Monday, June 22, 2009

Knight Foundation Gives $5 Million Grant to Help Revitalize College Hill Corridor

Macon will take a major step toward revitalizing College Hill with a new $5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant includes $3 million to the Community Foundation of Central Georgia to fund residents’ best ideas for transforming the neighborhood, and $2 million to Mercer University to form the College Hill Alliance. Both programs are designed to reshape the city’s first neighborhoods into a vibrant college town connected by leafy roads and bike paths to the city’s downtown.

Mercer President William D. Underwood made the announcement Monday at Mercer Village, the first retail district to be restored in the College Hill Corridor. Underwood spoke nearly a year to the day after the Miami-based foundation awarded the university a planning grant for College Hill, which produced a community-driven master plan for the neighborhoods.

“For many years Knight Foundation has been a strong partner in efforts to revitalize some of Macon’s first neighborhoods,” President Underwood said. “This substantial grant – the foundation’s largest single grant to date in Macon – will be a major catalyst for implementing the master plan, for funding creative, transformational ideas from residents and organizations in the Corridor and for attracting private and public financing that will allow realization of the College Hill vision. Knight Foundation’s investment will leverage additional capital and will advance a physical and social resurgence in the historic and cultural heart of one of the South’s great cities.”

“Knight Foundation partners with our communities to create lasting transformational change,” said Beverly Blake, Knight program director for Macon, Columbus and Milledgeville. “We believe the College Hill initiative will serve as the catalyst for Macon’s renaissance.”

The Knight Neighborhood Challenge will invest in residents’ own ideas on ways to restore College Hill. A broad-based, competitive grant program, the challenge will fund the best ideas – small and large – that give College Hill a sense of place, spruce up its parks and public spaces or enhance the arts and entertainment scene, among several other priorities residents identified in town hall meetings. The effort also aims to get residents involved in College Hill through an array of civic and cultural projects.

Individuals or organizations can apply to the challenge, which will be administered by the Community Foundation of Central Georgia in cooperation with the College Hill Corridor Commission.

“With these grants Knight Foundation has once again proven its commitment to our community,” said Kathryn Dennis, president of the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. “We are appreciative of Knight Foundation’s generosity and look forward to working with Mercer and the College Hill Corridor Commission to ensure that this grant identifies and funds visionary ideas from the grassroots level.”

The College Hill Alliance, with offices in Mercer Village, will focus on accelerating neighborhood revitalization. Specifically, the alliance will implement the master plan that will beautify the area, create a business case to attract private investment to College Hill and seek additional funding for the neighborhood.

The alliance also will fund a new round of grants for the highly successful Mercer-Knight Foundation Down Payment Assistance Program, which helps Mercer faculty and staff purchase homes in the Beall’s Hill, Huguenin Heights, Tattnall Place and Intown Macon historic districts.

“I’m delighted that Knight Foundation has provided this extremely generous grant to the College Hill Corridor initiative,” said Macon Mayor Robert A.B. Reichert. “The size of the grant is matched only by the enthusiasm of the College Hill Corridor Commission, and I’m confident that this will prompt additional investments of time, energy, and money that will transform this area.”

“Since we began our work two years ago, we’ve been so fortunate in our collaborations with all our neighbors — from longtime residents who saved these historic homes to the students who volunteer in the community and are just discovering its beauty,” said Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-chair of the College Hill Corridor Commission and associate professor at Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law. “Our public meetings were lively and engaged and it was truly remarkable to participate in such a collaborative and open process. But of course it is even more exciting to take this step toward implementing the plans we’ve been dreaming about, and none of this would have been possible without Knight Foundation’s support.”

The basic elements of the College Hill Corridor initiative were conceived in a Mercer Senior Capstone class taught by Dr. Peter Brown, senior vice provost and professor of philosophy and interdisciplinary studies, in the fall of 2006. A Community Foundation of Central Georgia grant, from its Knight Fund, allowed the students to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with Richard Florida of the Creative Class Group to learn how they could help spur economic development in the College Hill area. Florida’s work focuses on diversity and creativity as basic drivers of innovation and regional and national growth. The students concluded that Macon was well positioned to recruit and grow creative service industries, such as graphic design, marketing and the arts, by retaining talented young people graduating from the city’s academic institutions.

Inspired by this visit, the Mercer students proposed a plan to make Macon more attractive to young professionals by connecting Mercer and the downtown area to create a “college town” atmosphere. In response, President Underwood and then Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis formed the College Hill Corridor Commission in the spring of 2007 to make the idea a reality.

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