Plans are moving forward for dramatic changes to downtown Albany

ADICA’S Blair: Development master plan being completed for West Broad, Pine

A Waffle House restaurant, like this one that recently opened in Albany at 103 Gillionville Road, is in the plans for downtown Albany, according to Downtown Manager Aaron Blair. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

A Waffle House restaurant, like this one that recently opened in Albany at 103 Gillionville Road, is in the plans for downtown Albany, according to Downtown Manager Aaron Blair. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — The buzz that has been building around potential downtown Albany development is about to become a roar.

Downtown Manager Aaron Blair confirmed Thursday that details are being worked out to bring a Waffle House restaurant and a new hotel to the 100 block of West Broad Avenue, part of a master plan that would dramatically change the look of the inner city.

“Plans for these projects are in various stages right now, but I’m very optimistic about them,” Blair said Thursday, a day after he talked about development plans with the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority board at its monthly meeting. “I don’t like to make any kind of official announcement until all the details are worked out and the contracts are signed, but I feel very positive about where we are right now with these projects.”

Blair said local Waffle House officials are already on board with the plan to locate a restaurant franchise on West Broad, but there are details to be worked out with officials at the familiar chain’s corporate offices. Waffle House recently opened a restaurant at 103 Gillionville Road, near Westover Road.

Blair said Charlotte, N.C.-based Shandon Development Properties, which has worked on Southwest Georgia projects in the past, is looking closely at development of a hotel on property that connects to the old Bank of America building on West Broad.

“That building is a historic site, and plans are to connect the hotel to the Bank of America building,” the downtown manager said. “We’re very close on making this happen. I’m confident things are going to come through.”

The downtown projects were components of funding reallocations that Blair discussed with the ADICA board in open session. The board later went into executive session to discuss possible property acquisition.

The board approved the reallocation of some $350,000 in Tax Allocation District bonds from the historic Albany Theater rehabilitation project, which has been repurposed, for use on three other projects. The largest portion of the fund transfer, $150,000, was moved into the authority’s “private sector” account. Blair said those funds would help with possible partnerships between ADICA and private developers.

“We’re anticipating these projects coming, so we’re going to use some of that funding to develop a master plan on the 100 block of West Broad Avenue and the 100 block of Pine Avenue,” he said. “Along with the hotel and Waffle House projects, there are other retail possibilities being discussed.”

In moving $75,000 of the Albany Theater rehab funding into its canoe/kayak launch project, the ADICA board was able to approve LRA Constructors’ low bid of $275,200 to build three canoe/kayak launches: one near the Georgia Power Dam, one on land in the downtown Riverfront Park and the third on land adjacent to the Ray Charles Plaza.

“We moved this meeting up so that we could act quickly on this bid,” Blair said. “Every day we’re losing while the (Flint) river is low is killing us. If we can start this project immediately and the water stays low, we could finish the project in three to four months. If we get heavy rains, it could take as long as six months.

“We definitely want to have the launches completed by March, when all the marathoners come here (for the annual Snickers Marathon).”

The board OK’d the reallocation of $125,000 from the Albany Theater funding for ongoing efforts to renovate the Old Northside Neighborhood, which is the site of a recently started ADICA-funded streetlight installation project.

“We have the funding for the lighting project in that account, but we have more things on the horizon,” Blair said. “We’re looking at possibly rehabbing or moving some historic structures into that neighborhood.”

The ADICA board decided to wait until its December meeting to decide on whether to accept a $43,000 bid on the downtown skate park property. The bidder did not complete a location plan for the property, as required in bid documents, so the board voted to wait until that action was taken before voting on the sale of the property. Blair said the bidder planned to put a “deli-type restaurant” on the property.

If the sale is approved, the downtown manager said the city would move the skate park equipment to another site, possibly the former First Tee property on Front Street.

“The First Tee site is a possibility since the city now owns that property,” Blair said. “I’ve been actively pursuing that property (with city officials) because it’s a great site. We have a new mountain bike organization chapter (International Mountain Bike Association) that has formed in the city, and there are things we could do there with that group, too.”

Blair also announced at the ADICA meeting that the city had been approved for the state Department of Community Affairs’ Main Street program and would be meeting with DCA officials soon to discuss requirements of the program. One of DCA officials’ recommendations during a site visit was that an advisory board for the D’town Art Park be named. The ADICA board voted to start accepting applications for a nine-member board, five of which it expects to have active arts-related ties.