In 2006, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation sponsored a group of Mercer University students on a trip to meet Richard Florida of the Creative Class Group in Washington, D.C., to learn how they could spur the revival of Downtown Macon, Georgia. These students discovered 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 group of students dreamed a plan, entitled, “College Hill Revisited,” to spur this growth by reconnecting Mercer University and Downtown Macon.
In spring 2007, Mercer University President Bill Underwood and Mayor C. Jack Ellis formed the College Hill Corridor Commission to accomplish the primary goal of creating an attractive, safe and well-defined corridor between Mercer and downtown. By summer, the newly formed Commission began holding public meetings to gather input and momentum from the local community to create a shared vision for the Corridor.
In March 2008, the Commission received a $250,000 planning grant from the Knight Foundation. With the community’s input, Interface Studio, a Philadelphia-based urban planning and design firm, was hired to produce the College HillCorridor Master Plan. During the next year, over 1,000 members of the community met to add their own ideas for the Corridor and set priorities.
In February 2009, the community-driven College Hill Corridor Master Plan was published and adopted by the Commission to begin putting into action.
In June 2009, the Knight Foundation awarded a $5 million grant for revitalizing the College Hill Corridor.The grant issued $3 million to the Community Foundation of Central Georgia to fund the Knight Neighborhood Challenge grant program and $2 million to Mercer University to create the College Hill Alliance.
In September 2012, the Knight Foundation awarded $2.3 million toward continuing the Alliance’s work and expanding its influence to assist entrepreneurs in the area.