Downtown alleyways get a facelift

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Between some of the most beloved downtown businesses and behind some of Mercer student’s favorite hangouts there is a whole network of alleyways that are getting a facelift from the city.
In the past couple of years the city of Macon, specifically the Department of Urban Development, has made much needed improvements to these hidden streets.
Mechel Mckinley, a Business and Economic Development Specialist for Main Street Macon, said, “historically the alleyways have been additional pedestrian travel ways but they needed some attention, and so we have worked with Wimberly Treadwell, a local landscape architect, to install lighting, improve drainage, put in new landscaping, and add some patios.”
When walking downtown it is clear to see which alleyways have been targeted by this project. Two alleys in particular that many students are familiar with are Mulberry St Lane where the restaurants Ninja, Tokyo Alley, and Downtown Grill are located as well as Cherry St Lane the alleyway directly behind Lemongrass and the Hummingbird.
The project had a couple of clear goals from the beginning to make downtown Macon more walkable. Alex Morrison, the Executive Director of the Department of Urban Development, said, “We paved the alleys, buried the utilities, built some backdoor patios, made enclosures for the dumpsters and improved the façade.”
Before these improvements the alleys were overgrown and made it impossible for either pedestrians or vehicles to get down. While these developments might not be the most dramatic changes it does help create a livable downtown. Morrison also said, “the people who notice the improvements are the people immediately on it. Making these physical improvements will help property owners and enhance their businesses.”
For many students, because of the nature of the work, these renovations have been overlooked and there is still this perception of danger in the alleyways.
Anuj Patel, a senior at Mercer and downtown employee, said, “I still wouldn’t walk down that alleyway by myself. It isn’t one of the safest places in Macon.” Ironically, however, one of the major improvements that this project made that is used by many students, sometimes weekly, is the back patio of the Hummingbird. It has created this outdoor seating where people can hang out, play corn hole, listen to live music, and enjoy a drink. One of the reasons that this project was created and funded was because the city wanted to combat that impression of crime. McKinley said, “People don’t think of plants and lights as economic developments, but they are, because if people feel comfortable being in a space, they are more likely to spend more money and frequent those businesses.” There is no doubt that the added space of the backyard patio hasn’t opened up the Hummingbird to a new clientele that traditionally wouldn’t have been patrons.
While the projects from the Urban Development Department are now winding down there is another group that is attempting to step in to improve the alleyways also. The Macon Millennials, a group of up-and-coming young leaders, are attempting to put together a program called the Free Walls project.
This program is designed to allow artists to place their artwork on the alleyway walls. There would be designated areas where people would be allowed to showcase their work in a public setting. Bucky Helms, President of Macon Millennials, said, “ There is no reason that the alleyways shouldn’t be used anymore. It would allow a free spot for all sorts of artists to display their work who traditionally wouldn’t in a gallery.”
The Free Walls Projects is looking to launch sometime in the spring.