Vague plans for a new hotel, restaurant, health club and apartments in downtown Macon were announced Friday by Bibb County officials as part of a high-profile property swap involving a trio of public entities.
A landmark parcel in the deal is the long-vacant and historic former Macon Health Club, which sits across Cherry Street from the City Auditorium.
The club — shuttered in 2017 and owned by the Macon-Bibb County Hospital Authority — along with a six-story office building across First Street at 691 Cherry St., is expected to be deeded to the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority.
In exchange, the Hospital Authority will receive several parcels between Hemlock and Pine streets, just east of and adjacent to The Medical Center’s labyrinthine downtown campus. Those vacant-lot properties could potentially be used by the county’s lone public hospital for future health-care facilities.
Officials said the deal was long in the works and also brokered, in part, by the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority. Further terms of the exchange, which according to documents may include monetary considerations, were not immediately known.
At a news conference Friday morning at the corner of First and Cherry streets, Mayor Lester Miller said he was “disappointed” when the Health Club closed six years ago.
“We’re going to make sure that the Health Club returns to downtown Macon, that everyone can enjoy and have the opportunity to use (it),” Miller said. “We’re also gonna make sure that we have a new hotel nearby. Our hope is to have a new hotel in the very near future ... along with some good housing that we all need.”
The Health Club building, vacant and unused for the better part of the past decade, includes a basketball gym, a wooden walking track and a swimming pool.
Donald J. Cornett, a past president of the defunct Health Club, on Friday recalled the gym’s former glory.
“It was one of the biggest melting pots in the city of Macon — Black, white, young, old and, you know, it was sort of a culture in and of its own,” Cornett said. “I had to jump through hoops to keep it from having to close, but, you know, like anything else, it takes money to operate.”
David Danzie, who has served on the Hospital Authority since 2008, said the board closed the Health Club for “monetary” reasons.
Danzie said he once had a membership to the gym and played basketball there when he and his wife lived downtown.
“I loved it. It was a great facility,” Danzie said, adding that he didn’t know whether it was safe for a reporter to visit and take photographs inside the building in its current state. “I think everything that happens downtown is helping the community because right now we don’t really have a gym facility.”
Danzie declined to answer questions about what plans the Hospital Authority has for the two properties on Pine Street.
One of the properties on Pine Street was transferred from Macon-Bibb County to the Urban Development Authority in June.
Alex Morrison, executive director of the Urban Development Authority, mentioned that at least some of the downtown buildings acquired along Cherry Street would offer “opportunities for new, affordable, attainable housing.”
Speaking of both buildings, the Health Club and the low-rise office building at 691 Cherry, Morrison said the aim is to now “work with developers to bring both of these properties back to productive use ... bringing new residents, new activity and a new gym and a restaurant facility back to this corner.”
The boxy, gray low-rise at 691 Cherry, which was built in the mid-1960s and known as the Home Federal Building and, later, the Georgia Federal Building, has an adjacent parking deck. It might be the most viable spot for apartments. The hospital had used the building for executive offices since 1991. It leased some offices in the building to other government agencies.
A four-story, soft red-brick structure fronting First Street that is attached to the Health Club could conceivably be remodeled into a hotel.
Officials on Friday, however, were mum on particulars about the projects.