The old saying goes that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Well the city of Macon must be pretty flattered by the work government leaders, stakeholders and contractors have done to increase available housing in downtown Brunswick.

In an effort to revitalize its downtown area, many Brunswick leaders took a trip to Macon in May 2019 to find out how that city managed to achieve such a rapid turnaround. Macon’s downtown district was sparsely populated a decade ago but now has thriving businesses and hundreds of new residents.

The key, as it turns out, was taking advantage of unoccupied buildings and turning them into places people want to live. Brunswick has taken that model and applied it to various downtown buildings with success.

It doesn’t always work out this way. Just because something is good for one city doesn’t mean it can work in another. But studies commissioned in 2019 after Brunswick leaders took a trip to Macon showed that downtown Brunswick could absorb more than 60 rental and for-sale housing units per year over a span of five years.

The best thing is that it wasn’t just the government leaders that recognized this could work in Brunswick. Plenty of developers also saw the potential and put their time and money in converting existing buildings into apartments, lofts and upgraded spaces for new businesses.

The combined efforts of everyone involved is what earned Brunswick one of the five Sustainable Futures Award the Georgia Conservancy recently awarded for how cities approach housing issues. The Georgia Conservancy is a staunch advocate of repurposing buildings and unoccupied sites to help reduce the impact of the state’s growing population.

While the work continues to bring more housing downtown, there is still one big card to play for the community.

With the plan to put a conference center on the site of the former Oglethorpe Hotel officially dead, there is a piece of prime real estate that could accomplish the goals of bringing more people and businesses to prop up downtown Brunswick.

There have been proposals but nothing concrete yet about what will happen to the Oglethorpe block. The spirit of cooperation from the public/private partnerships has already paid dividends in the effort to restore downtown. The pandemic may have had an effect on the timetable of some efforts, but there are still plenty of positive projects coming.

Done right, the Oglethorpe block could be the piece that brings it all together. Hopefully, the same spirit of cooperation will guide what happens to it.

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