Southwrite

Telling stories

Posts Tagged ‘Knight Foundation’

Big City Dreams in The College Hill Corridor

Posted by southwrite on July 19, 2014

Mercer University has been a driving force in the transformation of the College Hill Corridor.

Mercer University has been a driving force in the transformation of the College Hill Corridor.

[The first of a three part series on Macon’s College Hill Corridor.]

Big dreams are not always fulfilled in big cities. Consider Tim Regan-Porter. The co-founder of the highly successful cultural publication, Paste Magazine, turned down a “dream job” with New York publisher Condé Nast to move to Macon. He decided that he could live a better life and make a bigger impact on journalism in this small Middle Georgia city than he could in the acknowledged world capital of publishing.

A growing number of people with big dreams and sophisticated tastes are coming here. They’re drawn by a sense that this is a city in the midst of transformation and the heart of change can be found in the historic College Hill Corridor.

Regan-Porter was in the midst of final interviews at Conde Nast, which publishes a number of magazines, and was eager to hire the man who had successfully developed the third-largest popular music title in the English-speaking world, trailing only Rolling Stone and Spin. He saw that he could be part of something even more exciting than big city publishing when he was offered the directorship of Mercer University’s new Center for Collaborative Journalism and its innovative approach to training journalists.

“It was basically seeing where he would fit best with his skills. We were most likely going to move somewhere like Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and had already scoped out some apartments,” recalls wife Leila, a freelance journalist and editor.

Instead the Regan-Porters moved to Macon’s College Hill Corridor. This roughly two mile area of historic neighborhoods between Mercer University and the city’s downtown was a part of the reason the couple passed on Prospect Park for Macon.

College Hill is an intown urban district in the midst of far reaching revitalization. In the process, it’s become a model of how public/private partnership and dedicated citizen participation can turn an aging city district into a highly livable, vibrant and ever evolving urban center.

The stately Carmichael House is a Greek Revival mansion built in 1848. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

One of many fine homes in the College Hill Corridor, the Carmichael House at 1183 Georgia Avenue is a Greek Revival mansion built in 1848. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

One of the first things you notice about College Hill is its impressive stock of well-preserved historic homes. Macon has more than 5,000 structures ion the National Register of Historic Places and there are at least that many eligible for the designation, according to the Historic Macon Foundation. Many of them are in neighborhoods that comprise the corridor.

The Regan-Porters quickly became part of this revitalization. They’re renovating a circa 1890s house on High Street in the corridor. Known as the Wise Blood house, the film adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel of the same name was shot here.

College Hill is a place that local boosters like to call “hip and historic” and it’s hard to argue with that phrase after spending a few days “in the corridor.” It’s preserved its history while fostering a rich and available culture of music and the arts, coupled with all the walkable amenities that draw young (and not so young) highly educated professionals to an urban setting. Here you’ll find streets of historic million dollar mansions not far from neat rows of attractive affordable housing where students and professionals live side by side with the elderly and working class.

The area has benefited from the many residents who care and get involved in the community. That passion for progress has also attracted a lot of money. Mercer University has helped lead the charge in transforming the areas around its campus from a decaying (and crime-infested) slum – without making it unaffordable for lower income residents.

A half dozen years ago, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation issued a $250,000 grant to jump start the community-driven planning of the neighborhood’s revitalization. It was the first of many to come. A master plan for the community was drawn and the College Hill Alliance, a nonprofit group housed on the Mercer campus, began the work of turning the plan into reality.

The Second Sunday concert in Washington Park.

The Second Sunday concert in Washington Park.

To start, the Knight Foundation awarded $5 million to the revitalization efforts with $3 million earmarked for the Knight Neighborhood Challenge. Challenge grants of more than $2.1 million have been issued for a variety of community led purposes. Awards have ranged from $200 for a composting workshop to $180,000 for community wayfinding. The “Lights on Macon” which provides nightly illumination of the districts historic homes has been expanded annually by Knight’s grants.  These grants have helped spur an estimated  $90 million of investment in the area.

Locals say that even with all the progress the best is yet to come. The College Hill Alliance will close its doors next year and turn this work over to the community-led College Hill Corridor Commission. This organization recently unveiled a new master plan that is focused on economic development and entrepreneurship. College Hill is a great place to live, but now it just needs more jobs to keep all those young professionals here. And with this endeavor the corridor will be opening a new chapter in its ongoing transformation.

Advertisements

Posted in Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »