Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert (pictured) said the buy-in, input and support of various stakeholders is important to the success of the downtown revitalization plan.
Safer spaces, transit, unique experiences, fun, more sidewalks, protected bike lanes, play areas, ice cream shops, craft breweries, family entertainment, more music, nice restaurants and nightlife are among the ideas Macon-Bibb County residents provided when asked what would help to revitalize the city’s urban core, which includes downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
The question was posed to residents during recent open houses and small meetings for the Macon Action Plan (MAP), a comprehensive planning process to envision the future of Macon’s urban core and guide change in coming years.
“The plan will help Macon-Bibb County and partner organizations plan on how to spend funds in the future,” said Mayor Robert Reichert. “When we budget for street, greenspace and sidewalk work, for example, the Macon Action Plan will help guide the decisions on where and how to make those improvements.”
The city’s Urban Development Authority is leading the plan with assistance from public and private partners including the College Hill Alliance, NewTown Macon, Historic Macon, private developers, property and business owners and city departments.
“This planning process—and soon to be implementation—is the work of multiple organizations and many people, all interested in building on the improvements that have happened in downtown the past few years and launching us forward together,” Reichert said.
Alex Morrison, executive director of Macon-Bibb Urban Development, said the consultant team is taking the community input and sorting the ideas and suggestions into certain categories and goals.
“We are in the process of prioritizing those goals and major suggestions within them now,” he explained. “The consulting team will present a draft plan and the steering committee will attach a timeline and working strategy to see it through.”
At an early March community party, the city presented the plan’s vision and goals to build on the city’s existing assets and reinforce the new investment downtown with new housing, parks and mixed-use developments.
Organizers are still collecting feedback on how to enliven alley ways and empty storefronts, improve downtown gateways, make major downtown intersections safe and address the downtown’s 207 acres of vacant land and 121 acres of vacant buildings. Investment opportunities already identified include connecting downtown to the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail and a possible trail loop along the water on both sides of the river. Organizers also want to consider improvements at the city’s Rosa Parks Square, Cherry Street Plaza and Civil War Memorial.
The final master plan is slated to be unveiled in May. According to Morrison, funding is expected to come “primarily through existing organizations aligning resources and through public funding of major infrastructure.”
“There is no budget at this point for the plan, but many organizations are working together to see it through,” he said. “The next crucial steps are to continue public outreach to cement priorities and then to draft the final plan.”
Morrison added that some action steps will take place before the ink is dry on the plan, including a new revolving loan fund and proposed zoning changes already in the works.
For cities considering launching an ambitious planning process, both Reichert and Morrison advised that citizen input is a critical component.
“A plan that is citizen-led and involves the groups that can make things happen is key for governments to improve their cities,” Reichert said. “Without the buy-in, input and support of various stakeholders, a plan will never be fully successful.”
Morrison added that collaboration and communication are also important.
“All members of the community must feel well informed in order to have the entire community excited about a plan that has lasting power,” he said. “Residents who have ideas and want to be engaged in improving their community should never be told what is best for them without data and input. No successful plan can be created and implemented in isolation.”