Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon-Bibb OKs purchase of old Hilton, former charter school

County Commission allots $4.4 million in ARPA funds, spars over District 9 appointment to fill Al Tillman’s unexpired term
Liz Fabian
Macon-Bibb County is expected to purchase the former Macon Charter Academy property and tear down this building to make way for affordable housing.

The Macon-Bibb County Commission doled out $4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds Tuesday, and agreed to spend more than $6 million on blighted properties, but split the vote on the appointment of an interim commissioner to serve the rest of the year in District 9 following the resignation of Al Tillman.

Mayor Lester Miller nominated Tillman’s former opponent Brendalyn Bailey, a Democrat who ran against him in the nonpartisan 2020 election, and is expected to qualify to run this spring for the next four-year term beginning in 2025.

Because Tillman resigned Jan. 9 within his final 12 months in office, the county has 20 days to name a successor or hold a special election for the unexpired term at the same time as the May election for the next term. Had Tillman resigned before Dec. 31, a special election would have been called.

During public comments, local NAACP Chair Gwen Westbrook said she felt her voting rights are being curtailed by not having a choice in who would be representing her district.

Macon-Bibb NAACP branch President Gwen Westbrook told the County Commission that District 9 voters like herself should have the right to choose the replacement for Al Tillman, who resigned to pursue business partnerships with local governments. (Liz Fabian)

“I’m not going to just be able to stand still and just accept that,” said Westbrook, who also questions whether Tillman intentionally stepped down in January to force an appointment.

“That’s going to be a big thing whether or not he intentionally (timed it). That’s what we’re going to have to prove,” Westbrook said.

Tillman and commissioners Elaine Lucas, Virgil Watkins and Mallory Jones are term-limited and cannot seek re-election this year.

Miller said he wanted to fill the seat because he didn’t want to leave District 9 without representation when they will be drafting the budget before the May election and possible run-off.

Bailey is a life-long resident of District 9, was the only person to qualify against Tillman in 2020, and holds her undergraduate degree from Mercer University and earned her MBA from Wesleyan College. She most recently served as an instructor of business and computer sciences at Central Georgia Technical College.

Lucas supported filling the position, but not appointing someone who was intending to run.

“I have a concern about fairness in this issue,” Lucas said. “It is totally unfair to all those who have already announced that they want to run for this position for us to create an incumbency for one person.”

Brendalyn Bailey was sworn in as the District 9 Macon-Bibb County Commissioner on Jan. 17, 2024 to fill the vacant seat created by the resignation of Al Tillman. (Macon-Bibb County)

Commissioner Paul Bronson said he supported Bailey’s work in the Bellevue Community where he grew up, but agreed with Lucas.

“It’s ensuring we have a fair election across the board,” Bronson said.

Lucas proposed amending the appointment to specify Bailey could not seek the next term, but Interim County Attorney Duke Groover said the County Commission cannot override the charter which sets qualifications for the appointment.

Lucas withdrew her amendment and Bailey was appointed by a vote of 5-3 with Commissioner Virgil Watkins also voting with Lucas and Bronson against the appointment.

Buying blighted buildings for development

Commissioners returned from a one-hour executive session to not only take up Bailey’s appointment but approve purchasing the old Hilton high-rise at 108 First St. for $4.8 million, and buy the former Progressive Christian Academy property at 151 Madison St. for $1.5 million.

Macon-Bibb County is expected to purchase the old Hilton hotel, left, and demolish the blighted building that is one of the tallest in the city skyline. (Liz Fabian)
Mayor Lester Miller expects to salvage contents of the old downtown high-rise hotel, implode the blighted building and sell the property for future construction to complement anticipated riverfront development. (Liz Fabian)

Miller said a judge signed off on the purchase of the former downtown hotel, which had been in receivership after the latest owner did not complete the renovation and reopen. No one appealed the decision and the county hopes to close on the property in 30 days.

The mayor noted that Elvis stayed at that hotel, but “it is a large blighted property in our community.”

The county is expected to salvage the contents of the hotel, which will be torn down or possibly blown up for a movie, as the mayor has mentioned before. That demolition would clear the 2.26 acres for future development.

Miller also received unanimous approval to proceed with plans to purchase more than five acres at 151 Madison St., the site of the old Progressive Christian Academy, which was open from 1985 until 2009.

The Macon Charter Academy built a new building on the property during its one-year stint before the state revoked its charter in 2016. Miller said that building also will be torn down with the prospect of working with the Macon Housing Authority to build 70 to 80 affordable housing units.

A gym and community building on the property will likely be repurposed for use by the Pleasant Hill neighborhood, he said.

Lucas encouraged all of her colleagues to sign on as sponsors of the proposal for the mayor to proceed with buying the property.

“The idea of having additional affordable housing is just so wonderful,” Lucas said.

Watkins questioned the purchase of both properties to tear down buildings, but Lucas agreed the nine-year-old Macon Charter Academy building needed to come down.

“That building was just never really appropriate for there. It was never safe. It never was built to last. So, I’m glad that there’s a proposal for something that will enrich that whole area especially for the folks in Pleasant Hill who have worked so hard,” Lucas said.

Miller intends to consult neighbors and take a walk through the property with them to discuss the county’s future plans.

$4.4M in American Rescue Plan funds

County Commissioners agreed to divvy up nearly $4.4 million of remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds among local projects.

Miller plans $2 million in improvements to Carolyn Crayton Park and basketball courts at the Macon Centreplex in an effort to lure more sports tourism to Macon.

A $1 million allotment to Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia will help fund the new One Safe Place Family Justice Center where victims can find a variety of services under one roof.

Middle Georgia Regional Library will receive $500,000 for its new branch at 5494 Forsyth Road, and nearly $764,000 will go to Keryx Ministries which is building a free medical clinic to serve the Unionville neighborhood with the assistance of Mercer University Medical School students.

Another $100,000 will fund administrative costs associated with comply with Treasury Department regulations for the federal funds designed to offset losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioners also set qualifying fees for the upcoming county elections, signed off on a number of items passed last week in committee, which includes lowering the speed limit to 25 mph on Ingleside Avenue and designating school speed zones around Central High, Miller Middle School, and Southfield and Skyview elementary schools.

Here are highlights from the agenda captured in social media posts during the meetings. 

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.

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