Improvements to Commerce Street and a new city hall are creating a new look for downtown Hawkinsville.

The Commerce Street repaving project is thanks to the efforts of UGA engineering students who worked with the city through the University of Georgia Archway Partnership on a plan for making downtown more pedestrian-friendly and investigating traffic calming measures. UGA College of Engineering students submitted their designs to the city during the 2018-19 school year as part of the capstone project needed to earn their engineering degrees.

Additionally, the city worked with UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government faculty member Danny Bivins and others from the institute’s Renaissance Strategic Visioning Planning Process (RSVP) team to finalize the plans and prepare them for submission to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), which has particular requirements for proposals.

“When we approached GDOT with the students engineering project they allowed us to submit it as a request. With the help of UGA faculty member Danny Bivins and his team, we were able to update the students designs in order for them to be more in line with what GDOT was looking for and submit them to GDOT,” said Sara Myers, Hawkinsville city manager.

The UGA RSVP team helped prepare the designs for GDOT, as well as recommended a number of other strategies currently helping downtown Hawkinsville attract commercial and residential activity, including an update of the zoning ordinances to allow for a more “live-work-play” atmosphere.

“Without the UGA students initial engineering project and without being awarded with RSVP, this new design may have never came to fruition,” said Myers.

An aerial view shows road improvements and pedestrian safety improvements. (Photo: City of Hawkinsville)

The final design approved by GDOT takes the former four-lane highway of westbound Golden Isles Parkway that turns into Commerce Street down to two lanes of traffic, with a center two-way turn lane and bike lanes. With two lanes coming off the bridge into downtown, one lane continues as Commerce Street and the other lane becomes a turn lane onto Florida Avenue and runs past the new Hawkinsville City Hall, which opened in December.

The new city hall has been discussed for many years, with students from UGA and the Archway Partnership providing some early concepts in 2015. Funding finally came through in 2021 via a $3 million Rural Development loan from the Department of Agriculture and the groundbreaking was in November 2021.

The new Hawkinsville City Hall. (Photo: Logan Dowdy)

“Katie,” the first steam fire engine in Hawkinsville that was in use from 1880-1917, serves as the centerpiece of the building, which sits adjacent to the Ocmulgee River and Veterans Memorial Park on Broad Street.

In addition, several of the historic buildings downtown are currently under construction after years of neglect – some with completely rotten floors or ceilings – and are being renovated for new commercial or residential uses. New loft apartments will soon be just a few steps from the river, and new restaurant or other business space will be available in several buildings between the river and the Pulaski County Courthouse.