Macon/Bibb County: A Tale Of Two Developers
The 10-year partnership between Macon developers Jeff Jones and Clay Murphey has lasted longer than many marriages. Together the two have accounted for more $25 million in development downtown and they say they're just getting started.
Murphey's sixth floor office in the spanking new Gateway Plaza offers a striking view of the historic city. This class A building, which occupies a previously long vacant parcel on Mulberry Street, is just the latest example of the pair's ability to pull off deals most colleagues wouldn't touch.
"What my partner and I saw when we looked around downtown was there hadn't been a new building here since 1980," Murphey says.
The site on which they chose to address that building drought was one that a succession of developers had tried and failed to build upon. That history has been wiped away by Gateway Plaza, a six story structure facing - across a wide boulevard - such prime Macon attractions as the music and sports halls of fame, Terminal Station and the Tubman Black History Museum, which is currently under construction.
Most developers would not have been willing to take the risks these two did to get the $12 million structure built - particularly when few could remember the last groundbreaking in downtown.
"The bankers wanted to see some tenants," says Murphey of the early days when construction delays scared off the initial set of occupants. "But we believed in the project enough to put in a million bucks of our own money before we got the first nickel from the banks."
When it opened late last year, the building was 80 percent occupied. Jones and Murphey expect full occupancy within a year - a feat they originally thought might take six or seven years.
Far from resting on their considerable laurels, the team is readying to strike again: Riverside, Macon's first mixed use live/work/play development, will sit along the banks of the Ocmulegee near downtown. Retail, office and a hotel topped by condominiums will extend the central business district farther north along Riverside Drive.
One of the biggest challenges to this project, which probably won't get under way for another couple of years, has been to secure agreement from owners that include the city government, Newtown Macon and the Payton Anderson Foundation.
"Everybody who we've talked to is behind it," Jones says. "It's just a first step process. You don't want to start it until you have the consensus of the group."
Those condos, by the way, will be downtown Macon's first. Jones and Murphey say they believe the time is right. Meanwhile, their latest project marks the construction of Macon's first new downtown apartment complex in at least 30 years. Although still in the design stage, the 80-unit development will front Cherry and Spring streets.
The partners clearly believe downtown Macon's future is a bright one.
"Over the next seven to 10 years, you'll see it really turn around," Murphey says. "You'll see that people will want to come down here again because there's going to be something to come to."