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Friday, September 21, 2012 - 11:51am

Knight Plans Macon Business Incubator

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation committed Friday to a new round of funding to help revitalize the area around Mercer University in Macon.

The historic but long-struggling College Hill neighborhood near downtown has already come a long way.

Mercer president William Underwood hosted the announcement in the lobby of a stone-and-glass student loft complex so new that you can’t even see it on Google Street View.

“We’re standing in what was once a parking lot," Underwood said. "There was another parking lot across the street, and some boarded up old buildings. And look at what we have here now.”

Knight made an initial grant of $2 million in 2009 that they say has sparked $25 million in private development. And while that may have succeeded in luring many Mercer students back to the once-dead streets near campus, Underwood acknowledged there are still insufficient jobs to retain those students after graduation.

Accordingly, much of Knight's $2.3 million second round of funding will go toward planning for a so-called “Innovation Corridor” in College Hill.

Patrick Madison, executive director of the Knight-funded College Hill Alliance, says they hope to incubate new companies attracted by Mercer.

“The economic development agencies that we have are all focused typically on relocating a company from somewhere else," Madison said. "This is going to be focused on business development within the community.”

The Knight Foundation also supports GPB’s reporting in Macon.