In response to a student project, the College Hill Corridor Commission was formed to forge a stronger link between Mercer University, Downtown Macon and InTown communities. The College Hill Corridor is historic and unique, with striking architecture and natural scenery, but also a “missing link.” Population loss since the mid-1900s has subsequently drained the Downtown of the concentration of stores and restaurants that made living in Macon exceptional. These and other uses have been replaced with parking lots and wider roads to accommodate the growing number of commuters seeking to reach what is still the major employment center in the region.
The planning team was challenged by re-populating the Corridor with residents and businesses and devising a strategy to integrate 500 new student beds for the University into the surrounding community. Above all, the plan was intended to help brand the area and reinforce the grass-roots efforts to improve the community.
Bicycle tours, walking tours, cocktail hours, a series of focus group meetings, interviews, two public “open houses,” and use of the Commission’s web page with a distribution list of over 1,000 residents provided insight and a first hand knowledge of the Corridor’s challenges and opportunities. The result was a community-driven plan designed to make a visible statement by creating Macon’s first bicycle lanes, reclaiming excess asphalt to provide attractive sidewalks and encourage walking, cultivating a college town vibe to retain Mercer grads, adding residential density, identifying opportunities to develop a series of connective trails, and infusing new uses into underutilized open spaces.
Implementation has been swift. Maconites have organized events, an annual soapbox derby and made susbstantial improvements from tree plantings to park improvements. The Knight Foundation supported the work with a grant of $5 million, $3 million of which created a Neighborhood Challenge Grant Program where anyone could apply for funds to implement a piece of the College Hill Corridor Master Plan. The results have been astounding.
New investment has flowed to Mercer Village and the work of the Historic Macon Foundation has helped to renovate countless homes in the Beall's Hill. Tattnall Square received a much overdue makeover, a new dog park was created, a church is reused as an arts center and Macon has its first bike lanes. Major kudos to Macon for their creativity and success!