Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sun Apr 29th 2007 at 11:30am UTC

Go Macon

Last fall, a group of students from Mercer University came to visit and talk about their project to make Macon Georgia more attract to students and young people and stimulate economic development.  We could not be more excited to see the incredible impact their work is having.

The city of Macon and Mercer University announced Friday a partnership that aims to refurbish
a corridor that runs between campus and downtown to create more of a
college town vibe.The goal is to attract and retain more students and young professionals in Macon. “This is about building or rebuilding this segment of our city,” Mayor Jack Ellis said during an afternoon news conference. He
and Mercer University President Bill Underwood said a new 15-member
commission will look at creating a “College Hill Corridor.” The area
runs from the campus and Tattnall Square Park along College, Columbus
and Forsyth streets toward Washington Avenue and the heart of downtown.
Kevin DuBose, director of the city’s Economic and Community
Development Department, and Sarah Gerwig-Moore, an assistant law
professor at Mercer, will co-chair the committee.The plan is
the brainchild of four Mercer students who took what they learned in
class and applied it to Macon.

The class, “The Fate of the City,”
taught by associate provost Peter Brown, looked at how to connect the
city with the university, said Matt Wetherington, a Mercer senior who
took the course.
Linking the two would retain the people who determine the
future of a city: those who grow up there and those who go to school
there, he said. The students developed a plan of how to close
the gap between Mercer and downtown and created the College Hill
Corridor. They presented the project to Underwood and then tried to get
other organizations on board.
“Every contact we made was just into it,” said Kimberly
Humphries, a senior involved in the project. “We can only do so much by
ourselves. We need some support.”The students’ plan involves a branding
campaign, beautification of the area and identifying retail
opportunities.

Mercer already is in the process of recruiting potential retail
development to vacant space it owns near campus, Underwood said. “It’s just not any retail development that (the students) are looking for,” Underwood said. “They told me it had to be cool.”
Underwood said he hoped to announce new retail establishments
for the area in two to three weeks. The university owns a buildingjust
off Montpelier and Linden avenues, which, with the exception of a
Georgia Public Broadcasting bureau, is mostly vacant.
The university also owns two more storefronts on Montpelier.
The students’ plan suggests retail establishments such as a pizza
parlor, off-campus bookstore, health food store, music center, coffee
shop or any 24-hour business.

Part of linking the campus to downtown includes creating a
walking path with amenities young people would be interested in. Key
areas include Tattnall Square Park, the area around Joshua Cup on
Washington Avenue, the Forsyth and College streets intersection, the
Forsyth and New streets intersection and Appleton Lane.
At Tattnall Square Park, the students suggested a frisbee golf area, a jogging trail and basketball court. Potential
retail opportunities include the old Phillips 66 gas station on the
corner of Forsyth and College streets and a former sign shop near
Appleton Lane.
The students placed emphasis on making the corridor walkable
and proposed that a pedestrian not have to walk more than 1,000 feet
between amenities. This could be achieved by not only having retail
establishments but also historical markers.

The College Hill Corridor project will continue work the city
already had begun in trying to link the Pio Nono area to downtown and
will include the redevelopment of a new Central High School and the old
Miller High School, Ellis said.
“We want to make sure that the entire community is linked together from intown to midtown and into downtown,” he said. The
plan represents a shift in economic development strategy, focusing on
young professionals between ages 24 to 35, otherwise known as the
“creative class,” DuBose said.

The creative class is made up of people who generally are
technologically advanced and tolerant of differences. They include
professions such as software programmers, doctors, lawyers and artists
who create jobs in the city and generally have the most economic buying
power.
Universities produce these types of people, and making the
city more attractive to college students will increase the chances of
them staying following graduation, DuBose said.

The College Hill
Corridor commission, made up of various city officials and
representatives from community organizations, the John S. and James L.
Knight Foundation and the Bibb County Board of Education, should meet
for the first time this summer, Gerwig-Moore said.
She said she hopes to get a student on board.The four students who started the project all are either leaving Macon or are undecided in their plans after graduation.

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