It has been a whirlwind few weeks in Macon, Georgia and the experience has shown to me again how a private foundation such as Knight can be such a catalyst for community change and growth. Foundations are unique in that we are here to support the common good, and in Knight's case, to fund the big ideas of folks and organizations who are creating informed, engaged communities. We have several such initiatives here in Macon-the College Hill Alliance, Historic Macon Foundation and the Community Foundation of Central Georgia's Knight Neighborhood Challenge. We are fortunate to have strong partners in Mercer University, the City of Macon and the Macon Housing Authority, among others.
One of the greatest pleasures of this work is the partnerships with these visionary, committed leaders. We share ideas, dreams, and frustrations and seem to always come up with common goals. One of these common goals is the revitalization of the Beall's Hill neighborhood with an emerging partnership of the City, Mercer University and the Macon Housing Authority. But of course this work is not easy! If it was, it would already have been done! Beall's Hill is a distressed neighborhood with great opportunity for revitalization. An effort was started some years ago but fell apart when the partners could not agree how to move forward. But we're back at it.
What's different now?
I'd say what is different is that we have visionary leaders with a shared goal and enlightened self interest. And, because of the commitment of all the partners (including'a $5 million grant from Knight), we have the financial resources to make it work.
But since it's never easy, we had a bit of challenge a few weeks back. The Appropriations Committee of City Council met and deleted the City's financial commitment to the project. We found out the following morning as we were reading The Telegraph and macon.com.
Not a good thing. For the partnership is not just about the money - it's about commitment, leadership and cooperation.
We scrambled, attended the Appropriations Committee meeting in the afternoon and with the leadership of the Mayor, we found out what was troubling the committee, the same thing that concerned Knight when we were looking at this opportunity. The concern was that this would become a never ending project that would appear each year for funding - which seems to happen a lot. So we informed the committee that this is a focused, 3 year effort that will propel the revitalization and move the community forward.' The funding was restored.
What Council saw was an organization asking for funding. What I saw was a partnership requesting for an investment. And that is what this funding is - an investment in the future of Macon's neighborhoods, an investment that will pay handsome returns. For example, Historic Macon has been revitalizing homes for over 10 years and the numbers tell the story - the collective market value of the 84 home-owner restoration projects has increased from $4 million to $13 million and produces over $156,000 in annual property taxes. As importantly, every home remains home-owner occupied, code compliant and is worth more than when Historic Macon sold it. This is the goal for Beall's Hill. But the investment will pay greater returns in safer neighborhoods, home ownership and resident engagement in the life of this community.
Knight's financial and thought leadership has been a catalyst to continue the positive momentum. We have the luxury of funding, the luxury of bringing in new ideas and supporting the great ideas that are here, and from time to time, speaking from our bully pulpit. But we also have a great responsibility to the community we serve - to expect great things from our leaders, to catalyze our residents, and to hold ourselves as accountable for success as we do our grantees.
I'm proud that Knight has an important role in this progress to Macon's future. We can't do it alone, nor can government nor the private sector. We need one another and cannot succeed without leadership, partnership and commitment.
My thanks to the Mayor and Macon City Council for making that partnership solid.