Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB
Macon To Invest $100 Million Into Aging, Largely Vacant Mall
Macon-Bibb Mayor Lester Miller spent some of his childhood just a stone’s throw from the Macon Mall.
“To that little boy, it was Disney World,” Miller said during a press conference on the expanse of green space where a Parisian store once anchored half of the mall.
“It was the Taj Mahal.”
And that was just in the 1980s, before the 1990s addition which made the Macon Mall the largest in the state until the Mall of Georgia in Buford opened.
Now the Macon Mall faces a challenge faced by other largely empty shopping centers across the state and the country: What do you do with all this space?
Miller and the Macon-Bibb County government have what they think is a solution: a private-public partnership poised to reinvest $100 million into the Macon Mall.
The centerpiece of that would be a 10,000-seat amphitheater adjoined by outdoor shopping and dining in the lawn where half the mall once stood.
The money would also pay for what looks like a wishlist of improvements and reinterpretations of the over 1-million-square-foot building. Two anchor stores spaces are earmarked for TV and film production. Another is labeled “sports venue.”
“You may be at the site now of the largest pickleball indoor facility that we have — in this mall,” Miller said to laughter. “I don't say that out of jest. We've been talking to folks, it’s going to happen.”
The Macon Mall is the physical, if not economic, hub of a west Macon retail corridor which has fallen out of favor against a newer, outdoor mall in the northern suburbs of the city and greenfield development that allowed some big box stores to shift away from the area. There’s also competition from the resurging downtown area.
An important facet of the plan is the donation of the entire Macon Mall property to Macon-Bibb County by its owners, the Hull Property Group.
Groundbreaking will have to wait for financing to firm up. That will come through bonds issued by Macon’s Urban Development Authority. Still, Mayor Miller was confident the project was off and running.
“In less than 18 months, you'll be watching a band perform for 10,000 people in the amphitheater,” he said.
Just who might play in the space or how it will be booked is unclear. The city already owns and manages two similarly sized indoor venues.
Elsewhere in the state, Gwinnett County residents have been asked what they want to happen to the now nearly empty Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. Facebook comments range from affordable housing to preserving it as it appeared in a season of the Netflix show "Stranger Things."
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bordeaux (GA-07) in August introduced a bill that would steer federal money to reinvest into empty malls.