foundation. Mercer opened a new riverfront medical school in Columbus in 2021.  Liz Fabian

2. Might Gray Highway be made any safer?

A pedestrian crosses the street on a “do not cross” signal in front of the Kroger on Gray Highway in Macon, Ga. (Megan Jackson)

Gray Highway has long been identified as a hotspot for pedestrian deaths but little, if anything, has been done to make it safer. That could change in 2024, but to what degree will depend on funding.

Macon-Bibb County applied for a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to “completely retrofit” the highway through adding sidewalks, pedestrian refuges, bike lanes, improved lighting and marked crosswalks. A decision on which government will be awarded the grant is expected to be announced late in December. Should the grant be awarded to the county, it would have to be matched with $1 million in local dollars.

In a separate but related plan for safety improvements, The Georgia Department of Transportation is set to install medianettes, which are miniature medians, along a two-mile stretch of the highway in 2024. The raised concrete islands are a sort of a mid-road pedestrian refuge meant to make crossing the six-lane highway less deadly. A GDOT spokesperson said plans for the medianettes came from talks with Macon-Bibb County leaders. – Laura Corley

3. Will the Bibb County school board take up school closures?

Members of the Bibb County Board of Education have long been advised by its finance department to examine the need for potential school closures amid a yearslong trend of declining enrollment.

More than half of the district’s 33 schools are considered under-enrolled by the Georgia Department of Education. The low number of students at a school means the state is not funding certain positions such as secretaries and librarians so the district pays for them with local tax dollars. The district’s cost per student is greater for schools with low enrollment.

The suggestion for closing schools first emerged during a budget meeting in 2022, during which outgoing superintendent Curtis Jones said, “I don’t see a way around it.” Jones also said taking up the issue would “show respect for taxpayers by saying you’re doing all you can to be fiscally sound.”

Superintendent Dan Sims has taken a different approach. Sims said school closures are not imminent or certain but they’re also not off the table

At a budget work session in April, Sims told the school board he preferred a budget option that would increase the millage rate to avoid any school closures. Ultimately, the board voted on a millage rate rollback that eliminates 58 positions and all but guarantees the closure of at least two schools over the next five years.

More recently, Sims established a 40-member administrative committee to make recommendations about the district’s financial future. Sims said he is open to exploring all possible cost-cutting options, “from reduction of personnel, to reduction of programming, to consolidation of schools, to increase in taxes, we’ve put everything on the table.” – Laura Corley

4. Visit Macon plans for National Park status

Visit Macon, the local convention and visitor’s bureau, is preparing for an onslaught of visitors if the Ocmulgee Mounds become Georgia’s first national park. (Liz Fabian)

Visit Macon is working to put the city on the map with expected plans for Georgia’s first national park designation possibly coming by spring, but also will help visitors find their way around. 

The multi-colored wayfinding and welcome signs in downtown will be replaced with Visit Macon’s new logo and color palette that transitions from a rosy orange to purple to blue. 

Visit Macon President and CEO Gary Wheat has been observing best practices from some of the nation’s newest national parks, such as New River Gorge National Park and Preserve that opened in West Virginia in 2020. 

In addition to Ocmulgee Mounds’ potential to be designated a national park and preserve, the new amphitheater and Rhythm and Rally pickleball facility will “create demand for new infrastructure for new audiences,” Wheat said. 

“For us the work is just beginning,” he told his board in October. 

Visit Macon is awaiting results of a study on the area’s tourism infrastructure to determine the needs going forward. For instance, are there enough RV campsites to handle an influx of hundreds of thousands of visitors?

Wheat also is tweaking its new website so visitors will be able to book hotels online  without a surcharge, so all profits go directly to the hotel. 

Visit Macon also will revitalize its medical tourism Macon Cares program that entices out-of-towners to come to Macon for healthcare at Atrium Navicent and Piedmont hospitals.

“Macon’s three hospitals offer nationally-recognized outcomes and physicians in an environment conducive to a quality experience for patient and family members alike,” according to the Macon Cares website. 

The program paused during the COVID-19 pandemic but is gearing back up again, Wheat said. 

Visit Macon also will continue to promote the city as a true music destination with its Macon Music Review to foster local artists and assist other musicians recording at Capricorn Studios.

Macon also is poised to see a resurgence of motion pictures and television programs filming in the city. 

Denzel Washington’s new Netflix streaming adaptation of “The Piano Lesson” is expected to begin filming in Macon in the first week of the year with some scenes being staged at the old mill at Holt and Roff avenues. 

Other film projects are pending in 2024, but no details are available for release, said Visit Macon’s Aaron Buzza. – Liz Fabian

5. Sgt. Rodney Davis to be remembered at rededication ceremony for Davis Village

New facade at Davis Village. (Grant Blankenship | Georgia Public Broadcasting)

Macon’s sole Congressional Medal of Honor recipient will be remembered at a rededication ceremony at the newly-rehabilitated affordable housing development named in his honor more than 50 years ago.

Sgt. Rodney Maxwell Davis was fighting the Vietnam War on Sept. 6, 1967, when he threw himself on top of an enemy grenade in an act that saved the lives of at least five fellow Marines. 

Davis, 25, was a husband and father of two young children. He grew up in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood and enlisted in the Marines after graduating from Peter G. Appling High School in 1961. An obelisk in Linwood Cemetery where he is buried is visible from Interstate 75. 

Six years after his death, the then newly-built east Macon public housing development in the Fort Hill neighborhood was named Rodney Davis Homes in his honor. 

Fifty years later, in 2023, the Macon Housing Authority rehabilitated the development and renamed it Davis Village. 

In recent meetings, the authority board has discussed tentative plans to rededicate the development in 2024 and add a walking trail as a focal point for a memorial. The date and time for the rededication ceremony has yet to be determined. – 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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