NewTown Macon launches its new campaign to improve the city

NewTown Macon continues to refine and finalize plans for the redevelopment of downtown Macon as it launches into its 2012 campaign.  One of the project’s primary focuses this year will be responding to the increase in downtown occupancy rates, which will continue NewTown’s campaign from 2007 to “increase residency” and “create a sense of place” downtown. The organization is also focused on projects involving the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail and Central City Park.
The non-profit organization will work to increase the number of people living in downtown Macon as it enters into the third phase of its revitalization project, which began in 1999. Their main focus for the next five years is getting people to live downtown and providing residency units to meet that demand.
NewTown Macon was founded in 1996 by the Payton Anderson Foundation and other community leaders through public and private partnerships focused on reinvesting in historic downtown Macon. The organization began with three main goals of growing residency, increasing jobs, and creating a sense of place downtown. Since then, NewTown has elevated a fourth focus in becoming an advocate for broader public concerns that impact the future of downtown and the entire Macon area.
“Our scope is downtown, but some of what we do is much broader than that, and has a much broader impact,” said Laura Schofield, NewTown’s Executive Vice President.
One of these broader projects completed by the organization in the last campaign was extensions to the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, which runs alongside the Ocmulgee River with currently 11 miles of trail. Other projects include the construction of pavilions, trails and a handicap-accessible playground at Amerson Waterworks Park. Both the Trail and Park will remain focal points for NewTown’s 2012 campaign, as the organization has secured a $5.5 million federal grant to add eight miles of trails, additional pavilions, a public boat ramp and other amenities. The Park project is set to launch this summer, said Schofield.
While the specifics of the campaign have not yet been officially finalized, the NewTown committee is in the process of creating a plan that will hopefully give projects more success and impact in the downtown area. The committee will continue to address concerns throughout the community, but will focus renovations systematically using a block-by-block plan. Schofield says that this plan will help concentrate NewTown’s efforts in a way that will increase project efficiency and public awareness of completed projects.
Renovations will mainly consist of the addition of apartments to address downtown’s current 95% occupancy. Plans for 2012 will be based off of recently updated studies showing that the residency market can bear the addition of 235 new housing units in each of the next five years without saturation. NewTown only added 26 apartments during the 2007 campaign, failing to reach its goal of adding 1,000 residency units. The organization is working on plans to make up for that in the upcoming five years.
“NewTown will dedicate itself to helping investors and property owners qualify for historical tax credits in order to make these projects possible,” said Director of Business and Real Estate Development, Hal Baskin. NewTown is also studying the feasability of having a central leasing agent for downtown, said Baskin. NewTown hopes to add a significant number of residency units  in the next five years through projects like the Dannenburg Building at the corner of Poplar and Third streets, one of the campaign’s block focuses.
“Residencies will also be publicized through the Live Downtown Macon website, which will undergo major changes in the next six months to update it and make it more user friendly,” said Kris Hattaway, the Director of Place. Hattaway also said that NewTown’s campaigns can be found on their website, and their events and progress can be tracked by following their page on Facebook.
In the next few weeks, the NewTown Macon committee will work to create a more concrete set of specific goals for the 2012 campaign. Before finalizing the plans, NewTown will hold open meetings to invite public feedback. “We really want to hear from the people in our community, and encourage everyone to come with ideas and concerns,” said Schofield.