Downtown Decline?

September 7, 2015
by Drew Staudenmaier, staff reporter

Downtowns all across America are suffering. Places that once used to be a centers of commerce and social activity are now desolate wastelands. Streets that were once bustling with merchants and activity are now empty and quiet. What happened?

Across the board, there seem to be some common threads leading to this demise. “Big box” retail stores seem to be the number one reason, as small businesses struggle to compete with the larger corporations. Another reason may be the lack of interest or resources in reviving downtown. Many of the old buildings need a lot of work, which takes a lot of capital and in the end may not be the best move for businesses.

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A walk through an alley between E Bourke and Vine reveals a good deal of disrepair in the downtown.

Whatever the reason, it is hard to ignore the fact that downtowns everywhere need some help if they are to be revived. In Macon we face our own set of challenges to restore our downtown.

Recently Macon The News reported about an incident at the Royal Theatre, where some bricks fell off of the facade late one night. While no one was injured and there was no other property damage, the incident certainly sparked conversation around town. People are concerned that Macon’s downtown is falling apart, but is this a sign of a bigger issue facing downtown?

While walking around downtown it doesn’t take long to notice that there are many buildings that are in bad shape. One can observe bricks falling off of walls, dirt old facades on buildings and damages that seem to have never been repaired. Many of these buildings have something in common: they are unoccupied.

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Water dripping down this brick wall from a gutter has visibly damaged this wall downtown.

If you continued to walk around downtown you would also notice that Macon has some beautiful old buildings that are in great shape. The correlation here is that they are all occupied by businesses who care about maintaining their property. These business owners have put a lot of effort into maintaining the downtown and helping it grow, but they are faced with an enormous task.

While there are some great examples of well-maintained buildings in the downtown, the old, unoccupied buildings in disrepair can pose a threat to surrounding businesses. Not only are they a danger to people walking by, but the structures in themselves. Since downtown is made up of row buildings that are connected, if one building starts to shift or have other issues, that can affect its neighbors as well.

The obvious answer is that these buildings either need to be fixed or torn down. However, reaching this solution is very complicated. To fix the buildings we would need people to open new businesses in the downtown and care for these buildings. Then the question turns to: how to attract more business people to that specific area of town. It takes a significant financial investment to accomplish that.

To tear down the old decrepit buildings also presents several issues; demolition is also a costly endeavor. The focus, again, shifts to what will go in that building’s place. Another concern could be how the demolition will affect surrounding buildings.

Fixing Macon’s downtown is a complicated issue, there is no easy way to go about it. Reviving it may take generations to complete, and those who are working for it now may never see the fruit of their labor. Follow with us as we explore how we can work to gather to build a stronger local economy and help our community grow together.