In the News

Early County 50-Year Plan

The determination of one small-town Blakely, GA, man who couldn't wait to grow up and leave the city could turn into more houses, economy, retail, hotel and community programs for Early County.

The Early County 2055 team unveiled results Sunday from a weeklong study of the 50-year growth strategy plan whose goal is to keep the county's small-town quality of life while at the same time incorporate enough economy so that families won't want to leave and tourists will want to visit.

Portraits of what Early County could be in 50 years lined both sides of the courtroom in Blakely.

A presentation by design team leader Bill Dennis outlined renovations for the county and each city.

There will be the creation of jobs as the city looks at plans to bring new industry into the county, revive older businesses and support local small businesses, said project manager Lisa Collins.

But it's the community that must make the plans happen.

"Our work is done here," said Nathan Norris, project principal and the director of implementation advisory with PlaceMakers.

Revitalizing entrances to the entire county with seasonal barstands and markers and signs was an overall idea in Dennis' presentation. For Blakely, the team suggested adding a lake near Highway 27 and a park to maintain the city's image, as well as reviving the theater and putting in medians that will bring buildings, walls and fences closer. Cottages and business in the courthouse square and a new post office on Liberty Street, as well as extending buildings farther to sidewalks  - were also suggestions.

To put jobs where there are people, Dennis suggested renovating Church Street Station.

Adding a white fence near the train station, creating a place for trades near the train station, reviving old and adding or "filling in" more buildings were ideas for "Makin-Jakin."

For Arlington, Dennis' presentation suggested a second story addition to the train station and galleries or cottages around it.

"We believe that over time, the rail (lines) will be more and more valuable," he said.

Dennis said since the river was underutilized, few places like those in New Hilton would be just a few steps from Macon.

"Part of what we want to do is not just make it beautiful but functional ... truly a vibrant place," he said.

Norris said he predicted some older buildings around the courthouse square would start renovations right away.

Proposed "Katrina" houses or cottages would be affordable, offering home ownership to old and future residents who couldn"t do so otherwise, Collins said.

Residents were given the opportunity to offer opinions all week and during Economic Opportunities Weekend on April 29 and 30, said project manager Lisa Collins.

There were no vocal objections to the plan in the courtroom Sunday. Blakely residents like Margaret Arnold, who wouldn't give her age but said she'd lived in the city her entire life, said she looked forward to changes.

"These are all good ideas. I look forward to the restoration of the square," she said.

Several hundreds of thousands of dollars were donated by the Charles and Catherine B. Rice Foundation to kick off Early County 2055, said their son, Barton.

As Charles Rice moved through life, Barton said his father recognized that the man he was today was because of where he grew up, although he was once just as eager as any teenager to move away from Blakely.

The family intentionally meant for the program to extend 50 years, he said.

"It will represent two generations - focus on children and grandchildren," he said.