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More lofts may replace former Blair's, Joseph N. Neel stores in downtown Macon

The $25 million project is on Macon-Bibb's Planning and Zoning agenda next week.

MACON, Ga. — Lofts, lofts and more lofts are on the agenda for Macon-Bibb's Planning and Zoning meeting next Monday.

One of the most significant projects is a $25 million project to build luxury lofts, retail, and office space.

Macon developer Robbo Hatcher is asking Planning and Zoning for approval to build a four-story building with 95 lofts. But first, they'll need to demolish two former Macon stores.

"We don't tear down anything lightly. I remember shopping at Neel's," Hatcher said.

Hatcher says he's worked with the Historic Macon Foundation, brainstorming ways to revitalize two downtown buildings.

One was home to Blair's Discount Furniture store up until March 2020.

The other building-- Blair's Too--closed its doors before that. For years, the building on Cherry Street was the Joseph N. Neel department store, a family clothing business that started in Macon in 1886.

But Hatcher says the structures don't qualify for the tax credits.

"We worked with Historic Macon for a really long time to try to come up with a creative way to use the existing buildings. They just present too many challenges if they don't work economically," said Hatcher.

He wants to keep the historic Neel Department Store sign and place it on a new four-story, 107,000-square-foot building with 95 lofts, three retail bays, and nine small individual offices.

"It's just a win, win, win that we're gonna get these spaces utilized that the new buildings are gonna be twice as dense as the ones that are going to replace, and we'll get another 100 residents in downtown at least," said Josh Rogers, president of Newtown Macon, says these housing developments are fueling growth downtown.

And a 2019 study said there's a high demand and need for more lofts.

"The demand for housing every year is somewhere around 200 units. Last year, we've delivered fewer than 50 to the market. And so every time you deliver fewer markets, then people will want to rent them. Prices go up, and occupancy stays really tight. And so the key really is to develop as many units as we can as fast as we can," Rogers said.

The project is scheduled to be discussed by Macon-Bibb's Planning and Zoning commission on Monday.

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