Knight Foundation Helps Build a Stronger Macon

Barbara Kieker

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Macon has all the ingredients to attract and retain college-educated talent – a reasonable cost of living, in-town neighborhoods, an historic downtown and proximity to a gateway airport in Atlanta.  Creating a strong sense of place and belonging to pull all those ingredients together is the focus of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, according to Beverly Blake, Macon program director for Knight Foundation. 

“There are about 20,000 college students in Macon.  We want to create the kind of environment that will encourage them to choose to stay and work here,” Blake said. 

“Since 2006, the Knight Foundation has invested $18 million in Macon to build an urban core with a strong sense of place and belonging.” 

That work has begun to pay off with new efforts to attract and retain talent in the area including the Macon Made initiative to promote goods produced in Macon and Macon Makers, an initiative to support a makers space in College Hill for artists, craftsmen and business innovators.  These efforts can translate into economic development activity in the area. 

“Economic development in Macon looks different now than it did 10 years ago. Before it relied mainly on public resources and funding.  Now it is also about growing local innovators to expand the economy and take it forward,” Blake said. 

The Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts.  Its work in Macon began in 1969 when Knight Newspapers bought the Georgia Telegraph and afternoon News.  According to Blake, the foundation’s signature initiatives in Macon include the revitalization of the College Hill Corridor, the Knight Neighborhood Challenge and revitalization of the Beall’s Hill neighborhood. The foundation also recently closed its Knight Cities Challenge, a three-year $15 million commitment to find ideas that make Macon and the 25 other cities where Knight invests more successful. 

Revitalizing College Hill Corridor

Mercer University students first highlighted the potential in revitalizing the historic College Hill Corridor, the neighborhood connecting the Mercer campus with downtown Macon.  Mercer and the city of Macon worked together to create a master plan for revitalization in 2008.  The Knight Foundation provided a grant to help fund the plan’s implementation and work began in 2009. 

“More than $100 million has been invested in College Hill, overwhelmingly from the private sector,” Blake said. 

“The neighborhood now has a real sense of community and has won several awards.”

More information on College Hill and the College Hill Alliance, a grant function of Mercer University, funded by the Knight Foundation, is available online at  The Alliance's efforts focus on business recruitment and retention, lifestyle enhancement and catalyzing commercial and residential real estate development that strengthen the historic character of College Hill. 

Building community engagement through the Knight Neighborhood Challenge

According to Blake, it takes both grass-roots effort and institutional support to make a difference.  Everyday leaders have emerged through the Knight Neighborhood Challenge and made a real difference in Macon. 

The Knight Neighborhood Challenge was a five-year program that underwrote the best ideas to create a sense of place in College Hill. It was administered by the Community Foundation of Central Georgia and funded by a $3 million grant from the foundation.  Besides revitalizing the neighborhood, the challenge also helped get people involved in College Hill through an array of civic and cultural projects.  

“One great example is Professor Andy Silver at Mercer who wanted to revitalize Tattnall Square Park.  He recognized that public parks are the front yards of our city and this park was not being used,” Blake said. 

“Through the Friends of Tattnall Square Park, Professor Silver raised public and private funding, including a Knight grant, that transformed the park and helped create lots of opportunities for people to gather and engage with their community.” 

More information on the Knight Neighborhood Challenge is available at

Revitalizing Beall’s Hill

Knight Foundation recently provided another $3 million grant to the Historic Macon Foundation to continue its work in the historic Beall’s Hill neighborhood.  The neighborhood is close to both Mercer University and Navicent Health, the state’s second largest hospital, which makes it an appealing location for both faculty and health care professionals. 

“It’s really Macon’s only diverse neighborhood – with all ages and all income levels.  And it’s affordable.  A fully rehabbed home is typically priced around $135,000 and with tax credits and other incentives, it can cost less than $600 per month,” Blake said. 

“Revitalization work started 14 years ago and we’re looking forward to continued work in the neighborhood.” 

More information on the Knight Foundation and its work in Macon is available at

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.