Food trucks coming to historic Macon community

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Daude Harrell has a vision for the neighborhood surrounding the former Roxy Theatre, which was considered part of the Greenwood Bottoms neighborhood, as it is known colloquially.

“Having a vision and not having the resources is mind-racking,” Harrell said outside of his family-owned and operated barber shop, Harrell’s & Son’s Barbershop at 1115 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

The barber shop is one of the last surviving businesses in the neighborhood. It dates back to the 1960s, when Harrell’s grandfather ran several businesses in the three buildings, including a car detail business, a restaurant and a beauty salon.

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After years of businesses moving out of the area, Harrell is starting to see some of his vision take shape through the work of Weston Stroud, a former candidate for Macon-Bibb County District 2 Commissioner.

Stroud was selected for the 2020 Emerging City Champions fellowship led by 8 80 Cities and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He will receive $5,000 of seed money to create a pedestrian and food truck park outside of Harrell’s business as well as a year of training as he carries out his project, according to a news release.

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Stroud’s plan involves activating the area surrounding the Roxy Theatre through “tactical urbanism, placemaking, and intentional programming to create a pedestrian plaza that could also support entrepreneurship by hosting food trucks,” according to the release.

“He didn’t come in like, ‘Oh, I want to do this. I want to do it.’ He got our vision of it, and basically put it into work,” Harrell said. “It’s beautiful to see it really manifest. I’m excited.”

Stroud learned about the Roxy Theatre through a project the Center for Collaborative Journalism produced called “Remember the Roxy,” and he learned about the vibrant African American community that existed in Greenwood Bottoms when the theater was at its prime, he said.

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“I just fell in love with the story, and then, when I was running for office, I met a lot of the community members and then I fell in love with the people,” Stroud said. “When you think about downtown and the narrative around that, expanding that narrative is also important and including everyone in the history and in the growth of downtown.”

The Roxy Theatre was a place where people in the Greenwood Bottoms community went to hang out and have fun, and Stroud wants to extend that history to create a place people can hang out now, including by creating pedestrian-friendly seating, he said.

“The whole grant is really about revitalizing the area and bringing back people to this historic neighborhood, and so what we want to do is designate that area as a food truck park,” he said.

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As a transit planner for the Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority, Stroud said he learned about the difficulties food trucks have to run their businesses in downtown Macon and how that conflicted with the brick and mortar businesses already in downtown Macon. The pedestrian plaza and food truck park would create a space for food trucks without infringing on other businesses downtown, he said.

Stroud reached out to Harrell because he said people in the community need to be a part of the conversation in order to be invested in the results of the conversation.

“The whole purpose of it is to have that type of community engagement and to empower the community to have a voice; to craft the narrative about their place and where they’re from,” he said. “When I even went on the journey to run for office, I always knew that it was never about winning. It was always about the change. It was never about having a seat. It’s about helping empower the community.”