With $2.5M in additional funding, here’s what’s next for Macon’s Rosa Parks Square

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After nearly five years, the Friends of Rosa Parks Square Board may finally see their plans come to fruition for an enhanced park to pay tribute to civil rights leaders.

Last week, the committee celebrated the county’s $1.5 million addition to the construction fund that currently has about a million dollars from the Urban Development Authority’s proceeds following the sale of the old Willie C. Hill Annex building in the Hotel 45 deal.

“I am so excited,” board chair Andrea Cooke said. “I couldn’t be happier. It’s an amazing day. It’s been an amazing week.”

In January, the board scaled back what was estimated to be up to a $4 million project by removing an expensive water wall from the design formulated through the 2015 Macon Action Plan. Their goal was to take that proposal to Mayor Lester Miller to appeal for possible funding through the next SPLOST tax. The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is a 1-cent sales tax the state of Georgia allows counties to collect to fund specific improvement projects..

Cooke met with Miller, who later sponsored Tuesday’s resolution to contribute money from the general fund “for the purchase, installation and construction of suitable improvements to Rosa Parks Square, with due consideration given to any advice of the Friends of Rosa Parks Square Board.”

The resolution passed unanimously and included about a million dollars to create a public space of nearly 10 acres at 4687 Rivoli Drive that originally was slated for 30 homes.

Urban Development Authority Executive Director Alex Morrison said, “You’d be hard-pressed to have any more progress from one meeting to the next.”

In the late ‘70s, the UDA birthed the idea for a public plaza across from City Hall. Over the past two decades there have been incremental improvements toward that goal, but many advocates have been frustrated by the lack of progress.

In 2005, then-Mayor C. Jack Ellis attended Rosa Parks’ funeral and sought permission from her family to dedicate the park in her honor.

“We were the first city in the U.S. to name something after her following her death,” Ellis said Thursday after hearing the “awesome” news that the county is providing funding.

This aerial view shows the water wall that has since been removed from the design.
This aerial view shows the water wall that has since been removed from the design.

The design firm HGOR is tweaking the county-approved plans to remove the water feature from the wall after board members expressed concerns about ongoing maintenance.

“Really, it’s just the same design without the water. From a visual perspective you won’t notice a difference,” Morrison said.

HGOR also will redo the bid set for Macon-Bibb County’s Procurement Department to solicit proposals to select a contractor.

Board vice chair George Muhammad, who said he has been working on the park effort since 2012, expressed a desire to have minority businesses involved in construction.

Last year’s bid process was abandoned after only one contractor successfully applied for the project, and premature board discussions compromised the process.

Muhammad assembled a list of local Civil Rights luminaries to be honored in the park, but the board is not sure whether the $2.5 million will be enough to build the park and furnish it.

Plans also call for a statue of Parks that may have to rely on private donations.

The board recently laid a wreath in tribute to what would have been Parks’ 111th birthday on Feb. 4. Cooke wants to appeal to the public to honor Parks this year by contributing donations of $111, or any other amount, to supplement the $2.5 which likely will be needed for infrastructure.

Nearly four years ago, the Community Foundation of Central Georgia established a fund for Rosa Parks Square donations as part of the board’s mission to “solicit and accept gifts, grants and donations.”

“It was essentially five years of asks and waiting to see, and now that it’s finally happening, I think there’s a major opportunity,” Cooke said. “I think it will be a really good idea to raise awareness about the park.”

Board members agree they now have the impetus to generate that money for the tributes.

Morrison also believes Macon-Bibb County could leverage its $1.5 million for matching grants from organizations supporting racial reconciliation, such as the Trust for Public Land which aims to close equity gaps in public spaces.

A groundbreaking could be scheduled as early as late summer, he said.

Upon returning to City Hall Thursday afternoon, Miller walked into the board meeting near its conclusion “just to observe,” he said.

Cooke encouraged the board to offer a combined “thanks, Lester” for the funding to move the project forward.

“We are genuinely grateful for your recognizing how important this park is to all of us,” she said.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at fabian_lj@mercer.edu or 478-301-2976.