Progress is steadily being made on the Blakely Gateway Project at the Highway 27 bypass on the city’s eastern side. An update on the project was presented to the Blakely Rotary Club on Jan. 11.
Mayor Travis Wimbush and city employee Lane Davis, who is leading ongoing work on the 19-acre site at the intersection of Highway 27 and Magnolia Street, said that new grants and more local financial contributors are needed to see the project through to completion.
The first dirt was turned on the project last summer. It is hoped that total completion will be reached this year, but the timetable is murky due to ever-increasing costs, Wimbush and Davis told the Rotary Club.
Gateway is a major spoke in the revival of his hometown by the late Atlanta businessman Charles Rice, who died last year. Many projects that Rice envisioned have been completed, including the demolition of some 200 dilapidated houses across Blakely.
The Alexander Building on Courthouse Square was renovated and is now a showplace housing the Blakely-Early County Chamber of Commerce, among other community improvements.
Rice left to current city and county leaders the job of continuing his dreams. The Gateway Project was high on the list. It began as a project believed to cost around $800,00 but has since been elevated to one that could eventually cost in the $1.7 million range.
Some local monies have been contributed to the project, but the city government leaders need “new partners” to contribute more dollars to help finance Gateway. Some unused funds from other projects and SPLOST tax monies can also be expended on the project.
“We’re grateful to get additional funds,” said Davis. He added that many residents have commented on how nice the work already done is looking.
Work is underway on entrances to the project site. Sidewalks, a walking trail, a pond, a play area for children, landscaping and other amenities like a welcome station and rest area for visitors with bathrooms are included in the overall plans.
“The whole point is to draw people off Highway 27 into our community. We will see a lot of benefits from this project,” Wimbush told Rotarians. “This is another step of economic development for this area.
“And this is not just for the city, but also the county,” the mayor said.
He said completion of the building is a major challenge. Spiraling costs have delayed work on it for now.
Wimbush and Davis stressed that transparency of the project for the public will be a focus, with public hearings to be held at some point.
The mayor said members of Blakely’s new city council are excited about the Gateway Project. “This new board must take on this project,” he said.