NewTown Macon Earns 2024 Great American Main Street Award for Excellence in Downtown Revitalization

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Monday, May 13th, 2024

Main Street America announced that NewTown Macon in Macon, Georgia, has received the prestigious Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA), which recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. The 2024 GAMSA honors, sponsored by The Hartford, were presented at the opening plenary for the Main Street Now Conference in Birmingham, Alabama on Monday, May 6. 

Selected by a national jury of industry professionals and local leaders in the fields of economic development and historic preservation, NewTown Macon is being recognized for leading a community-driven effort that nurtures local talent, fosters sustainable development, and promotes inclusivity. 

“NewTown Macon exemplifies the importance of growing from within and investing in local human capital, leadership, and pride in community,” says Erin Barnes, President and CEO at Main Street America. “From generational wealth building programs to pride of place initiatives, NewTown Macon offers an impressive model that centers the needs, desires, and dreams of locals.”

Situated on the banks of the Ocmulgee River, downtown Macon is bustling with over 120 locally owned and operated restaurants, retailers, and entertainment venues. In 1996, the same district struggled with boarded up storefronts and neglected, vacant buildings. Where many saw a dead and decaying downtown, others envisioned a world-class city. Through the tenacious leadership of Juanita Jordan (inaugural director of the Peyton Anderson Foundation), a team of stakeholders from local institutions and the business community rallied to form NewTown Macon.

Since NewTown Macon's inception, the organization has used the concept of the Main Street Approach™ for community transformation. Macon officially became a Main Street community in 2011 and NewTown Macon adopted the Main Street program in 2018, leading to more synergy in Macon's revitalization efforts and strengthened communication efforts amongst all downtown stakeholders. Also beginning in 2011, the organization began investing in strategies to enliven the district through downtown housing and small business development.

A $5 million revolving loan fund issued by Bibb County kick started NewTown Macon’s loan program and led to the organization becoming Central Georgia’s first and only Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in 2021. Through accessible loan capital using historic tax credits, NewTown Macon has added 371 units of housing, 67 storefronts, and over 1000 residents to date.

“We are deeply honored to accept the Great American Main Street Award, a recognition that underscores the collaborative spirit and dedication of our entire community,” said Emily Hopkins, Vice President of External Affairs and Main Street Macon Manager at NewTown Macon. “This award celebrates our shared vision for downtown Macon's revitalization, where every citizen actively contributes to creating a vibrant and prosperous future for generations of Maconites to come.”

NewTown Macon's core values of local loyalty, imagination, action, empowerment, and accountability, serve as cornerstones for the organization’s commitment to grassroots revitalization efforts. To ensure that their work reflects the diversity of the community, NewTown Macon engages in initiatives designed to foster a welcoming district and to nurture generational wealth building through entrepreneurship and property ownership. Through their CDFI, entrepreneur and developer academies, and Downtown Diversity Initiative—an entrepreneurial training program formed in partnership with the Macon-Middle Georgia Black Pages—NewTown Macon has increased the number of Black-owned businesses in downtown from 28 to 50. They have also helped 23 local entrepreneurs purchase and renovate commercial spaces for their businesses, creating stability and pathways for community wealth. 

“This accolade recognizes Macon's remarkable achievements in transforming its downtown into a vibrant hub where the entire community can gather and engage in rich, cultural experiences,” said Jessica Worthington, Director, Office of Downtown Development at Georgia Department of Community Affairs. “Macon's dedication to fostering a welcoming and dynamic urban center sets a shining example for our state and cities nationwide.”

NewTown Macon bolsters their commitment to building the local business community through engaging promotional events that encourage visitors to patronize downtown retailers. Also instrumental in building a vibrant and active community of advocates is the Downtown Macon Hype Team. Launched in 2021 in partnership with Visit Macon, the team is made up of 60 volunteers who serve as ambassadors, providing information to visitors, building strong relationships with businesses, and spreading positive news about downtown Macon on social media. Similarly, NewTown Macon and the Urban Development Authority of Macon-Bibb County collaborated to develop the Macon Action Plan through cooperative planning, and worked with philanthropic partners to pilot the Downtown Challenge Fund, which has leveraged $4.5 million to implement 80 percent of the action plan’s strategies through nearly 100 grants pitched and implemented by residents.

“Macon’s revitalization took a dramatic turn for the better when the Main Street Approach was implemented to bring structure to our communication and efforts. The process unlocked the power of our teamwork and allowed us to build a community plan in the Macon Action Plan that was open, transparent, and democratic, and gave us the tools to implement the plan quickly,” remarked Alex Morrison, Executive Director at Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority & Director of Planning and Public Spaces. “It has been a true joy to work with such a strong, devoted team to turn what was once merely potential to being what we believe to be the most sincere, inclusive, vibrant, kinetic, and best ‘Main Street’ in America.”