BiS: - Business news for the creative coast.

City Talk

Subscribe to City Talk feed
City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday - Email me. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.
Updated: 6 min 23 sec ago

City Talk: Longtime Charleston mayor shares lessons for Savannah

Mon, 10/24/2016 - 8:59pm

Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley had the audience in the palm of his hand throughout his wise, fast-paced, even funny lecture at the Savannah Theatre last week, which was part of The Savannah Urbanism Series.

Riley’s talk was titled “Building Beauty in the Urban Environment,” but the presentation was also a primer in how to make practical decisions that serve residents in a historic city dealing with issues such as poverty and tourism.

Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach and several aldermen were among the large, appreciative crowd, so I’m hopeful that Riley’s remarks will resonate for a long time.

Riley served 40 years as Charleston’s mayor, and his talk was peppered with success stories both large and small.

The Charleston of today is far different from 1975, when Riley was first elected. Riley joked that, in those days, if you went to Market Street with 50 cents, you could get a tattoo, a bowl of chili or a communicable disease.

Riley emphasized the importance of not making mistakes. Often, that meant finding ways to save buildings that many Charlestonians had given up on. It’s safe to say we wouldn’t have torn down two blocks of historic homes in Meldrim Row if Riley had been here in Savannah.

Riley drew applause when he said that there is “never a reason to build something that doesn’t add to the beauty of a city.”

Riley believed and obviously still believes that the public realm is a “democratic space” where all residents should feel welcome.

“A city should be a place where every citizen’s heart can sing,” Riley said.

Early on, the young mayor emphasized the rebirth of King Street into a shopping destination, and throughout his tenure he prioritized the pedestrian experience.

He said that he routinely asked one question: “If a mother is walking her child down the street, does she feel safe?” He wasn’t referring to crime so much in that part of the talk, but to the safety of the sidewalk and the proximity of traffic.

Bay Street, anyone?

Under Riley’s leadership, Charleston embraced attractive scattered site public housing, which allows for poor and marginalized people to be integrated more easily into a community.

Riley also noted that he oversaw implementation of a tourism management plan, and he emphasized that residents can decide how they want visitors to experience a city.

Riley did not discuss ongoing tensions in Charleston regarding cruise ships and the proliferation of hotels, but that seemed like a small omission in an otherwise excellent presentation.

If you didn’t see it, the lecture should appear soon on the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority’s website.


City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.  

By: Bill DawersSection: BiSTopic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Jalapenos expands to Broughton

Sat, 10/22/2016 - 8:54pm

The new Jalapenos Mexican Grill at 7 E. Broughton St. is as comfortable and inexpensive as one would expect.

With a half dozen locations in the Savannah area, Jalapenos has established a strong brand and great name recognition, and it’s good to see their concept come to Broughton.

The building was formerly home to the restaurant Dept. 7 East, and Jalapenos has kept the existing configuration of the dining areas. As patrons enter, they’ll find a comfortable bar to their left and seating to their right. Farther back, the eastern wall is lined with a comfortable banquette and a series of two-tops. There’s a larger dining area toward the back of the restaurant as well.

Jalapenos is both spacious and quiet, and on a recent weeknight the staff had no trouble seating and accommodating a large party that might not have had many similarly priced options in the Historic District.

You can find Jalapenos menu on their website ( There’s a huge variety of options, but I found myself on familiar territory and ordered a chicken chimichanga dinner. The dinner plus a soda, which was refilled again and again, cost me just $16, including tax and a fairly generous tip.

Jalapenos seems likely to pick up clientele who formerly patronized restaurants like Juarez on Broughton Street and Cilantro’s on Bay Street, both of which are now closed.

Despite those closures, there seems to be plenty of demand for Mexican cuisine downtown, as evidenced by the ongoing success of Carlito’s Mexican Bar & Grill on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Tequila’s Town Mexican Restaurant on Whitaker Street.

With such a comfortable dining area, reasonable price point and strong reputation, Jalapenos will likely have strong local support even though the new location is in the midst of our increasingly tourist-oriented downtown. On my first trip, I ran into several local folks whom I know.

It will also be interesting to see how many tourists find their way to Jalapenos. Many of our visitors have kids, and many are not looking for expensive meals.

At the same time, some restaurants on Broughton Street have struggled to maintain steady business over the years. A number of our existing restaurants took over from other establishments that didn’t survive, and there are several former restaurant spaces that have become other uses.

I suspect we’d see more stability and more inexpensive options among downtown restaurants if we simply had more people living downtown.


Savannah job market’s hot streak continues

Well, we won’t have any data until next month or later about the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on local employment trends, but we did get some numbers last week for September. And it sure looks like the local job market continues humming right along.

In September, there were 682 initial claims for unemployment in the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties), which was a steep decline from the 860 claims in September 2015.

According to the preliminary estimate released last week by the Georgia Department of Labor, the Savannah metro area had 179,700 payroll jobs in September, an increase of 3.9 percent from September 2015.

For many months I’ve been saying that we will see employment gains moderate at some point. The regional population is almost certainly growing at less than 2 percent per year, so it just isn’t reasonable to expect continued annual gains of 4 percent for employment.

Compared to a year earlier, the largest employment gains in September came in the broad category of professional and business services, which includes various jobs in management, administration and support services.

Payroll employment in professional and business services grew by 11.7 percent between September 2015 and September 2016. The leisure and hospitality sector also saw strong growth of 4.7 percent over the year, but that’s hardly the only game in town.

I’m hopeful that Hurricane Matthew didn’t upend any of these positive trends, and it’s possible that the storm recovery might have prompted a net gain in payroll employment for October.


City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

City Talk: Lost wages, sales from storm will have lasting impacts

Mon, 10/17/2016 - 11:42pm

We’re well into the second week of recovery from Hurricane Matthew, and we’re hearing more and more stories of loss.

Some folks obviously lost more than others, but for this column I’m focusing on lost wages. You won’t see photos of money that someone didn’t earn, but the cumulative effect of lost wages will have ongoing impacts on people’s lives and the region’s economy.

As regular readers of this newspaper surely know already, Savannah has a relatively large service sector. Employment in leisure and hospitality is far higher than the state average. And many workers in leisure and hospitality lost a week’s worth of income – or more. Many of those people are breadwinners in low-income households with little or no savings.

I heard a number of Savannahians bemoan the quick return of tourists after the hurricane, but I’m sure many business owners and their employees were thrilled to have the visitors back.

If Chatham County officials had stuck to their plan to extend the curfew until Oct. 15, we could have lost millions more in tourist spending – from destination weddings to day-trippers.

Of course, even among service industry businesses, the losses varied dramatically. A handful — like The Sentient Bean and Peking House — never lost power and were open during the day on Oct. 8. But many establishments didn’t open until days later, and we’ll likely see some business owners decide not to reopen at all.

The losses weren’t only felt by brick and mortar businesses, of course. I talked to a vendor at the most recent Forsyth Farmers’ Market who had lost about $10,000 in sales because of the impact on markets all along the coast.

Some businesses that are already back up to speed will nevertheless face rough times in the weeks and months ahead. They’ll have less cash on hand because of the lost sales. I’ve been writing this column for a long time, and I’ve seen many under-capitalized small businesses close up shop, sometimes long after the problems arose.

As we approach the holidays — yes, the holidays are right around the corner — I’d urge Savannah consumers to make a special effort to support the businesses that they value the most.

In my limited world, I’m most anxious to support the bars and restaurants where I spend much of my time. The employees at those establishments have greatly enriched my life and the broader culture of the city. I’m also deeply indebted to the area’s many fine musicians, many of whom also took a huge financial hit.

In short, I hope local consumers will consider the impacts of the storm beyond the immediate aftermath.


City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.

By: Bill DawersSection: BiSTopic: City Talk

CITY TALK: What should be priorities of new Savannah city manager?

Sat, 10/15/2016 - 9:17pm

Rob Hernandez, Savannah’s new city manager, started work Oct. 10.

I suspect that he will long remember his first week on the job.

We’ve seen new city managers take the helm only twice since I started writing this column 16 years ago. Like most in the community, I didn’t immediately begin to criticize the work of Rochelle Small-Toney and Stephanie Cutter when they took over the city’s top spot.

It seems appropriate to give new city managers some time and space to get their bearings.

But it’s clear that Hernandez is going to face considerable scrutiny within the first few months. A backlog of issues and problems has mounted under recent city administrations. While we’ve made some headway here and there, the citizens of Savannah have grown impatient, and they’re going to want to see results in a wide variety of areas.

So, as a longtime observer of city policies – the good, the bad, the ugly – I’m going to suggest a few areas that Hernandez should prioritize, while he simultaneously assesses the quality of his key staff.

You might have different priorities. Tell your alderman what those priorities are. Send your thoughts directly to city officials, including Hernandez. Write a letter to the editor of this newspaper.

Savannah is not an especially large city, and it’s just not that hard to make your voice heard.

Obviously, the first task for Hernandez is to guarantee that we recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew as quickly as possible. That means coordinating with county and state agencies and with various contractors and corporations.

And, of course, crime.

Hernandez will need to work with Chief Jack Lumpkin and others to get up to speed on current law enforcement strategies, but I hope the new city manager will do some exploring on his own in a nondescript vehicle. He needs to drive through areas, such as the Metropolitan Neighborhood, where street drug sales and prostitution are common. He needs to see all this firsthand.

As I’ve said many times in this space, I’m cynical about our chances of ever substantively reducing violent crime in the community when we allow blatant street crime to flourish unchecked.

Hernandez comes to Savannah by way of Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta, and he already seems to have some good ideas about anti-poverty initiatives. I’d love to see him set the tone early that his administration will stay focused on poverty reduction.

Hernandez also needs to listen to residents about quality of life issues beyond crime.

There is growing tension about the proliferation of downtown hotels and their impact on the residential and economic character of the Historic District. We desperately need to update Savannah’s antiquated zoning ordinance, and we need to find a way to incentivize less expensive housing in the city’s core.

The quality of life concerns extend to concerns about high-speed traffic.

For now at least, we once again have on-street parking and slower traffic on Bay Street, but there will no doubt be pressure from key city staffers to recreate the freeway conditions with which we experimented last month. If that happens, Hernandez will immediately lose the confidence of many people who are working hard to make Savannah a better place to live rather than simply drive through.

In his first months on the job, I’d also suggest that Hernandez launch some sort of educational effort that could teach government officials, community leaders and private citizens about the hurricane risks that we face here on the Georgia coast.

In theory, this effort should be coordinated with Chatham County officials, but Hernandez should be prepared to do something no matter what.

As I said in my City Talk column on Tuesday, many local leaders seem to have a very poor understanding of the storm surge and flooding risks from hurricanes.

The Chatham Emergency Management Agency has storm surge warning maps ready, and it’s quite easy for individual property owners to determine their own elevation and risk level.

We just have to find the right ways to get quality information into the hands of citizens so that they can make responsible, rational decisions regarding their own safety and investments.

Whether Hernandez prioritizes these issues or not, I’ll likely be revisiting all of them in future columns.


City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: It's gut check time for council on development

Mon, 10/03/2016 - 10:27pm

If you’re interested in issues related to downtown development and tourism, you need to watch the discussions about zoning at the Sept. 29 Savannah City Council meeting. You can find the video at

As Alderman Bill Durrence said on his official Facebook page, “The Savannah City Council took bold and welcome steps this week to slow down hotel development in the downtown historic district, in the face of growing public concerns about the city’s future.”

At issue were two proposed hotels. Developers at a hotel at Tattnall and Liberty streets want to serve alcohol without food, and developers of a Drayton Street hotel want a so-called “bonus story” for including ground floor retail.

We can debate the various merits of these proposals — I certainly hope that any hotel on the Drayton Street property will have ground floor retail — and it’s worth remembering that both sites are currently zoned to allow hotel construction.

But the battle that emerged last week is much larger than the details about these proposed hotels.

Gary Arthur, a downtown resident and president of the Beehive Foundation, channeled the mood of many downtown residents in his statement before council.

“A lot of us who live here in Savannah have watched with some dismay and sadness over the last few years as the emphasis on quality of living issues for residents has taken a backseat to what more can we do for the tourists,” Arthur said.

“We are worried really to distraction about this trend to spot rezone parcels all around the Historic District to benefit hotel developers at the expense of citizens,” Arthur added. “We feel we’ve long past the time when we needed another hotel.”

“What is authentic about our wonderful town plan is being dumbed down,” Arthur argued. “We feel we’re being hemmed in really by these chain hotels, which tend to be massive and have few if any redeeming architectural distinctions.”

Aldermen Van Johnson and Tony Thomas addressed the issue of authenticity and the potential damage that more hotels could do to the character of downtown.

They even proposed a hotel moratorium, which city attorney Brooks Stillwell will study before making a recommendation to council.

A couple months ago, I argued that this is gut check time for those who oppose further hotel development in the Landmark Historic District.

Development is coming, but many folks in the downtown community have staunchly opposed increased residential density.

As Durrence detailed in an impassioned comment during the meeting, we currently “incentivize hotels with bonus floors and a lower level of parking requirements than we do for residential development.”

“What we really need here is workforce housing,” Durrence said. “We need residential development, not more hotels.”

There’s a fairly clear roadmap for getting from here to there. I’ve covered some of that ground in previous columns, but I’ll follow up again soon in a more detailed way.


City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Bay St. changes make it even harder for locals to get downtown

Sat, 10/01/2016 - 10:32pm

Savannah area residents are increasingly concerned about the degree to which tourism is dominating the downtown economy, but city officials have both short- and long-term plans to make it harder for locals to enjoy the Historic District.

First, let’s talk again about Bay Street.

According to Eric Curl’s latest detailed coverage for this newspaper, average vehicle speeds on Bay Street have increased since we launched the month-long experiment to remove over 100 on-street parking spaces and widen the travel lanes.

That’s no surprise. When lanes are widened and on-street parking is removed, drivers tend to go faster.

City officials seem to be downplaying the 2 to 5 mph increase in average speeds, but we’re talking about increases of 10 percent to 20 percent in some places.

For now, Bay Street is dotted with orange barrels and posts — elements that typically tell drivers to slow down — and the lanes are dimly marked. If we make this change permanent, we’d have clearer lanes and no orange markers. Would speeds go up another 10 percent or 20 percent? It seems likely.

Also, we currently have a big mess at the east end of Bay Street, with all traffic diverted to East Broad Street. Will we see another increase in speed on East Bay when the bottleneck at East Broad is removed? Almost certainly yes.

So would it matter if traffic on some parts of Bay Street were flowing at 35 mph rather than 25 mph? Or 40 mph rather than 30 mph?

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, less than 5 percent of pedestrians die when they are struck by cars going 15 mph or less. However, the foundation notes that “as speeds increase beyond this range, small changes in speed yield relatively large increases in risk.”

Twenty percent of pedestrians who are struck at a speed of 30 mph will die. If a car strikes a pedestrian at 45 mph, the likelihood of death is 45 percent.

As I’ve noted here before, the new traffic configuration has dramatically increased the chance that we’ll eventually have a catastrophic crash that kills a pedestrian — possibly even one who is on the sidewalk.

Safety is a legitimate concern, and it’s irresponsible of city officials to downplay even modest increases in speeds when so many pedestrians might be at risk.

For what it’s worth, I’ve spent some time in recent weeks on Bay Street, especially in the evening, and I’ve seen a significant number of cars going faster than the speeds cited by city officials so far.

I’ve also spent some time wandering River Street in recent weeks, especially on weekday evenings when things are slow.

Yes, there are times when business is pretty slow down on River Street. For example, there were only about a dozen people hanging out in Rousakis Plaza around 8:30 p.m. last Wednesday.

It was a perfectly nice night, but there were just a few clusters of tourists here and there, including a trio of spry elderly tourists who were enthusiastically opening their purses to find money for a panhandler.

Nearly all the restaurants had ample tables available. Joe’s Crab Shack, which is open till midnight, was largely deserted by 9 p.m.

It was already difficult enough for many local folks to patronize businesses on River Street, but the loss of parking on Bay Street will make it even harder.

So if folks aren’t parking on Bay, where are they parking?

We know that few drivers are using the city’s ill-considered alternatives on Liberty Street or East Broad Street, but some are certainly parking on streets in more residential portions of the Historic District, generally east of Abercorn Street.

For some local residents, the loss of parking on Bay Street might be a minimal disruption, but others will be less likely to patronize businesses on River and Bay streets because of the inhospitable sidewalk and the lack of parking.

Not surprisingly, while city officials are monitoring vehicle speeds, they aren’t similarly monitoring pedestrian activity. Keep in mind that the pedestrians are the ones spending money downtown.

The Savannah Bicycle Campaign is picking up some of the slack by conducting a study of pedestrian and bicycle use of Bay Street. You can read more about the volunteer effort at

Looking ahead, it’s worth keeping in mind that city officials want to start enforcing parking meters until 8 p.m., which would be another deterrent for locals who want to go downtown and would be a financial blow to many service industry workers.

I’ll be back with more on that soon.


City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Can we dent violent crime if we allow blatant street crime

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 9:00pm

On Sept. 24, the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department released an impassioned plea for an end to violent crime.

In apparent response to criticism of the police and elected officials for responding more vigorously to the murder of a white resident than to murders of black residents, the SCMPD statement detailed numerous efforts made in recent months to combat violence.

Here’s one key paragraph: “While it is true that a vast majority of our overall shootings are the result of risky behavior; certainly this is not true for all shootings victims. Chief Lumpkin has said that publicly numerous times. He has also said that a family member who is group or gang involved may raise the risk to other family members by 900%! But the SCMPD does not blame victims!”

I applaud the efforts made under Chief Jack Lumpkin, who was hired about two years ago, but I find myself increasingly cynical. Sure, we might return to average levels of violence, but the average for Savannah would be horrifyingly high in many similar-sized cities across the country.

As a longtime observer of Savannah’s economic and cultural landscape, I was especially struck by this line in the recent SCMPD statement on violent crime: “The SCMPD does not determine police services along racial or economic lines.”

On my way to dinner one evening last week, I drove a few blocks in my neighborhood that I would avoid on foot, certainly after dark. At 8 p.m., a prostitute was walking openly in the street. On my way home two hours later, I saw two men dealing drugs on an adjacent block.

No surprise. Street prostitution and drug sales are routine on some streets in my neighborhood, as I’ve said often in this column. It’s also no surprise that those blocks see bursts of violence, including two separate incidents with more than one shooting victim in the last 10 months.

SCMPD leaders may not feel that they’re deploying police services along “racial or economic lines,” but it seems clear that there are institutional biases that have been in place for decades, probably longer than any current officers have been on the force.

After decades of inaction and distrust, the residents who live on blocks with such blatant street crime typically do not call the police. The crimes are happening so openly and often that residents assume that police, city officials and elected leaders must know what’s going on. Better to stay out of it, avoid “risky behaviors” and hope for the best.

I don’t see how we can reduce violence in a meaningful way while street level criminal activity is allowed to flourish. Something has to give.


City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Inside the numbers: Savannah poverty rate declined in 2014

Mon, 09/19/2016 - 11:59pm

Savannah’s high poverty rate became an important campaign issue in 2015, and I hope that we’ll continue to make poverty reduction one of our most important civic goals.

As I detailed in a column last year, it’s difficult to sort through poverty data, and there is a considerable lag between the gathering of raw numbers and the publication of the findings.

According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census, Chatham County’s poverty rate spiked in the years after the recession, but then declined sharply in 2014 (the last year for which data are available).

As of 2014, Chatham County had a smaller percentage of people living in poverty than Georgia as a whole, but we were well above the statewide rate for children living in poverty.

That’s the summary. Let’s take a closer look at some key numbers.

The so-called “great recession” technically ended in 2009, but poverty in America continued to worsen until 2011 and 2012. Given the financial crisis, the sharp drop in property values, high rates of foreclosure and bankruptcy, plus other factors, it’s not surprising that poverty worsened even as the economy was growing slowly from 2009 to 2012.

According to the latest Census estimates, 15.5 percent of Americans were living in poverty in 2014. That’s down slightly from 15.9 percent in 2012.

In Georgia, 18.4 percent of residents were living in poverty in 2014, down from 19.2 percent in 2012.

In Chatham County, 17.9 percent of residents were living in poverty in 2014, down sharply from 22.5 percent in 2011.

Way back in 2007, Chatham County had a worse poverty rate than the state as a whole, but now the local rate is slightly better than the statewide rate.

I should note here that there is a significant margin for error in all this data, but the general trends seem clear.

The numbers above refer to all individuals, but the estimates are much grimmer if we’re considering the poverty rate for those under 18.

According to the latest U.S. Census estimates, the national poverty rate for those under 18 was 21.7 percent in 2014. In Georgia, the rate was 26.3 percent.

In Chatham County, 27.5 percent of those under 18 were living in poverty in 2014. That number is down from a staggering 34.6 percent in 2011, but that’s cold comfort.

Again, it’s worth noting that there is a large margin for error in all these estimates, and there isn’t one single way of measuring poverty.

And, of course, these are just numbers. Almost 17,000 children are living in poverty in Chatham County, and they all have individual stories.


City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

City Talk: Lewis' legacy leads to rich food future for Savannah

Sat, 09/17/2016 - 11:58pm

Born in Virginia in 1916, Edna Lewis first learned to cook on her family’s farm. Years later, she opened Café Nicholson in New York City, which set her on the path to becoming one of the most influential chefs in American history.

Lewis wrote several important books about southern cooking, and in 1999 she became the first recipient of the James Beard Living Legend Award.

Lewis passed away in 2006, but her influence continues to grow. In 2014, the United States Postal Service put Lewis on a stamp, along with four other influential chefs.

The Edna Lewis Foundation was founded in 2012. From the beginning, the driving force of the foundation has been Chef Joe Randall, best known here in Savannah for his cooking school.

The foundation’s mission is “to revive, preserve and celebrate the rich history of African-American cookery by cultivating a deeper understanding of Southern food and culture in America.”

On Sept. 12, The Grey, which hosted an Edna Lewis Foundation event earlier this year, held a major fundraiser for the nonprofit organization.

It was an appropriate setting, especially since Chef Mashama Bailey at The Grey was heavily influenced by Lewis.

Randall is still chairman of the organization, and he has now been joined on the board by Bailey; The Grey’s founding partner John O. Morisano; Jeral Mitchell, Director of Economic Development of Atlanta Beltline, Inc.; and Chris Poe, who was formerly president of The National Arts Club in New York City.

“Everything we do here at The Grey is touched by Edna Lewis,” Morisano told donors as the night began. (I donated at the $150 level.) Morisano noted that black chefs are still dramatically underrepresented in the restaurant industry and outlined some of the goals of the foundation, including a fundraising effort targeting corporations in the South.

Bailey and four visiting executive chefs — Bernard Camouche from Orlando, Benjamin BJ Dennis from Charleston, Paul Fehribach from Chicago and Duane Nutter from Mobile — prepared dishes, all of which were served at stations in The Grey’s expansive outdoor area.

As the night came to a close, Randall graciously honored the chefs on hand.

Over the years, I’ve written often about individual restaurants in this column, but I’ve also been covering the changing conceptions of Southern cooking.

We’ve seen chefs and restaurateurs return to the roots of Southern cooking, with a reliance on fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. That theme has been front and center in many City Talk columns about both new and longstanding restaurants and about a variety of other initiatives, including the Forsyth Farmers’ Market.

These broad trends have contributed to the evolution of Savannah’s culinary reputation. No, Savannah is not Charleston, but it now seems possible that our restaurant scene could one day rival the restaurant landscape there.

With Randall, Bailey and Morisano all based here, the Edna Lewis Foundation seems certain to attract additional attention to the Savannah scene. More importantly, a better funded and staffed organization can explore a variety of programs that offer more opportunities around the country for African American chefs and restaurateurs.

You can read more about the Edna Lewis Foundation at


Bay St. ‘experiment’ off to a bad start

As regular readers know, I was critical of the city of Savannah’s “experiment” on Bay Street before the changes were made.

Parking on the south side of the street was recently removed, and suddenly many folks have expressed concern about the proximity of high-speed traffic to pedestrians on the sidewalk. I hope business owners and members of the public will continue to complain about that new reality, but, let’s face it, we knew that the new traffic pattern would create that condition.

Why did city officials forge ahead with the change with the knowledge that we’d get higher speeds and less safe sidewalks? Simply put, our city bureaucracy is more interested in smooth, fast traffic flow than in improving conditions for those on foot.

In the opening days of the month-long experiment, the general public also became aware that there are significant drainage problems along the south edge of Bay Street. The ponding didn’t matter so much if the only effect was that cars had to park in a couple inches of water, but now on rainy days we have traffic flying through large puddles and quite literally splashing water all the way across the sidewalk.

City staffers obviously knew about the drainage problem in advance but plowed ahead with this experiment anyway.

Let’s hope the our new city manager establishes a new vision for downtown mobility.


City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401. 

By: By Bill DawersFront headline: City Talk: Lewis' legacy leads to rich food future for SavannahSection: BiSTopic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Parking on Bay is a bonus, not a plague

Mon, 09/12/2016 - 10:07pm

The sidewalk on the south side of Bay Street between Montgomery and Jefferson streets is only a few feet wide. There is just enough room for two people to walk shoulder to shoulder, so the space feels cramped and awkward if you have to pass someone.

In a city with so many tremendous public spaces and with a reputation for walkability, that stretch of sidewalk is not a success. The north side of Bay Street along that block has an equally unforgiving sidewalk.

The sidewalk on the south side runs alongside Club One and the Hilton Garden Inn. City Market is just a block away, but if a hotel guest planned to eat at any of the fine establishments on Bay Street — Moon River Brewing Company, Ruth’s Chris Steak House or Churchill’s Pub, to name a few nearby — the most direct route would obviously be to take Bay.

The narrow sidewalk in that block has long been problematic, but it hasn’t in the past necessarily felt dangerous because of a buffer of parked cars separating pedestrians from the travel lanes.

No more — or at least not for the next month.

Despite strong opposition from the public, which was detailed in a recent article by reporter Eric Curl, city officials have temporarily removed parking on the south side of Bay Street from East Broad Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. There is no doubt that the temporary measure will result in higher traffic speeds and bring fast-moving cars closer to pedestrians on the sidewalk.

I would suggest that the mayor, aldermen and top city officials spend some time walking along Bay Street in the next few months, but I honestly don’t want to put anyone in danger.

Of course, on-street parking provides more than a safety buffer for pedestrians.

I routinely advise folks who are driving into downtown to park in the Oglethorpe Avenue corridor rather than look for parking farther north.

But savvy locals know that it’s often easy to find parking on Bay Street on weekday evenings. Several times in recent months, I parked on Bay and then wandered down to River Street.

Downtown workers often utilize that parking on Bay Street as well. I’m not talking about the white collar professionals who work during the day, but the large contingent of service industry workers who need safe, close and relatively inexpensive parking.

As part of this month-long experiment, the city is providing a few dozen spaces east of East Broad Street. Seriously, does anyone think a server on West River Street — someone who works late and carries cash — would even consider parking way over there?


City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Will city act to balance residential, tourism needs?

Sun, 09/11/2016 - 12:16am

In the recent New York Times op-ed “Can We Save Venice Before It’s Too Late?”, writer Salvatore Settis discussed the overwhelming pressures of mass tourism in the famed but fragile Italian city.

“Millions of tourists pour into Venice’s streets and canals each year, profoundly altering the population and the economy,” Settis argued, “as many native citizens are banished from the island city and those who remain have no choice but to serve in hotels, restaurants and shops selling glass souvenirs and carnival masks.”

Some heard echoes of Savannah in the piece, but if there are any echoes, they are almost vanishingly dim. But more on that in a moment.

In response to the piece by Settis, The Post and Courier – Charleston’s daily paper – published the editorial “Two cities with too many tourists,” comparing trends in Charleston to those in Venice. The editorial noted the impending closure of a Bi-Lo, which will leave the peninsula with just two large grocery stores, and argued for “the importance of protecting local and residential interests from too much tourism.”

It’s an interesting era. Many major tourist destinations are struggling with how to manage or even limit visitors, but the booming tourist industry shows no sign of slowing.

As the world population increases and standards of living rise, more people are going to be traveling. Sure, an economic recession or some other event could temporarily slow the pace of tourism in Savannah and elsewhere, but the long-term trend seems clear.

I occasionally hear folks claim that high crime rates will doom Savannah’s tourism industry, and I’m sure that some tourists make choices based on those dangers, especially if they’re in town visiting savvy full-time residents.

But I’ve seen no sign that crime rates are likely to make a dent in the tourism boom.

In 1999, at a time when tourism was growing significantly, a visitor from New York was shot during an attempted robbery in the heart of the Historic District. She died six weeks later. Media coverage was extensive, but the tourists kept coming.

And, yes, we have plenty of space to accommodate many more visitors than we have now. Several new hotels are in the works, and large properties in the downtown area will inevitably attract the interest of more hoteliers.

Venice is constrained by its geography, and tourism is overwhelming the local economy. Savannah has far fewer visitors and ample vacant land.

Sure, the city might have felt full of tourists on Labor Day weekend, but there are many days and nights throughout the year when we have far fewer visitors. In recent years, I’ve been on the road a lot in the summer, but this year I stuck close to home and spent many hours wandering downtown, often on virtually empty streets.

In other words, we have plenty of room for more tourists, and they’re on the way.

And as more tourists come to Savannah, we are almost certain to hear growing concerns about the impacts of “too much tourism.”

If we want to have a more balanced downtown economy, our best bet is to increase residential density, which will require some combination of specific policy changes.

We have seen considerable residential construction in recent years, but our outdated zoning ordinance still has significant restrictions on density. Metropolitan Planning Commission staff have had a new zoning ordinance in the works for nearly a decade, but city leaders have taken no action on it.

Also, there seems to be a growing consensus that Savannah’s short-term vacation rental ordinance is negatively impacting the residential character of downtown.

A number of large underutilized downtown properties are publicly owned, so we have direct control of future uses. For example, the current arena site will be available eventually, and city officials are currently considering the sale of the large parcel on Oglethorpe Avenue between Habersham and Price streets.

Some folks in the downtown area have expended a lot of energy over the years fighting against greater residential density, despite the fact that Savannah’s oldest neighborhoods have far fewer residents than they had a century ago. If private developers can’t make money on residential construction, they’ll keep looking to the tourist market.

In short, we have little choice but to embrace the tourism boom, and at the same time we have options for maintaining and strengthening the local, residential character of downtown neighborhoods. But we have to make better decisions, soon.


City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
  • The Fairfield Inn under construction on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Tourists in Monterey Square. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Savannah Chatham Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin and Savannah residents at National Night Out 2016. (Josh Galemore/Savannah Morning News)
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: 15 years later, The Sentient Bean is still nurturing community

Tue, 09/06/2016 - 12:04am

From 6-9 p.m. Thursday, The Sentient Bean at 13 E. Park Ave. will celebrate 15 years.

September 2001 wasn’t the best time to launch a small business, but entrepreneurs have no control over world events. In that month, I wrote columns about the opening of both the Bean and Wright Square Café – two locally owned businesses that have delighted many thousands of customers over the years.

This column frequently notes the civic roles played by businesses like Wright Square Café and The Sentient Bean, and I’d argue that locally owned spots like these become even more important in an era of mass tourism and growing corporatization.

In the case of The Sentient Bean, it’s also worth recalling how the business contributed to the evolution of the entire neighborhood.

When the Bean opened in 2001, the south end of Forsyth Park was really quiet. Brighter Day Natural Foods was already a success story at the corner of Bull Street and Park Avenue, of course, but there were few other vibrant businesses in the immediate area.

The American Legion had not become a neighborhood hotspot, and Local 11 Ten didn’t open until 2007.

In 2001, apartments in the neighborhood south of Forsyth had not yet become especially popular with SCAD students.

For these and other reasons, there seemed no guarantee that a coffeehouse and café like the Bean would survive, especially since the indoor space was so much smaller than it is today.

But founders Kristin Russell and Kelli Pearson stuck to their plans, which included free trade coffee, a vegetarian menu, organic foods and support for community groups. Over the years, they welcomed artists motivated by social issues, local and touring musicians, spoken word performers and other unique programming, like the Psychotronic Film Society.

In recent months, I’ve covered several Emergent Savannah forums at the Bean.

But the impact has reached outside the Bean’s walls. For example, when the Bean opened, nearby residents began walking much more through the neighborhood.

The Bean has changed over time — Pearson moved on, Claren Jamerson become co-owner, the menu expanded, programming shifted, tourists started showing up, beer and wine were added to the mix — but some elements have remained constant, including the sense of welcome.

The Thursday open house will include performances by Dj José Ray, City Hotel and Jason Bible, plus free drinks and snacks. Fittingly, a raffle will benefit three nonprofits — the Forsyth Farmers’ Market, Loop It Up Savannah and Deep Center.


City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Will new policies impact longstanding crime problems?

Sat, 09/03/2016 - 11:53pm

On Aug. 22, in an official statement about a spate of recent violence, the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department said that they were “shifting resources” to a “historically violent corridor” of the Central Precinct.

“This corridor is the Metropolitan Neighborhood which includes Anderson to Victory Dr. and Bull to MLK,” the statement reads in part.

In my columns over the years about crime in Savannah, I have frequently referred to this area as the Jefferson Street corridor, since so much of the street-level drug dealing and prostitution was taking place on Jefferson itself.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to diagnose the problems, and I continue to be amazed that Savannah has tolerated such blatant criminality for so long. Given that the street-level crime so often contributes to violence and constantly degrades the neighborhood fabric, you’d think someone in a position of power would finally say, “Enough!”

There are many reasons why we’ve allowed crime to flourish in that area – including lack of resources, corruption and incompetence – but I’ll argue that the biggest issue has been cynicism. Officials and the public at large simply decided the area wasn’t worth the necessary investment.

Since Jack Lumpkin has been chief of the SCMPD, he has made numerous public statements citing the connection between street crime and more serious crime, but the sordid day-to-day business seems to have continued more or less as usual in that “historically violent corridor.”

I base that observation on my own experience. I’ve lived in the general neighborhood for 20 years.

All that said, it’s worth noting that the geographic area detailed in the SCMPD statement has been changing dramatically.

The black population has declined markedly, according to data from the 2000 and 2010 censuses, while the white population has increased. Many of those newcomers have been lured by low housing costs, in addition to other neighborhood qualities.

Many of the new residents are chasing cheap rents while others have purchased and renovated beautiful old homes.

Some of the neighborhood’s newcomers feel like they can live safely in the area as long as they don’t engage in “risky behaviors.” That term was used by the SCMPD in their recent statement.

Of course, residents who live in proximity to street crime like prostitution and drug sales cannot completely insulate themselves. There will always be a degradation to quality of life and the looming threat of worse crime.

The recent statement, which also discussed the recent series of robberies closer to Forsyth Park, noted that the SCMPD was “shifting resources” to address problems, but officials did not detail specific changes. A couple of the new enforcement strategies will be obvious to those who spend time in the area, but I’ll refrain from specifics too.

Is this a turning point?

It’s way too early to answer that question, but there are reasons to be optimistic. In particular, I hope that incoming city manager Rob Hernandez will signal early on that he has no patience for the cynicism that has plagued this “historically violent corridor” and other neighborhoods where street crime has flourished.


Blowin’ Smoke reopens

I’ll end this column with some good news.

Many Savannah restaurants shut down for a week or more in the summer. Sometimes restaurateurs just want to take a break, but many use the time to take care of repairs and renovations.

Blowin’ Smoke Southern Cantina at 1611 Habersham St. was closed for several weeks, but has now reopened with a transformed space. Previously, the reasonably priced restaurant, which specializes in BBQ and Southwestern influenced dishes like tacos, had a very small bar with room for only a handful of patrons.

The new Blowin’ Smoke has a large, comfortable U-shaped bar with room for about 20 that takes up much of the indoor dining area. I’ve made a couple of trips to the new space, and the bar has had more than a dozen patrons even at odd hours. Most have been both dining and drinking.

There are still plenty of tables, of course, and the restaurant has a variety of options for protecting the outdoor diners from unpleasant weather.

The changes should make Blowin’ Smoke much more of a gathering point for those in the immediate neighborhood and for those who don’t want to deal with the hassles of going to restaurants farther north.

If you’re going to Blowin’ Smoke for the first time, there is a parking lot in addition to ample on-street parking on Habersham. The listed hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday, but the business will be experimenting with extended weekend hours and a limited late-night menu.


City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiSLead photo: Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Strong job growth continued in July

Mon, 08/29/2016 - 11:50pm

July can be a tricky month for employment. Many workers in the education sector might be between jobs, while many college students and recent high school grads might still be searching for hard-to-find summer gigs.

Because of these trends, mid-summer employment statistics can seem more volatile than the data released through much of the year.

For example, according to the Georgia Department of Labor, the number of initial claims for unemployment in Georgia was markedly higher in July than in June, but the July total was about the same as in July 2015.

In the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties), the number of unemployment claims in July was about 10 percent lower than in July 2015.

Payroll employment in the Savannah metro area declined slightly in July compared to June, but total payroll employment was 4.7 percent higher than in July 2015.

In other words, the year-over-year numbers continue to paint a rosy picture of the Savannah area economy.

Over the past year, we’ve seen especially strong job growth in manufacturing, professional and business services, retail trade and leisure and hospitality.

The latest numbers suggest that job growth in the Savannah metro area continues to outpace population growth.

The Savannah metro area unemployment rate was 5 percent in July, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. That’s down from 5.3 percent in June and down from 6 percent in July 2015.

In metro areas across the state, we saw an annual increase in the size of the labor force – adults either working or looking for work – but Savannah’s growth was especially impressive.

So, lots of good news in the latest data, but let me finish by echoing comments I’ve made in this space before.

First, we can’t expect to see such vigorous job growth indefinitely.

Historical patterns suggest that we should expect a nationwide recession in the next couple of years, although there doesn’t seem to be one on the immediate horizon. Even if the current economic expansion lasts longer than expected, we can’t sustain a job growth rate that is so much higher than the population growth rate.

Second, if you pay attention to local social media, you’ll likely hear lots of “sky is falling” commentary regarding the Savannah economy. High crime and low wages are important issues, for sure, but we’re continuing to add jobs at a rapid pace, including jobs in sectors that typically pay well.

Third, even though we continue to see impressive growth in employment, it’s clear that many Savannahians never really recovered from the nasty 2007-2009 recession, and too many young people have not developed the skills necessary to join the mainstream economy.


City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: New seafood restaurant, rolled ice cream on Broughton

Sun, 08/28/2016 - 12:03am

The Savannah Seafood Shack and Below Zero Rolled Ice Cream opened last month at 116 E. Broughton St. in the space that had been occupied for many years by the downtown Sakura.

Sakura still has other locations around town, but I miss the funky downtown spot with its almost impossibly inexpensive dinner options, inexplicable menu changes, lightning fast service (except when it wasn’t) and the stream of pierced and inked servers.

If you were familiar with Sakura’s pleasantly outdated interior, you’ll notice the changes immediately when you enter the new restaurant and ice cream parlor. The comfortable booths along the western wall of the narrow space have been replaced by wooden tables, and the ice cream business has taken over the former raised seating area along Broughton Street.

The Savannah Seafood Shack and Below Zero Rolled Ice Cream are essentially two separate businesses, each with its own counter for placing orders.

I’ve made two recent trips to check out the seafood offerings.

On my first visit, I opted for the fried shrimp dinner with cole slaw ($9.95). I loved the flavor the shrimp, but they were smaller than I anticipated and looked underwhelming in the plastic basket.

On my second trip, I ordered a single serving of Lowcountry boil ($10.95), which I enjoyed tremendously.

I’m not generally a fan of Lowcountry boil, which can be rather bland in my experience. Sometimes the traditional dish is too salty, sometimes it doesn’t stay hot, sometimes the ingredients are unevenly cooked.

The Savannah Seafood Shack serves its individual servings of Lowcountry boil in plastic bags, which diners open for themselves and pour into the accompanying bowl.

My Lowcountry boil dinner had tons of flavorful shrimp and sausage, and the new potatoes were delicious. The corn on the cob was slightly overcooked but still really good. The entire dish had just the right amount of spice and stayed piping hot to the end.

I don’t typically associate seafood and ice cream, but, hey, why not?

The Thai-inspired process at Below Zero starts with flavored cream and ends with a heaping serving of ice cream rolls with a variety of toppings.

I opted for the ironically named “Health Nut,” which had avocado and pistachio flavoring, and my toppings included diced strawberries and Nutella. That might sound like a strange combination, but it was flat out delicious.

Since the seafood and ice cream counters are separate, things can seem a little chaotic at the front of the restaurant. Last Wednesday evening, the ice cream line grew to 20 patrons, and that doesn’t include another 10 passersby who had stopped on the sidewalk to watch the preparation of the ice cream rolls.

Leopold’s is just a block away, but it looks like there is ample demand for the rich concoctions at Below Zero.


What’s next for North Beach Grill?

I moved to Savannah in 1995, and within a few months I found several favorite restaurants.

Only a few of those restaurants are still open today. Vinnie Van Go-Go’s is still open, and so is the Crystal Beer Parlor, which has changed hands a couple of times over the last 20 years.

I also began dining regularly at the North Beach Grill. There wasn’t any social media, and the restaurant seemed to exist just under the radar. It was like a hot tip that you were lucky to hear.

Circumstances have prevented me from going to Tybee regularly for the past few years, but I have many vivid memories of the North Beach Grill and have been closely following the news about the Tybee Island city staff recommendation not to renew the restaurant’s expiring lease.

Sure, officials have the right, maybe even the obligation, to maximize the rental income of the city-owned property, but it seems like the North Beach Grill’s sheer longevity should weigh heavily in its favor. Co-owner George Spriggs, who might be Tybee’s most prominent black businessperson, has been there since the beginning.

Tybee officials pulled discussion of the North Beach Grill lease from their most recent city council agenda, but it’s unclear what will happen next. Things get complicated when governments become landlords, especially if maximizing rental income trumps other civic goals.


City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: New ordinances will help entrepreneurs

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 9:54pm

Last week brought some welcome news for some Savannah entrepreneurs.

Ending years of wrangling and lengthy bureaucratic delays, Savannah city council approved new alcohol and food truck ordinances at last week’s meeting.

There’s not anything cutting edge about the ordinances, but they give business owners and investors opportunities that exist in most other cities with which Savannah competes for new young residents and for visitors.

In 2011, as we were still struggling to recover from the recession, I expressed some doubts about the likelihood that food trucks would succeed in Savannah, but even then I joined many others in calling for a workable ordinance.

Now, in 2016, with the local economy in solid shape, we could develop a vibrant food truck culture with this new ordinance that provides a variety of options for finding success.

Our multi-faceted new alcohol ordinance could also pave the way for new investment and, more specifically, performance venues.

Consider Macon’s Cox Capitol Theatre, which a fair number of Savannah folks visited during the recent Bragg Jam. The old downtown movie theater can be configured with some reserved seating for live performances, but most shows offer general admission tickets with plenty of standing room in front of the stage.

The Cox, which has a capacity of 650, hosts a variety of public performances, including some that are open to all ages and some that are limited to patrons 18 and up. The venue serves alcohol but is not a restaurant.

In other words, the Cox has a straightforward, common sense business model, but that model is currently illegal in Savannah.

In addition to expanding the possibilities of new event venues, the new ordinance will give bars the option to allow patrons over 18 into live performances.

However, it’s not at all clear to me at this point how many bars will apply for the special permit. Adults aged 18 to 20 generate less revenue than older patrons, and some bar managers and owners might decide that their current business model is working just fine.

On the other hand, music promoters know when they’re dealing with acts with special appeal to 18- to 20-year olds, so we might see some venues apply for the special permit even if they only rarely book shows for people 18 and older.

So we’re finally out from under a decade of nightmarish city bureaucracy that unnecessarily limited the freedom of legal adults over 18 and hurt small businesses.

The adoption of the new food truck and alcohol ordinances is certainly good news for the city, and it’s also good news for incoming city manager Rob Hernandez, who will have two fewer things on his plate.


City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: What is a 'living wage' in Savannah?

Sun, 08/21/2016 - 12:00am
Throughout last year’s city elections and into 2016, we’ve seen considerable public debate about prevailing wages in Savannah, especially in the leisure and hospitality sector. You can find a petition calling for raising the local minimum wage to $15 an hour, but the petition had fewer than 100 signatures even after several days of social media sharing. As a practical matter, municipalities in Georgia are forbidden by state law from raising the minimum wage for private sector workers. The official state minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, although most workers at least make the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Recently, the small city of Clarkston in DeKalb County mandated a $15 minimum wage for its employees. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Clarkston’s new ordinance will only directly impact three city workers. Even if public officials can’t mandate higher private sector wages, they can perhaps move the dial, if only slightly. Economic development efforts can focus on companies that pay better wages, for example. Still, given current state law, there isn’t all that much that can be done at the local level to raise wages, so for this column I’m going to skirt the usual minimum wage debate and focus on the local “living wage.” How much do workers need to make per hour to live decently in Savannah? In exploring the answer to that question, I’ll be using a living wage calculator published by researchers at MIT ( that quantifies the typical expenses and wages for counties and metropolitan statistical areas across America. The MIT calculator uses a straightforward definition of living wage: “the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2080 hours per year).” For one adult living alone, the MIT calculator pegs $10.87 an hour as a living wage in the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties). That estimate includes annual expenses of $3,011 for food, $2,111 for medical care, $7,596 for housing, $4,290 for transportation and $2,146 in other categories. So that one adult needs a pre-tax annual income of $22,602, which works out to $10.87 per hour. This does not suggest that a single adult could live comfortably on that income, and it’s easy to imagine how some sort of crisis could be financially devastating. I’m especially struck by the fact that the calculator assumes “other” expenses of less than $6 per day. On the other hand, a frugal person could find ways to reduce some of those typical expenses, especially transportation. It might be typical for adults to spend an average of nearly $12 per day on transportation, but that’s far more than I’ve spent on average over the last decade. Of course, in some individual years, I’ve spent more on transportation than is typical, but I’ve fortunately had credit and savings to cover expensive repairs and other transportation needs. A worker who is barely making a living wage might have no way of cushioning the shocks of one-time expenses. So far, I’ve just been talking about adults with no dependents, but when children are added to the picture, the local living wage rises dramatically. According to the MIT calculator, a single parent with one child would need to make $22.47 an hour to have a living wage in the Savannah metro area. If there are two adults who work full-time and have one child, the living wage falls to $12.42 an hour, which translates into a pre-tax household annual income of $51,672. These estimates for the Savannah area are almost identical to Georgia’s statewide averages, but there is significant variation among places within the state. For example, in the Atlanta metro area, the living wage for a single adult is $11.33 an hour, but in the Macon metro area the living wage for a single adult is $9.89 an hour. For now, arguments about raising the minimum wage in Georgia are purely hypothetical. Our elected state leaders are nowhere near serious consideration of changing anything, although it’s possible that we’ll see continued scrutiny of wages and an eventual shift in political will. I hope that we will see continued emphasis on the problems of poverty in Savannah. While it seems clear that many local residents will continue to qualify for government programs that supplement their incomes, we can still set higher goals for our community. One of those goals could be to get as many jobs as possible to pay $11 an hour, which is near the lower bound of the local living wage for a single full-time worker.   City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401. By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netFront headline: CITY TALK: What is a ‘living wage’ in Savannah?Section: BiS
  • Bill Dawers
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: New city manager seems a good fit

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 9:11pm

Nothing is official, but Savannah should have a new city manager on the job by early October.

If you follow the news, you already know that Mayor Eddie DeLoach and members of City Council announced last week their intention to hire Rob Hernandez, who has diverse work experience in Broward County, Fla., Fulton County, Ga. and other places.

Hernandez has an impressive resume and appears to have many areas of expertise. He certainly seems an impressive choice, and it was probably good news that the mayor and aldermen unanimously selected him as their top choice.

Hernandez’s work experience in the Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale areas has likely prepared him well for some of the challenges he will face in Savannah, including crime, poverty and tourism management. Hernandez also appears to know something about big projects, so he might be just the right person to oversee our daunting plans to build a new arena and redevelop the site of the existing arena.

There will be an obvious adjustment for Hernandez as he goes from deputy positions in very large metro areas to the top spot in Savannah, but that shouldn’t be difficult for such a seasoned professional.

On the other hand, Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale are very much the New South – if we can even count Florida as being in the South.

Savannah has changed dramatically over the last 25 years, but the city seems to have retained many of the elements of the Old South, for better and for worse.

The size of Savannah also encourages an echo chamber in which relatively small problems can seem like big ones.

All that said, I’m excited for Hernandez to get to work. Between now and then, city leadership will presumably get some lingering issues off the table, like long-proposed new ordinances governing food trucks and alcohol sales.

And maybe they’ll be able to steady the financial ship, which has been rocked by lengthy problems with water bills.


Goodbye Angel’s

Angel’s BBQ on West Oglethorpe Lane closed last weekend. The announcement was met with a wave of sadness and support from loyal customers who love the self-described “hole in the wall.”

Owners Andrew and Alieen Trice, who sold the building and needed to have more flexibility for family commitments, operated one of many “mom and pop” stores that still dot the downtown landscape.

I first wrote about Angel’s BBQ in April 2005, before the restaurant opened.

Even then, I noted that the place was “already chock-full of character and identity.”

Let’s hope the building finds a great new use and that local entrepreneurs continue to find success as they pursue their dreams.


City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401. 

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

Checking out the new Broughton St. heavyweight H&M

Sat, 08/13/2016 - 6:28pm
As I wandered for the first time into H&M at 240 W. Broughton St., I was immediately struck by the number of shoppers.  More than a dozen people were waiting in line at the first floor registers. The layout of the new store is straightforward, with the first floor primarily devoted to women’s clothes and accessories, the second floor to more women’s clothes, the third floor to men’s clothes and the fourth floor to kids’ wear. I’ll confess that I had never even heard of H&M until their Broughton Street location was announced a couple of years ago, and last week’s visit to the new Savannah store was my first encounter with the Swedish retailer. Prices are low. I’m not much of a shopper, but there were a variety of casual shirts in the $10 to $25 range that caught my attention.  Interestingly, even though I wandered through the entire store, no one asked if I needed help. Of course, I didn’t actually need any help, as the busy salespeople could probably tell.  The store’s interior feels appropriately bright and airy at street level, but the design of the upper stories does not take full advantage of the natural light. As a consequence, H&M feels more cut off from the street than downtown retailers like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie.   As for the exterior, regular readers know that I consistently objected to the demolition of a small historic building that allowed for the massive new store. The narrow parcels on streets like Broughton are part of the historic fabric of the city, and we set a troubling precedent if we allow lots to be combined. Still, the new building works fine within the context of Broughton Street, which was home for decades to large department stores that carried the latest fashions. Many folks around town continue to object to the presence of so many national and international retailers downtown, but the same standards are applied less often to the Southside and West Chatham. It’s worth noting that H&M replaced a vacant lot and that there are still many locally-owned shops on Broughton Street. H&M will generate considerable foot traffic, and savvy local business owners will find ways to lure those shoppers into their own stores.  And where can you park to go to H&M? I was out and about in my snazzy 1997 Avalon — the City Talk van recently gave up the ghost — when I decided to stop at H&M at 4:30 p.m. on a Tuesday.  I got greedy and looked for a parking space on Broughton Street very close to the store. As usual, there were plenty of spots east of Lincoln Street, but I thought I might be able to get even closer. Unfortunately, all the spaces between Barnard and Jefferson streets were taken, so I turned south on Jefferson and snagged a space directly behind Trinity United Methodist Church. That left me with approximately a two-minute walk to H&M. If I had not found the spot on Jefferson Street, I would easily have found one on Oglethorpe Avenue. I’m not detailing my boring trip simply to fill up column space. I continue to hear and read endless complaints about the impossibilities of parking downtown, but those complaints run directly counter to my own experience. If some of you are really spending 20 minutes looking for on-street parking, you are doing it wrong. If it’s all just hyperbole because folks are looking for something to complain about, that’s a different matter.  What would have happened if I had not turned south on Jefferson and had continued west on Broughton? Well, I wouldn’t have been able to turn south on Montgomery Street — we need to make that street two-way again — and I would have gotten caught up in the messy rush hour on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where on-street parking is limited. If I had turned north off Broughton Street, I would have been looking for a space around City Market, in the highest demand area in downtown.  Those traffic patterns are entirely predictable, however, and it’s hard to imagine anyone making those mistakes more than once. Drivers who are willing to look south of their destinations will almost always find spaces, and I fear that constant overstatements about downtown parking woes will lead us to unnecessarily restrictive and expensive new policies that will end up hurting businesses.   City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401. By: Bill DawersByline2: Savannah Morning NewsSection: BiS
  • Customers line up for the opening of H&M on West Broughton Street. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Search for city manager winds down

Mon, 08/08/2016 - 6:50pm
Members of Savannah City Council met last week with four prospective candidates for city manager. If the number had been whittled to three, the mayor and aldermen would have been required to release the finalists’ names.   As much as we need transparency in local governance, I’m relieved that our elected officials have withheld so many details about the search process. No one seemed to benefit from the very public nature of the search process that resulted in the hiring of Rochelle Small-Toney a few years ago.    I don’t have any inside scoop on where the search now stands, but the city manager search committee meets at 5 p.m. today and the full council has called a meeting to discuss the issue for 5 p.m. Wednesday, both meetings are at City Hall.    No matter what happens, we should expect lots of scrutiny and second-guessing about the mayor and aldermen’s choice.    And, if the past is any indication, much of that criticism will be misplaced. It’s likely that our new chief city executive will have some blotches on his or her resume, possibly including fights with elected leaders in other cities and policy initiatives that failed.   City managers come and go, after all, and none of them are going to have spotless records. Still, it’s fine to scrutinize the past of our new choice, but it will be more important to scrutinize the work of a new city manager once she’s on the job.    New alcohol ordinance nearing adoption It’s been a unnecessarily long and contentious process, but the city of Savannah will soon have a new alcohol ordinance.    The proposed ordinance recently received its first reading before City Council, so the new rules might be in place by the end of the month. That gives business owners some time to sort out their business plans before renewing their state alcohol licenses at the end of the year.   The new ordinance covers a lot of necessary ground, including provisions for event venues and complementary service at some small businesses. Bars would be able to apply for special permits to allow 18 to 20-year olds into live performances just like in cities across the Southeast.    An earlier draft of the ordinance called for an expansion of the Savannah’s to-go cup zone into Forsyth Park, but the timid proposal was fraught with problems because businesses immediately adjacent to the park would not have benefited.    Citizens seem divided on the prospect of an expanded to-go cup zone. My argument here has been and will be that an expansion would encourage economic development in neighborhoods south of the current cutoff line.    I’ll return to that subject in a future column, after the new ordinance is in place.    City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.  By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiSLead photo: Topic: City Talk