Downtown Homecoming

Taking the reins of Albany Tomorrow, Inc. (ATI) was a homecoming of sorts for Greg McCormack. The downtown development organization’s new interim director settled into an office in a building that once housed Bob’s Candies, a family business that was long a fixture in the city.

While he recalls childhood days spent building forts among pallets of packaged candy, his main focus is on keeping ATI’s many projects moving forward. Once those efforts – which are funded by Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) dollars – are complete, Albany’s efforts to fill downtown with new amenities and tourist attractions will be largely done. At that point, it will be time for the private sector to take over, McCormack says.

“While we are going to continue to do public projects and hopefully have some more SPLOST projects later on, I really look to try to build some private partnerships,” he explains. “They can bring in some of the amenities or some mixed use properties with residential that can start using some of the amenities that we have built down here on a more regular basis.”

While there has been interest in downtown, it has yet to translate into any sizable private investments. It will come eventually, McCormack believes.

“It is always the hardest piece because the private developers have to see a return on their equity, and that is an important thing to try to help them along,” he explains.

Several local banks have opened offices downtown and the Hilton Garden Inn, which serves as the city’s convention hotel, is the product of a public-private partnership.

“I think it becomes more difficult to try to bring in what I call mixed use, which is where you try to get people living in an area that people haven’t lived for decades,” McCormack says.

And he should know. He spent 27 years working with the family candy business before it was sold to a company that eventually closed the plant and moved operations to Tennessee. Since then he’s remained active with the community, including serving on ATI’s board of directors. He was tapped as interim director when long-time ATI head Thomas Chatmon left for a similar job in Orlando.

Being in the public eye has taken some adjustment. McCormack is sometimes the object of vitriolic criticism in the local newspaper’s “Squawk Box” column that allows readers to anonymously record comments for publication. One declared that McCormack might be planning to move ATI to Mexico – perhaps recalling that the family candy business once operated a plant south of the border. He has also found that government doesn’t always work the same way business does.

“In business you discuss what you want to do, and once you decide everybody moves in the same direction,” he says. “That’s not always true with government.”

Despite the adjustment, McCormack believes Albany’s downtown is destined for a bright future and that much of the development that has for so long been just around the corner will finally arrive. – Randy Southerland

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