Mercer wordmark

Knight Foundation Gives $5 Million Grant to Help Revitalize College Hill Corridor

June 22, 2009

Mark Vanderhoek
Mercer University
(478) 301-4037

Julia Wood
Community Foundation of Central Georgia
(478) 750-9338

Beverly Blake
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
(478) 722-0082

Mercer President William D. Underwood announces a $5 million grant from the Knight Foundation to the College Hill Corridor during a news conference on June 22.
Mercer President William D. Underwood announces a $5 million grant from the Knight Foundation to the College Hill Corridor during a news conference on June 22.

To view a video of the news conference, go>.

MACON — Macon will take a major step toward revitalizing College Hill with a new $5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant includes $3 million to the Community Foundation of Central Georgia to fund residents’ best ideas for transforming the neighborhood, and $2 million to Mercer University to form the College Hill Alliance. Both programs are designed to reshape the city’s first neighborhoods into a vibrant college town connected by leafy roads and bike paths to the city’s downtown.

Mercer President William D. Underwood made the announcement Monday at Mercer Village, the first retail district to be restored in the College Hill Corridor. Underwood spoke nearly a year to the day after the Miami-based foundation awarded the university a planning grant for College Hill, which produced a community-driven master plan for the neighborhoods.

“For many years Knight Foundation has been a strong partner in efforts to revitalize some of Macon’sBeverly Blake, left, of the Knight Foundation, addresses the standing-room-only crowd at the news conference announcing a new grant for the College Hill Corridor on June 22. first neighborhoods,” President Underwood said. “This substantial grant – the foundation’s largest single grant to date in Macon – will be a major catalyst for implementing the master plan, for funding creative, transformational ideas from residents and organizations in the Corridor and for attracting private and public financing that will allow realization of the College Hill vision. Knight Foundation’s investment will leverage additional capital and will advance a physical and social resurgence in the historic and cultural heart of one of the South’s great cities.”

“Knight Foundation partners with our communities to create lasting transformational change,” said Beverly Blake, Knight program director for Macon, Columbus and Milledgeville. “We believe the College Hill initiative will serve as the catalyst for Macon’s renaissance.”

The Knight Neighborhood Challenge will invest in residents’ own ideas on ways to restore College Hill.  A broad-based, competitive grant program, the challenge will fund the best ideas – small and large – that give College Hill a sense of place, spruce up its parks and public spaces or enhance the arts and entertainment scene, among several other priorities residents identified in town hall meetings.  The effort also aims to get residents involved in College Hill through an array of civic and cultural projects. 

Individuals or organizations can apply to the challenge, which will be administered by the Community Foundation of Central Georgia in cooperation with the College Hill Corridor Commission. 

“With these grants Knight Foundation has once again proven its commitment to our community,” said Kathryn Dennis, president of the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. “We are appreciative of Knight Foundation’s generosity and look forward to working with Mercer and the College Hill Corridor Commission to ensure that this grant identifies and funds visionary ideas from the grassroots level.”

The College Hill Alliance, with offices in Mercer Village, will focus on accelerating neighborhood revitalization. Specifically, the alliance will implement the master plan that will beautify the area, create a business case to attract private investment to College Hill and seek additional funding for the neighborhood.

The alliance also will fund a new round of grants for the highly successful Mercer-Knight Foundation Down Payment Assistance Program, which helps Mercer faculty and staff purchase homes in the Beall’s Hill, Huguenin Heights, Tattnall Place and Intown Macon historic districts.

“I’m delighted that Knight Foundation has provided this extremely generous grant to the College Hill Corridor initiative,” said Macon Mayor Robert A.B. Reichert. “The size of the grant is matched only by the enthusiasm of the College Hill Corridor Commission, and I’m confident that this will prompt additional investments of time, energy, and money that will transform this area.”

President Underwood, left, speaks with Mercer Chancellor R. Kirby Godsey following the news conference on June 22.“Since we began our work two years ago, we’ve been so fortunate in our collaborations with all our neighbors — from longtime residents who saved these historic homes to the students who volunteer in the community and are just discovering its beauty,” said Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-chair of the College Hill Corridor Commission and associate professor at Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law. “Our public meetings were lively and engaged and it was truly remarkable to participate in such a collaborative and open process. But of course it is even more exciting to take this step toward implementing the plans we’ve been dreaming about, and none of this would have been possible without Knight Foundation’s support.”

The basic elements of the College Hill Corridor initiative were conceived in a Mercer Senior Capstone class taught by Dr. Peter Brown, senior vice provost and professor of philosophy and interdisciplinary studies, in the fall of 2006. A Community Foundation of Central Georgia grant, from its Knight Fund, allowed the students to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with Richard Florida of the Creative Class Group to learn how they could help spur economic development in the College Hill area. Florida’s work focuses on diversity and creativity as basic drivers of innovation and regional and national growth. The students concluded that Macon was well positioned to recruit and grow creative service industries, such as graphic design, marketing and the arts, by retaining talented young people graduating from the city’s academic institutions.

Inspired by this visit, the Mercer students proposed a plan to make Macon more attractive to young professionals by connecting Mercer and the downtown area to create a “college town” atmosphere. In response, President Underwood and then Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis formed the College Hill Corridor Commission in the spring of 2007 to make the idea a reality.

About Mercer University:
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University has approximately 7,600 students; 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies; major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah; three regional academic centers across the state; a university press; two teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center and the Medical Center of Central Georgia; educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta; an engineering research center in Warner Robins; a performing arts center in Macon; and a NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit

About the Community Foundation of Central Georgia:
The Community Foundation of Central Georgia was founded in 1993 by a group of citizens interested in encouraging philanthropy and strengthening communities.  Since then, the Foundation has awarded over $30 million in grants through its donor advised, unrestricted, designated, field-of-interest, scholarship, and organizational endowment funds. As a local center for philanthropy, the Community Foundation of Central Georgia works with individuals, families, corporations, private foundations and not-for-profit organizations to carry out their charitable objectives and address emerging community issues. For more information, visit

About Knight Foundation:
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of the U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects with the potential to create transformational change. For more, visit

About the College Hill Corridor Commission:
The College Hill Corridor Commission is a diverse, 18-member organization appointed jointly by the City of Macon and Mercer University. Its goal is to restore the social and physical fabric between the Mercer campus and downtown Macon. Along the way, the Commission intends to add economic value to the city's tax base, beautify residential and commercial areas, attract and retain creative young professionals and program fun public events. For more information, visit
— 30 —