These Two Funders Are Pouring Millions into Downtown Macon, Georgia. But Why?

Located in the heart of Central Georgia, the city of Macon is getting a huge boost, thanks to a local funder, a national funder, and a community foundation. The Central Georgia Community Foundation (CGCF) recently released the challenge grant winners for its Downtown Challenge, which is a plan designed to improve the urban core of Macon and respond to the most pressing community needs. Four needs have emerged from this effort, which are economic development, experience, living, and connectivity.

What’s really interesting about this local effort is who’s funding it. One of the driving forces is the Peyton Anderson Foundation, which is based in Macon and commits its grantmaking to the Georgia communities of Macon, Bibb County, and Middle Georgia. But the other funder involved is a national one that we’ve covered pretty extensively at IP: John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Anderson and Knight Foundation have collectively committed $3 million over three years to transform downtown Macon into a place that businesses and residents want to call home. The Downtown Challenge Fund was created to implement the Macon Action Plan, which covers topics like economic development, housing, transportation, parking, land use, open space, and infrastructure.

This fund is managed by the Central Georgia Community Foundation, which received 68 applications for its first funding cycle. Although these grants are already being put to work, there are still plenty more opportunities for organizations in Macon. There are five more deadlines to apply for Downtown Challenge grants: September 15, 2016, March 15 and September 16, 2017, and March 15 and September 15, 2018.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the organizations that have received Downtown Challenge grants so far to get a sense of where these funds are going. These groups received the largest grants in the recent CGCF grant cycle.

  • Macon-Bibb Convention & Visitors Bureau—$88,170 to provide bike-share services through Macon Soul Cycles through downtown (a “connectivity” grant)
  • Bryan Nichols—$75,000 to decorate Poplar Street with Christmas lights and music to create a regional attraction downtown (an “experience grant)
  • Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority—$62,500 to hire a landscaper and engineer to design bike connections on key streets (a “connectivity” grant)
  • Historic Macon Foundation—$30,000 to survey, plan, and purchase permits for road-to-trail connections (an “experience” grant)

Josh Rogers, president of NewTown Macon, another $30,000 grantee, explained to a local news source that these grants are all about enhancing life downtown. "I think the great thing you're going to see out of these grants is a lot more fun stuff to see and do, and be a part of downtown."

Aside from the local/national partnership of funders, here, it's interesting that this grant program is available to nonprofits, businesses, and individuals. And there's also a huge push for bike sharing in this community, as well as livening up outdoor community spaces and urban parks.

In addition to the Downtown Challenge, CGCF has other formal grantmaking programs to serve the 21 counties in Central Georgia. Since 1993, CGCF has awarded more than $67 million in grants through its donor advised, unrestricted, designated, field-of-interest, scholarship, and organizational endowment funds. According to the funder’s website, priority is given to projects that "reach a broad segment of the community, address needs that are not met by existing services, are innovative, encourage matching gifts and collaborations, yield substantial benefit for the resources invested, and encourage self-help and/or self-sufficiency on the part of disadvantaged or disabled individuals."

Community grant program deadlines are December 31 and June 30, but there are also several other county-based grant programs that have their own deadlines. One of the community foundation’s programs is the Knight Neighborhood Challenge, but this one is no longer accepting applications from new groups. However, the Knight Foundation Fund in Milledgeville still accepts applications year-around from groups doing work in Milledgeville and Baldwin County.