During the past 15 years, Mercer has played a central role, along with a number of other public and private partners, in rehabilitating the three neighborhoods surrounding the Mercer campus. The University’s investment in recent years has totaled well over $5 million, including more than $1 million spent during the past three years to redevelop the retail area of Mercer Village, a commercial center adjacent to Huguenin Heights that was underutilized. If Mercer’s investment in Downtown Macon is added, the total is closer to $10 million, according to University officials. And Mercer’s partnership has helped leverage millions more.
In spring 2008, more than 100 Mercer students, faculty and staff joined President Underwood and city officials to celebrate the opening of Ingleside Village Pizza on Montpelier Avenue, adjacent to Mercer’s Macon campus. One of the early student visionaries for the Corridor, Matt Wetherington, told the crowd, “This is a great first step in bringing students off campus and really seeing what we have to offer as a Mercer-Macon community.” Excitement and anticipation circled the crowd, as a physical marker breathed life in the process of linking Mercer students to Macon’s downtown began.
A second business, Jittery Joe’s Coffee, opened next door. The coffee shop’s owners Kim Collins, who attended Mercer Law School, and her husband Ben, received a warm welcome by students and the community. Collins commented on the developing college-friendly commercial district, saying “It’s a great little neighborhood with great potential, and we appreciate what the College Hill Corridor Commission is doing to help it grow.” The vision to repurpose an existing underutilized historic neighborhood commercial center into a set of college-friendly businesses blossomed, and the beginnings of Mercer Village gained traction.
Mercer Village then welcomed Francar’s Buffalo Wings. Carl Fambro, a Mercer graduate and retired U.S. Army officer, had been operating his business for 15 years on Macon’s west side before deciding to relocate to Mercer Village. Awaiting the move in early 2009, he said, “I enjoyed my time at Mercer, and I’ve always enjoyed my interactions with students. I’m really looking forward to being a part of Mercer student and alumni events. I’m hoping our business becomes an extension of the University.”
By spring 2011, the once vacant commercial space tucked between Montpelier Avenue and Coleman Avenue reached capacity. Rodeo Beach Outfitters completed the existing retail space by catering to the weekend warrior, casual camper, fitness junkie and outdoor enthusiast. In the storefront previously occupied by The Bike Store, Rodeo Beach continues to carry bikes, bike parts and accessories, and cycling clothing.
“Mercer Village has become a point of destination and the Corridor’s anchor commercial area,” said Pat Madison, executive director of the College Hill Alliance. Mercer Village serves not only a physical, but a cultural and social path to connect Mercer and downtown Macon.
The Lofts at Mercer Village, a $10 million mixed-use development on Mercer’s Macon campus, recently opened the doors to its bustling 13,750 square feet of retail space and fully leased top three floors of three- and four-bedroom loft-style apartments that reflect a sleek urban design. With Phase I complete, and Phase II of Lofts at Mercer Village on its way, success resounds on multiple fronts: for the University and its students, the City of Macon, and the surrounding neighborhood. An idea spurred from a class project in 2006 built momentum that has continued over the past five years, resulting in more than $25 million in public and private funding towards economic development of the College Hill Corridor, home of Lofts at Mercer Village.
“There is a tremendous pride for our school — not just on campus, but all over Macon. Our new merchandise will help more people show their Mercer pride,” said Bill Green, bookstore manager.
The Lofts also brought three additional retailers to Mercer Village: Fountain of Juice, Margarita’s Mexican Grill and Designer Tan.
Serving Paninis, salads and smoothies in their European market setting, Fountain of Juice is locally owned by Natasha and Carl Phillips. They plan to further connect the College Hill Corridor to downtown Macon by offering food delivery to downtown employers.