Carlton Fletcher, Albany Herald
ALBANY — While many of his contemporaries are abandoning Southwest Georgia — for retirement getaways, to be with family, or in frustration brought about by abrupt change — Robert F. “Bobby” McKinney remains steadfast in his support of the community that he says “made me everything I am today.”
At 70, McKinney, the current chairman of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Dougherty County Board of Registration and Elections, has the energy of a man half his age. And he devotes much of that energy to working — both openly and behind the scenes — to improve the community that’s been home for 60 of his 70 years.
“Everything I am today, I am because of Albany and Dougherty County,” McKinney said Tuesday during a conversation at the northwest Albany office he’s maintained even during the five years that he’s been officially retired from his real estate appraisal and consulting company. “And I want to do everything I can to make this community better for that young generation that’s coming behind us.
“We can’t ignore the things that are wrong with our community, but we must never forget that we live in a place with the greatest per capita resources anywhere around. Are we one of the poorest communities in the country? Yes, without a doubt. And we have to concentrate on and address those issues that make us that way. But we also have to tell our story. And it’s a great story.”
When he gets on a roll, the best thing to do is get out of McKinney’s way and listen. He makes a compelling case.
“For a community this size, located where we are, just having a Procter & Gamble plant here is a huge thing,” McKinney said. “But then you realize, we have MillerCoors, Mars Chocolate, Sasco, Equinox, Coats and Clark, Phoebe Putney (Memorial Hospital) … and that’s not even mentioning the Marine (Corps Logistics) Base.
“And we have the (Flint) RiverQuarium, Thronateeska, Chehaw — which is an amazing facility — Theater Albany, Nicole Williams’ arts group (the Albany Area Arts Council), the symphony orchestra. And people from the northeast come all the way to Albany just to wander through the Civil Rights Institute.”
As he warms to the subject of Albany’s positives, McKinney becomes even more animated.
“OK, let’s say you’re a visitor in town and you’re staying at the Hilton Garden Inn,” he says. “You stand outside the hotel, look around you and you see that beautiful Convention and Visitors Bureau building, the RiverQuarium, the Civic Center and the Ray Charles statue, which has become one of the most recognized statues in the state.
“You say to yourself, ‘With all I’ve heard about Albany, how do they make all this happen?’”
McKinney’s not finished.
“Then you consider all the things that are in the works,” he continues. “I’ve had long conversations with (Albany City Manager) Sharon Subadan, and the plan that she and the City Commission are working on is going to create a very interesting dynamic downtown. There are retail, residential and educational possibilities that could completely change the face of our downtown.
“I really like the educational concept of bringing Albany State (University), Darton (State College) and Albany Tech(nical College) together in the downtown district. Bringing college kids into that district for classes, to shop and even to live would make it more vibrant, bring a new, exciting dynamic downtown.”
McKinney, who also serves on the local YMCA board, the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce board and Executive Committee, the Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint Stakeholders and Transition Coordinating Council, is president of the local Quail Forever chapter, as well as a member of the Albany State University Real Estate Foundation, spends enough of his time working with the groups that promote Albany that he has an insider’s feel for their effectiveness.
And McKinney says those groups are doing the right things.
“The CVB, the EDC (Economic Development Commission) and the Chamber don’t make the news every day, but they are effective organizations making a difference every day,” he says. “I said it before: We have a great story to tell in Albany and Dougherty County. We’re fortunate to have groups that are telling it every day.”
As one of the community’s go-to supporters, and one of its most eloquent, McKinney continues to play a vital role in what he says he hopes will be a brighter future for all in the region. But he admits his window of influence is closing, for no other reason, though, than his desire to make way for new leadership.
“No one can take Bobby McKinney’s place until he moves out of the way,” he said. “There are young professionals now who need to step up and become our leaders for the future. I’m about ready to step aside, not because I’m no longer interested in our community’s future, but because I want our next generation to assume that role.”