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Updated: 6 hours 37 min ago

CITY TALK: Job numbers are still generally strong

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 9:26pm

The unemployment rate for the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Bryan and Effingham counties) has trended slightly higher over the last couple of months, but the increase can be attributed to predictable seasonal trends.

Economists often adjust employment data to compensate for seasonality. For example, Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for July was 6 percent, but the unadjusted rate was 6.5 percent.

In its monthly releases, the Georgia Department of Labor does not apply seasonal adjustments to estimates for local and regional employment, so we need to consider the changes from the previous year.

According to the most recent estimates, the Savannah metro area unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in July, down dramatically from the 7.9 percent rate in July 2014.

So far, so good, but there are some worrisome numbers in this latest release. The household survey, which is used to determine the unemployment rate and other characteristics of the labor force, showed a year-over-year increase of about 1,100 employed people but also showed a sharp decline in the size of the local labor force.

According to the numbers, the Savannah metro area had 177,268 people in the labor force in July 2014 but only 174,980 in July 2015.

It’s difficult to know what to make of that decline. The survey often produces noisy data, and the numbers are subject to significant revision. Most other Georgia metro areas registered a significant decline in the size of the labor force over the past year, so Savannah certainly isn’t alone.

We might be seeing an increased pace of retirement. The oldest baby boomers are now pushing 70, and many deferred retirement during the recovery from the 2007-2009 recession, but it seems unlikely that retirees alone could account for such a steep decline in the labor force.

We need to see several more months of data before drawing conclusions.

The city of Savannah’s unemployment rate was 6.8 percent in July, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. That’s a dramatic decline from the 9.3 percent rate in July 2014. The number fell because of both an increase in the number of employed persons and a decrease in the size of the labor force.

By the way, the unemployment rate in the city of Savannah is always higher than the rate in the metro area as a whole. That’s a typical pattern across much of America.

Will the steady improvement in local employment impact the upcoming city elections?

The political rhetoric has been dominated by concerns about crime and by calls for change, but the solid employment gains will probably benefit incumbents.

 

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

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CITY TALK: Street fair brings new visitors to Wells Park

Sat, 08/29/2015 - 11:05pm

When I arrived at the big street fair last Saturday in Wells Park, a handful of protestors were sharing their objections to the entire event with the aid of a megaphone.

The “Cool Communities in Hot Savannah” fair was sponsored by the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority, but the protestors’ anger was directed more broadly at city government’s neglect of the neighborhood.

The area around Wells Park has been neglected, and one street fair largely supported by organizations based in other neighborhoods is not going to turn things around overnight.

On the other hand, is there anything wrong with 30 organizations choosing to participate and 20 businesses signing on as sponsors?

Wells Park is not where Google Maps says it is. The park is bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and by 38th, 39th and Montgomery streets.

As I’ve said many times in this space, the city of Savannah has allowed street crime to run rampant in the immediate neighborhood for decades. Wells Park is just four blocks south of Meldrim Row, where the city demolished historic and affordable apartments so it could build a new police precinct.

The blocks immediately around Wells Park are dotted with vacant lots and under utilized buildings, but that’s going to change — and probably change fast.

The Savannah College of Art and Design has acquired the vacant St. Paul’s Academy across Montgomery Street, and we’re already seeing new interest in the area from investors and from potential residents looking to buy into a neighborhood before values climb.

Wells Park proved a lovely space for the SDRA-sponsored street fair. There’s ample shade, and the side streets were ideal for participants’ booths. The park was the right scale too — just large enough to feel comfortable, just small enough to retain a certain intimacy.

The street fair seemed like a good time for politicking, and a number of candidates for city offices took advantage of the chance to meet a broad cross-section of voters.

I had an especially nice conversation with Detric Leggett, one of the challengers for the second district City Council seat now held by Mary Osborne. Leggett was quick to share some kind words for Bill Durrence, another 2nd district challenger who attended the event.

Alderman Van Johnson was also among the crowd. Under the newly drawn aldermanic district lines, Johnson’s first district seat does not include Wells Park but does include much of the historic Cuyler-Brownsville neighborhood.

I didn’t see Mayor Edna Jackson, but she spoke as the event began.

I didn’t see fourth district candidate Julian Miller either, but he posted a photo from the street fair to his official Facebook page. The former public affairs director for the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department and former publisher of the Savannah Morning News, Miller is challenging incumbent Mary Ellen Sprague.

I live only 10 blocks away and spend a lot of time on foot in the neighborhood, but I had never been in Wells Park before. The street fair activated the public space so that many of us became familiar with the park for the first time.

One five-hour event isn’t going to turn anyone into an expert on the needs of the neighborhood, but attendees will have more context for understanding the policy questions and challenges ahead.

 

Lunch from Munchie’s

As I left the SDRA street fair, I picked up lunch at Munchie’s BBQ & Subs near the corner of Montgomery and 38th streets. I had never eaten at the casual takeout spot, but Munchie’s has more than 3,400 fans on Facebook — an impressive number by any measure.

I got the $5 BBQ chicken meal, a hearty platter that included four legs, a side of baked beans, a slice of bread and a massive cup of punch.

A couple of days later, a postcard containing a Munchie’s coupon was dropped on my porch on 32nd Street. It’s always a good sign when neighborhood businesses are trying to expand their reach.

Munchie’s BBQ & Subs is the type of business that could benefit from SCAD’s reuse of the old St. Paul’s Academy building. Right now, that structure isn’t generating any economic activity in the neighborhood, but beginning in the fall of 2016, the building will be bustling four days a week with students and faculty.

 

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

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

CITY TALK: Hang Fire is moving, but don’t know where

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 10:07pm

Hang Fire’s lease at 37 Whitaker St. expires at the end of the month, so the owners have announced a party for Aug. 29. The 11 acts slated to perform include the first band the bar hosted — the iconic Savannah rock band Superhorse.

The Hang Fire team has announced plans to move to another space, but no details have been announced.

I had never met Hang Fire’s Wes Daniel before meeting with him for this column in 2006, but I knew at once that I was not conducting an ordinary interview. I realized early on that all I needed to do was ask a few open-ended questions and then shut up.

“We’re really about the locals,” Daniel said when I asked about opening in the summer when so many college students were out of town and when tourism was waning.

“The mere mention of ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ makes our stomachs turn,” he added.

With a limited, but excellent taco menu and an eclectic jukebox, Hang Fire began as a hangout for locals but soon was discovered by SCAD students. Dance parties often transformed the space late at night, and live music followed fast.

And then came the noise complaints from owners of new condos upstairs, which resulted in years of legal wrangling.

A word of advice: If you’re buying a condo in an area of active nightlife, it would be a good idea to check out the space at night before making an offer.

Hang Fire continued to evolve even after the disputes with the neighbors and scrutiny from local officials. The bar quit hosting live music for a while, but DJs can sometimes seem just as loud.

Once the bar began hosting live music again, Hang Fire firmly established itself as one of the city’s most important venues for touring acts.

Perhaps more importantly, the intimate stage also nurtured young and talented local bands like Crazy Bag Lady and Wet Socks.

Things changed a lot over its nine years, but Hang Fire always remained “more David Lynch than John Madden,” as Daniel told me back in 2006.

Downtown Savannah’s club scene and live music scene aren’t in danger of fading away, but Hang Fire’s experience raises some difficult questions about the existing sound ordinance, which city officials have committed to revising, and about gentrification generally.

What accommodations should we make for purchasers of new condos in the heart of the city’s entertainment district? When do the concerns of new residents trump the basic operations of existing businesses?

 

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

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

CITY TALK: New restaurant, Bo Bien Hut, comes to Tybee with new concept

Sat, 08/22/2015 - 10:56pm

On a recent Tuesday evening, a friend and I drove to Tybee Island to check out Bo Bien Hut (www.bobienhut.com), the Asian fusion restaurant that opened in July.

Sure, it’s still August, but the summer beach bustle has already faded. The vacation season isn’t entirely over, but with many schools back in session, Tybee is a lot quieter than it was a couple of weeks ago.

Take a quick look at a few of the vacation rental websites, and you’ll find dozens of properties with immediate availability.

And if you drive out to Tybee for dinner on a weeknight, you’ll probably find ample on-street parking like we did.

Bo Bien Hut is at 1605 Inlet Ave., right behind Arby’s. The building has been home to several other restaurants, including a Chinese spot before the structure was moved from the north end of the island.

Bo Bien Hut, which can be translated as “Vietnamese beach hut,” is the third restaurant opened by Kurtis and Sarah Schumm, who also own Tybee Island Social Club and Tybee Island Fish Camp.

Unlike its sister restaurants, Bo Bien Hut does not have a dining room. Patrons order at a walkup window, and all the food is packaged for takeout, but several picnic tables are available for those who want to eat on the premises. The side yard is comfortable enough now, but with a little time and a little more landscaping, the space could develop into something special.

Bo Bien Hut also offers delivery. It seems like delivery would be in high demand on Tybee, especially to vacation rentals during the high season, but few restaurants offer the service.

A couple of months ago, on the night Little Tybee was performing at Tybee Island Social Club, I asked Kurtis Schumm about his plans for Bo Bien Hut. He replied by asking if I had ever eaten at Xiao Bao Biscuit in Charleston. That’s an Asian fusion spot, too, off the beaten path of tourists, with an eclectic, inexpensive menu including dishes specific to several different Asian cultures.

We tried a number of different dishes on our first trip to Bo Bien Hut.

The crab Rangoon ($6) was the best I’ve had in a long time, and the three spicy duck wings ($6) were especially rich and flavorful. Regrettably, the octopus and jalapeno skewers ($8) weren’t available the night we went, but both the green curry with shrimp ($12) and the banh mi baguette with grilled steak ($10) were excellent. I’d order any of those dishes again in a heartbeat.

Bo Bien Hut seems to fit in with several culinary trends in the Savannah area. We’re seeing entrepreneurs explore new concepts, and we’re seeing chefs experiment in fresh ways.

Bo Bien Hut is currently open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, from noon to midnight Friday and Saturday and from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.

 

July employment data suggest solid job growth

The latest employment data for the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Bryan and Effingham counties) suggest continued economic growth.

According to numbers released last week by the Georgia Department of Labor, the number of initial claims for unemployment insurance in July 2015 was down 13 percent from July 2014.

Payroll employment in the metro area was estimated at 170,700 in July 2015, an increase of 3,700 jobs from a year earlier. That 2.2 percent rate of annual growth is markedly faster than the rate of population growth.

Once again, the data show year-over-year declines in government employment in the Savannah metro area but sharp gains in private employment, which was 3.3 percent higher in July 2015 than in July 2014.

As I’ve noted before, we can’t expect to see such vigorous job growth indefinitely, but it seems we’re apparently still reeling in some of the slack from the deep recession that officially ended in 2009.

Job gains have been especially strong over the past year in the broad category of professional and business services. The manufacturing sector also posted solid gains, as did leisure and hospitality.

The statewide, seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 6 percent in July. That’s the lowest Georgia has seen since the summer of 2008 when economic conditions were deteriorating fairly rapidly.

The July estimates of the unemployment rate for individual counties and metro areas have not been released. We’ll take a look at the numbers once they’re available.

 

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

By: Bill DawersByline2: billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
  • Photo via https://www.facebook.com/bobienhut
  • Photo via https://www.facebook.com/bobienhut
  • Photo via https://www.facebook.com/bobienhut
  • Photo via https://www.facebook.com/bobienhut
  • Photo via https://www.facebook.com/bobienhut
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: A wonky preview of the 2015 Savannah city election

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 9:57pm

Savannah city elections are less than three months away, and here’s City Talk’s wonky overview.

Of the nine sitting council members, all are running for re-election except for Alderman At-Large Tom Bordeaux. We’re hearing a lot of talk about the need for new leadership in Savannah, but the simple truth is all the incumbents enter their races with clear advantages, especially name recognition.

Sure, there are some obvious openings for challengers, especially since the aldermanic lines have been redrawn using data from the 2010 U.S. Census.

How many voters who are in new precincts even know that the lines have changed?

How many voters even care?

There was plenty of talk of change in the lead up to the 2011 elections too, but only about a third of the city’s 67,000 registered voters showed up to vote.

It’s hard to imagine that turnout will be higher this time around, so 12,000 votes will be enough to win the citywide races for mayor and for the two alderman at-large posts.

Obviously, fewer votes will be needed to win at the district level. In 2011, Alderman John Hall from District 3 and Estella Shabazz from District 5 were both elected with fewer than 1,700 votes.

As we get closer to the elections, I’ll be looking for candidates who aren’t afraid to talk about details of public policy.

Yes, we are all concerned about public safety, but what are we going to do that hasn’t already been tried?

Are candidates satisfied with the work of the city manager?

What about quality of life issues besides crime? For those of us in District 2, that means everything from traffic calming to protecting the residential character of historic neighborhoods in the downtown area.

Everyone is in favor of creating new business opportunities, but what concrete steps do candidates want the city to take? Is it time to move ahead with the new zoning plan that has been languishing for years? What changes can the city make to its permitting processes?

If previous city elections are any guide, we will hear a lot of broad platitudes, but I think voters will be more engaged if candidates are informed enough and daring enough to get into the details.

To their credit, a number of challengers are already answering some specific questions like these. It’s still early in the election cycle, however, and there is plenty of time for other candidates to get informed on the issues and put some concrete proposals on the table.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. 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: Food trucks are coming to Savannah, but how soon?

Sat, 08/15/2015 - 10:28pm

We’re a little late to the game, but the city of Savannah is finally crafting an ordinance that should foster a more vibrant culture of food trucks.

Back in 2011, when we saw the first public push for a more liberal food truck ordinance, I was relatively pessimistic about the demand for food trucks, especially if they tried to do the bulk of their business downtown.

In 2011, we were still in the immediate aftermath of a deep recession. In 2015, we still have some slow days and nights in the Historic District, but general activity is much higher than it was four years ago, primarily thanks to surging tourism.

Culinary tourism is also a growing trend, and there are established restaurants interested in diversifying into food trucks, as Savannah’s Citizen Office director Susan Broker noted at a recent city council workshop session.

Interestingly, city staffers have created a draft map that would allow food trucks in much of the city but have decided they would not be allowed in most of the Landmark Historic District.

There will surely be pushback from food truck entrepreneurs about that restriction, but city staffers are trying to ensure that food trucks don’t set up shop too close to existing restaurants.

But shouldn’t there be some exceptions? As Alderman Tony Thomas correctly observed at the city council workshop, few Historic District restaurants stay open late enough to capture business after midnight. If you’re looking for food after a late night downtown, you won’t find any more options than there were 20 years ago.

Also, during the St. Patrick’s Day festival period, we allow all sorts of temporary food vendors, including some from out of state. So why shouldn’t locally owned food trucks be allowed to tap into that market?

It’s worth noting, however, that the draft map presented to city council would allow

food trucks in the MLK/Montgomery corridor south of Oglethorpe Avenue. That’s close to government offices, SCAD dorms and hotels.

I don’t know whether food trucks will be able to attract sufficient business in some of Savannah’s designated redevelopment corridors like Pennsylvania and Augusta avenues, but I think they’d be a big hit along key stretches of Montgomery Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

Of course, a new ordinance could allow organizations promoting community health to establish a food truck foothold in struggling neighborhoods and identified “food deserts.”

At the workshop, zoning administrator Geoff Goins said food trucks might be an intermediary step for entrepreneurs who want to transition into brick and mortar establishments.

Alderman-at-Large Carol Bell seemed especially enthusiastic about the movement toward a new ordinance. She noted that she expressed interest in food trucks when she first came on council three and a half years ago.

Bell also took a moment to welcome all the citizens who attended the workshop session, including Bishop Kevin Boland, and applauded these “first steps in joining an industry that is prevalent across the country.”

City staff plan to bring a food truck ordinance to city council for a vote in the fall, but that seems unlikely. Council members raised some good questions about the concepts presented by Broker, and there will be multiple public meetings before the final language is drafted.

Consider the pace of the revised alcohol ordinance.

A team of city officials began working in 2013, released a problematic draft in 2014, backtracked on several key elements, planned to bring a new draft to council in the spring 2015 but ultimately waited until summer.

At a workshop session, city council members raised serious questions, and now it’s possible the new alcohol ordinance will not be approved by January 1. That means key provisions can’t go into effect until 2017 because of the timetable for state alcohol licenses.

So it’s hard to imagine city staffers will be able to move so quickly from this conceptual phase for food trucks to a final product in three months.

Also, if the usual patterns hold, individual members of the public will strenuously object to food trucks even though they have never patronized them in other cities. Such squelchers (to borrow a term from Jane Jacobs) are given an inordinate amount of power here.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that the current council shoots for consensus on most issues. That’s an admirable goal, but when an ordinance has as many moving parts as the draft alcohol ordinance and the proposed food truck ordinance, there might be no way to please all nine council members, much less everyone else in the city.

 

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

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
  • Savannah Morning News file photo The Bean Scene coffee and lemonade cart on Wright Square, shown here in 2005, is the rare mobile food unit allowed under city ordinance. The truck is owned by an existing business owner, Smooth's Susan Jaffie, who has access to a commercial kitchen to prepare food.
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Another successful First Friday Art March in the books

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 9:55pm

When Art Rise Savannah launched the monthly First Friday Art March a few years ago, I was skeptical that the event would take hold.

By that point, it was clear the gallery scene in the downtown area was struggling to regain ground lost in the deep 2007-09 recession. Sure, the First Friday Art March had a solid home base in the Starland area, but would folks really start visiting those spaces and other galleries in significant numbers?

And would anyone really “march”?

I’m glad that my initial skepticism turned out to be so far off.

A friend and I began August’s First Friday Art March at Stephen Milner’s wonderful photo exhibit about the Ogeechee River at Jelinek Creative Spaces on Fahm Street just off West River Street.

If you haven’t checked out Milner’s show, which is sponsored by the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, the gallery at Jelinek is open during typical business hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday). The photos will be there till Aug. 21. Jelinek is also home to a variety of artists and artisans, so you might want to spend a little time exploring.

Next stop was the opening of “Tall Tales: Works by Raymond Gaddy” at the city of Savannah’s gallery at the Department of Cultural Affairs on Henry Street. Then we dropped by the “Goodbye, Hello” group show at Non-Fiction Gallery on Bull Street and then finished the evening at Sulfur Studios for the exhibit “Wanderland.”

Under the name Non-Fiction, the gallery has displayed work by 191 artists, but the current ownership team has turned the space over to Art Rise Savannah. The organization had for years tried to make do with a tiny gallery on Desoto Avenue, so the acquisition of Non-Fiction represents a major step forward for the ambitious nonprofit.

Sulfur Studios leases individual studio and office space but also has a larger common gallery in the center. In addition to art exhibits, the gallery has hosted a variety of performances in Sulfur’s short existence.

A confession: we didn’t march. Since we began our evening down by the river and since we were running late, we drove between those four venues.

But there were plenty of others walking up and down Bull Street, much to the astonishment of a longtime neighbor who was taking his dog for a walk.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the current gallery offerings yet rival the gallery scene in the early years of this century, but the rise of shared spaces and the rise of Art Rise itself suggest that we are witnessing something special.

 

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

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
  • Art Rise Savannah's Art March is an amped-up gallery hop that includes local artists, live music, handmade goods, vendors and children's activities every first Friday.
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Finally checking out the Wyld Dock Bar

Sat, 08/08/2015 - 10:34pm

The Wyld Dock Bar opened in April, but I just made my first visit there recently. Between trips out of town and the disruptions of stormy evenings, I somehow let more than three months slip by.

A friend and I arrived at The Wyld — it’s at the end of Livingston Avenue in the spot formerly occupied by Bonna Bella Yacht Club — at 7:30 p.m. on a recent Tuesday. The parking lot was nearly full, but there were a couple of empty tables visible on the north side of the restaurant.

I expressed a preference for a table on the back deck. The hostess told me it was full, but literally within seconds a table was free.

All the outdoor seating at The Wyld has commanding views of the marsh, but the back deck always feels like a truly special place to me. As soon as we walked out there, I was kicking myself for not getting to The Wyld sooner.

We apparently had arrived at the end of the dinner rush. As the evening wore on, and as we kept ordering more dishes from the flavorful tapas menu, one table after another emptied.

I know that people have different schedules and like to eat dinner at different times, but I was puzzled that so few people arrived after we did. After all, the air was just cooling down, and the marsh is at its most beautiful just before sunset.

No doubt The Wyld stays busy later on weekends, but if you want to see the setting at its most serene, you should swing by just before sunset on a weeknight.

We embraced The Wyld’s tapas concept and ended up sharing eight dishes — way more than enough food — off the eclectic menu. Including four alcoholic drinks, our bill was right at $100. The friendly, attentive service felt perfect for the setting.

Anyway, how was the food?

The quail and rabbit sausage ($12), which is served on four small pieces of bread, has an especially rich flavor. I loved the freshness of a side dish of sliced, slightly blanched cucumbers with charred Vidalia onion and feta ($5).

The tuna tartare ($12) was good too, but it would have been better on a cooler night. The fried catfish ($13) wasn’t as easy to share as some dishes, but it was beautifully prepared, as was a roasted corn on the cob ($4) with brown sugar aioli and cayenne pepper.

I’d recommend saving room for dessert at The Wyld. The fruit brulee ($5) — sliced fresh fruit quickly seared and served with a scoop of ice cream — is enough for two.

The Wyld has menu options that would work if you’re looking for a more traditional dining experience — “this is my food, that is your food” — but many dishes are obviously meant to be shared, just like the beautiful view.

The Wyld Dock Bar is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.

 

Off-street parking

Should new development on MLK have off-street parking requirements?

Thrifty Supply Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is a Savannah institution, but it will be closing in the near future. The new owner of that building and several adjacent lots has plans to renovate the historic structures for both commercial and residential uses.

I was surprised to see that the Metropolitan Planning Commission’s staff report on a rezoning request recommends that surface parking be required for the new development.

It’s worth noting that a number of businesses in the immediate area, including in the block immediately south, have no off-street parking.

Also consider that the city of Savannah plans to build the new Cultural Arts Center three blocks north of the Thrifty site. That building will include a theater that will hold more than 400 people, but the site will have no surface parking for the public.

The city-owned Liberty Street Parking Garage is put to pretty good use on weekdays, but it closes at 9 p.m. each night and is closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Once the I-16 flyover is removed, we can also reclaim a significant number of on-street spaces in the immediate area.

If applied to other under utilized properties in the corridor, a surface parking requirement would depress both future density and future land values. At the same time, off-street parking requirements would probably also drive up the cost of new residential units.

It will be interesting to see how the debate plays out.

 

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

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
  • CITY TALK: Finally checking out the Wyld Dock Bar
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Deep Center awarded community development grant

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 9:05pm

A few weeks ago, Deep Center was named one of 69 recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts’ coveted Our Town awards.

Never heard of Deep Center?

According to http://www.deepkids.com, Deep “was founded in 2008 to address the detrimental effects of poverty on literacy in Savannah.” In the years since, almost 2,500 kids have participated in three-month writing programs, and Deep has published more than 60 anthologies of work by the young writers.

If you care about literacy in the Savannah community and haven’t checked out one of Deep’s public events, you should attend the next Deep Speaks! anthology launch.

The Our Town grant totals $50,000 to support Deep’s Block by Block program, which, according to the nonprofit’s website, allows a small group of especially motivated kids “to conduct street-level community research, discover Savannah’s unfolding stories and find their own stories’ place in Savannah’s larger community.”

With the funding in place, Deep can support 24 young writers (ages 11-18) from the west side of town. According to a recent press release, “The project will include public readings and culminate with a community celebration in fall 2016 that will include a book launch of original youth writing, public art celebrating the youths’ stories and an art march.”

The NEA grant is especially newsworthy since Deep’s Block by Block program has been up and running for less than a year.

Dare Dukes, executive director of the Deep Center, brought the recent grant to my attention after reading a City Talk column about new investment in Macon. As it turns out, an arts organization there was awarded an Our Town grant of $134,000 for neighborhood revitalization.

Dukes makes a convincing argument that we could be doing more in Savannah to promote “arts-based community development.”

The recent grant to the Macon Arts Alliance will support a two-year artist residency program that is part of a broader attempt to use the arts as a revitalization tool in the historic, but largely blighted Mill Hill neighborhood. A somewhat similar effort to nurture an “arts village” has been ongoing in Bradenton, Fla., since 1999.

I’ve been writing frequently about the development boom in the greater downtown area, but on the fringes of downtown we have neighborhoods where there is little sign of revitalization. For example, there has been little progress on Waters Avenue, despite years of government attention.

Maybe it’s time to look more closely at some of the interesting models out there for using the arts to foster community as Deep is already doing.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. 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: Cotton & Rye opens at Habersham and 34th

Sat, 08/01/2015 - 10:12pm

Cotton & Rye opened on July 21, and I’ve already had dinner there twice.

And I’m not the only one who has made quick repeat visits to sample the new restaurant’s outstanding menu.

Cotton & Rye has beautifully renovated and reimagined the mid-20th century bank at the corner of Habersham and 34th streets.

Cotton & Rye owner Zach Shultz (a former middle school student of mine in the 1990s, believe it or not) is joined in the new business by chef and partner Brandon Whitestone and by general manager Kimberly Whitestone. The team has assembled an impressive, experienced staff — not an easy feat around these parts — and has hit the ground running.

Cotton & Rye’s beef tartare ($12) is a fresh take on the classic dish. Served in a small glass jar and accompanied by several slices of bread, the starter is practically a meal in itself. Ditto for the shrimp and grits ($13) from the starter menu.

The beet salad ($9) is so good that I don’t know whether I’ll ever get around to ordering the other salads. The perfectly cooked beets are complemented by a creamy “farmers cheese” and fresh greens.

I’ve only tried two of the entrees so far, but recommend both wholeheartedly. The clams ($21) are served with delicate fregola pasta, leeks, chorizo and almonds. There are some strong flavors there, but nothing overwhelms the freshness of the clams.

The fried chicken thighs ($19) were perfectly prepared, served piping hot and accompanied by a creamy slaw, a stellar side of mac and cheese and a small pitcher of very spicy honey.

Among the desserts, I’ve so far only sampled the “candy bars” ($7) — a rich play on the basic ingredients of a Twix.

There are comfortable tables both inside and outside at Cotton & Rye, but I’ve eaten both times at the well-designed bar. The cocktail menu has some excellent options, especially among the bourbon drinks, and there is an extensive list of American wines by the glass and bottle.

Cotton & Rye is currently open from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and

10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for Sunday brunch.

 

A story of a changing neighborhood

The opening of Cotton & Rye falls neatly into several long-term trends that we’ve been writing about for years.

Twenty years ago, the blocks of Habersham Street south of Anderson Street were pretty rough. Drug dealers and prostitutes operated openly, as they continue to do in some other parts of the city.

The tide slowly turned largely because of new investment in the immediate area, like the opening of Queeny’s (now the site of Blowin’ Smoke) and historic preservation projects spearheaded by individual entrepreneurs and by the Historic Savannah Foundation.

Some of the positive momentum north of Victory Drive was interrupted by the recession, but things are now moving quickly in the Thomas Square and Metropolitan neighborhoods.

There is new residential construction across the street from Cotton & Rye. The area around the old Starland Dairy is attracting intense interest. SCAD is poised to renovate the former St. Paul’s Academy on 38th Street. The old Gottlieb’s Bakery at 32nd and Bull streets is finally being renovated after languishing under city ownership for years.

 

And a story of changing tastes

The opening of Cotton & Rye also furthers the local food and restaurant trends we’ve been witnessing for more than a decade.

We’ve seen increased emphasis on regionally sourced foods, and we’ve seen chefs embracing some of the best elements of traditional southern cooking.

Just last week, the New York Times wrote about the new interpretations of traditional southern food by Chef Mashama Bailey at The Grey, and the influential website Eater recently explored how new spots such as The Wyld Dock Bar, The Grey and The Florence are changing Savannah’s restaurant scene.

You can also read a great new Playboy interview with The Grey’s Bailey. When asked about her favorite places to eat in Savannah, Bailey gave a nod to the new and the old – The Florence and Mrs. Wilkes.

It’s one thing for me to write about these trends here in City Talk, but there’s a domino effect when publications with much broader reach start showing interest. We will inevitably see more national and international coverage of Savannah’s restaurant scene, and we seem poised for more adventurous culinary tourists than those we’ve attracted in the past.

With lots of underutilized land in the greater downtown area, we will likely see other ambitious restaurateurs throw their hats in the ring, which will spur some existing restaurants to step up their games.

 

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

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  • CITY TALK: Cotton & Rye opens at Habersham and 34th
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CITY TALK: Can Savannah learn something from Macon?

Mon, 07/27/2015 - 10:10pm

I trekked to Macon last weekend for the concert crawl at Bragg Jam.

The daylong, nonprofit festival was founded in honor of Brax and Tate Bragg, musicians and brothers who died in a car wreck in 1999.

For a number of years, I’ve been following the steady progress of Macon’s downtown redevelopment efforts, which are being spearheaded by groups like NewTown Macon and the College Hill Alliance, which are leveraging private and public support.

There are beautiful buildings and interesting sites throughout Macon’s historic neighborhoods and the city sits along two interstate highways, but Macon still seems a long way from being the type of destination that Savannah has become.

In a sense, the perceived lack of tourism potential might pay off for Macon in the long run.

Since Macon officials aren’t counting on tourism, they’re pushing some fairly ambitious apartment and condo projects that should boost downtown residential density. Planners have also been eager to get more retail downtown — like Savannah-based TailsSpin — but many of the historic storefronts are still empty.

There are a number of thriving restaurants, bars and venues too, including the Cox Capitol Theatre.

Savannah could use a music venue like the Cox, which has a capacity of 650, an open area in front of the stage and nearly 300 seats in the balcony.

We stayed at Macon’s downtown Marriott, which was repeatedly suggested to us as the only hotel worth booking for Bragg Jam. But it’s still about a mile walk — and not a pleasant walk — from Cherry Street.

Savannah has arguably allowed hotels to take up far too much of the available downtown acreage, but Macon hasn’t successfully lured any major hotels to the heart of downtown.

Of course, Macon once had hotels downtown. The Dempsey, which has a spectacular exterior, is now government housing.

Macon was also home to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame until the short-sighted decision to close it in 2011.

For Bragg Jam and for the monthly First Friday events, Macon allows to-go cups in much of the downtown area. That’s a straightforward economic development tool that Macon ought to make permanent. Despite Savannah’s obvious advantages, we could probably learn something from Macon’s intense focus on boosting residential density, and we could certainly learn something from the collaboration between Mercer University and economic development officials.

Savannah officials and the Savannah College of Art and Design could have more proactive collaboration, and local government also could work more closely with Armstrong State University and Savannah State University to improve connectivity, quality of life and economic activity around the campuses.

Anyway, I could ramble on all day about Macon. If you haven’t peeled off Interstate 16 to check out the city, I highly recommend it.

 

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

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CITY TALK: A summer of construction on Broughton Street and beyond

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 9:26pm

Every six months or so, I try to look at Broughton Street with fresh eyes. I’ve been writing about changes on Broughton for 15 years, so it’s sometimes hard to see the street as a first-time visitor or new resident would.

A Broughton Street newbie in the summer of 2015 will almost certainly notice the sheer amount of active construction and renovation.

Much of the work on the strip is the result of developer Ben Carter’s big bet, but he’s not the only one making significant investments.

For example, if you go down to the corner of Broughton and Habersham streets, you can admire the ongoing restoration of the Berrien House, one of Savannah’s oldest and most important buildings.

I know that many of my readers are wary of Ben Carter’s efforts to bring additional upscale national retailers to Broughton Street. I also hear regular complaints about the number of vacancies and the high rate of turnover.

But there has been heavy turnover of retailers on Broughton Street ever since the city of Savannah and the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority began trying to revitalize the historic commercial corridor in the late 20th century.

Broughton Street’s storefronts were headed for full occupancy by 2007, which represented a remarkable turnaround from the relative desolation of a decade earlier, but the deep recession interrupted that progress.

Carter’s efforts might seem especially ambitious, but they are a logical extension of the trends we’ve seen on Broughton Street for the last 20 years.

And even if national retailers aren’t as keen on Savannah as some hope (and some fear), we’ll eventually see those renovated buildings occupied.

A first-time visitor to Broughton Street also can’t miss the construction of the massive new H&M between Barnard and Jefferson streets.

Once the H&M is finished, Broughton Street pedestrians will barely notice the height since their attention will be focused on the activity at street level. But the building sure looks tall from West Congress Street.

Since the city allowed the demolition of the 19th century building next to McDonald’s, the new H&M is also exceptionally wide compared to other structures on Broughton, especially others that are in the middle of a block rather than on a corner. Some of my readers are more concerned about the height, but I’d argue that the width represents a true break with development patterns on Broughton Street.

The activity on Broughton Street is a reflection of what’s happening throughout the downtown area.

New hotels under construction or in design stages have attracted plenty of press, but we’re also seeing some really nice infill residential construction.

For example, you can see new homes at the corner of Barnard and Waldburg streets, on Lorch Street, on Jefferson Street near Hall Street, along Price Street and at the corner of Habersham and 34th streets.

Those are just a few examples of the new residential investment in the downtown area, and all those developments look pretty good. The additional units will give a much-needed boost to residential density in the oldest parts of Savannah.

Scaled back Cultural Arts Center moves ahead

There was more news last week about a major construction project that remains in the design stage.

The Historic District Board of Review approved the scaled back plans for the city of Savannah’s new Cultural Arts Center, which will eventually be built on the south side of Oglethorpe Avenue just west of Montgomery Street.

For the record, I never much liked that location, which was chosen by City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney. That property along Oglethorpe Avenue is some of the most valuable in the entire county, and private development there would boost property tax rolls.

Eric Curl’s article last week about the Cultural Arts Center used the word “tepid” to describe the HDBR’s support.

Frankly, we don’t need a grand building for a new Cultural Arts Center, but if we’re going to build it on such an important site in the midst of the Landmark Historic District, then we should have nothing less than a monumental building with first-class education facilities and performance spaces.

But it looks like we’re going to build the new center with a less-than-monumental budget and with compromised elements both inside and outside.

The already-checkered history of the planned Cultural Arts Center makes one wonder how city officials will handle much bigger projects on the horizon.

 

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

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CITY TALK: Job growth continues, but we're still making up lost ground

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 9:06pm

The payroll employment estimates released last week by the Georgia Department of Labor indicate continued vigor in the Savannah area economy.

The number of payroll jobs declined slightly between May and June, but that’s a typical seasonal pattern.

The Savannah metropolitan statistical area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties) had 169,400 payroll jobs in June, up a solid 2 percent from June 2014. Private sector employment actually increased 3.2 percent year over year, but overall growth was restrained by a decline in state government employment and stagnation in federal and local government employment.

I thought it would be fun to compare the June 2015 estimates to those from June 2007, in the summer before the deep recession.

In June 2007, the Savannah area had 163,300 jobs – that’s just 6,100 fewer than we have now. Metro area population has increased about three times faster than that.

In other words, we’ve been seeing strong job growth for many months now, but we are still feeling the effects of the so-called Great Recession and the sluggish recovery.

A variety of data points stand out when we compare June 2015 with June 2007. For example, the Savannah area had 22,300 government jobs in 2007 compared to 22,100 last month. Public employment has historically tracked closely with population growth; after all, growing cities need more teachers, public safety officers, sanitation workers and other types of government workers.

The Savannah area had 20,100 payroll jobs in leisure and hospitality in June 2007. Now we have 25,500. Tourism is one of the few sectors that has made up for lost ground — and then some.

There were 9,900 construction jobs in June 2007, but we have only 5,900 today. Of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that we were still overbuilding in 2007, despite obvious signals from the housing market that a slowdown was upon us. Real estate investors actually continued making doomed bets deep into 2008.

The Savannah area had an estimated 15,100 manufacturing jobs in June 2007 and 16,400 in June 2015. That moderate increase has to be disappointing given the significant efforts to lure large manufacturers to the area.

Other numbers also jump out, such as the relatively slight increase over the last eight years in jobs in transportation, warehousing and utilities. Given surging port traffic, one could reasonably expect more payroll jobs there.

The employment data suggest continued expansion of the Savannah area economy, and that trend seems likely to continue. Still, it’s worth remembering that numerous sectors are still making up ground lost in that 2007-2009 recession.

 

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

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CITY TALK: SCAD's new purchase is a game changer

Sat, 07/18/2015 - 11:31pm

The Savannah College of Art and Design’s recent purchase of the former St. Paul’s Academy is a game-changer for the Metropolitan neighborhood.

The grand St. Paul’s Academy building is on 38th Street between Jefferson and Montgomery streets. I’m guessing that most readers of this column have never seen the building, but, trust me, I’m not throwing the word “grand” around loosely here.

Just from the standpoint of preservation, SCAD’s acquisition of St. Paul’s, which has been closed for about a year, is great news. There is little doubt that the college will do an excellent job preserving and renovating the structure.

For what it’s worth, I hope the SCAD team will consider having a little fun with the exterior, which is currently solid white. Brightly painted homes and businesses dot the immediate neighborhood, and it would be interesting to see SCAD experiment with the vernacular colors and designs.

SCAD already has classroom buildings in the general area of St. Paul’s, including Arnold Hall on Bull Street and Eckburg Hall on Henry Street. Those buildings are a few blocks away, but they are also a world away.

I’ve been writing about the dramatic changes in the Metropolitan Neighborhood for many years, but some things haven’t changed. Maybe we’ve seen a little progress on crime in the area, but the Jefferson Street corridor is still home to street prostitution and drug dealing.

Decades ago, Savannahians made the collective decision to allow blatant street crime on Jefferson and nearby streets, and that decision has been tacitly reaffirmed with every change in city administration.

It turns out that if you want to decimate property values and drive law-abiding residents out of a neighborhood, all you have to do is turn the streets over to criminals for a few decades.

The new SCAD building is not only along Jefferson Street, but also across the street from Wells Park, which has lately been the focus of crime concerns.

Hello SCAD. The college has its own security force, and there will likely be guards and security cameras working round the clock.

Perhaps even more importantly, the new classroom building will bring dramatically more foot and bicycle traffic to the neighborhood. That additional activity will almost certainly disrupt some of the criminal activity.

Also, the neighborhood has been undergoing a dramatic turnover in population over the last quarter century. To put it coarsely, the white population has increased dramatically and the black population has declined dramatically, but the dynamics are more complex than the straightforward displacement often connoted by the word “gentrification.”

Those population trends seem to have accelerated since the 2010 Census, in part because the city demolished three dozen affordable apartments in Meldrim Row to make room for a new police precinct. That site is just four blocks north of SCAD’s new building.

SCAD’s presence in the midst of the Metropolitan Neighborhood will also impact the commercial character of the area, but the changes are hard to predict.

Some businesses will try to appeal directly to the nearby students, but SCAD’s quarter system presents challenges for retailers. The college is only in full session for 30 weeks each year, and regular classes are scheduled only Monday through Thursday.

Still, the infusion of students in fall 2016 should bring new customers to a number of existing businesses on Montgomery Street, and we’ll likely see new businesses crop up.

 

Noise ordinance to be revised

In last week’s column, I expressed a little hope that something positive might come out of Emergent Savannah’s discussion at The Sentient Bean about the city’s noise ordinance.

Well, right at the beginning of last week’s forum, city spokesperson Bret Bell announced he had started assembling a group of knowledgeable citizens to help revise the ordinance. He said Kevin Rose, a sound engineer and architect who was also on the panel, had already agreed to be part of the process.

In a nutshell, Savannah’s current sound ordinance is so restrictive that dozens of downtown establishments are in violation of it every single day. A more finely crafted ordinance can be enforced more predictably and sensibly. Business owners will know what to expect, and residents will know what to expect too.

The noise ordinance discussion wasn’t limited to the current conflicts between residents and nearby establishments with amplified music. For example, the panelists noted there have also been conflicts about decibel levels in Forsyth Park during major events, and it seems police officers have not always been thoroughly trained on the technical details of current law.

I expected Emergent Savannah’s forum to be fairly contentious at times – there is a lot of anger in the local music community right now – but Bell’s announcement of an impending ordinance revision allowed the participants to focus on relevant details.

The positive developments at last week’s meeting certainly reflect well on the work of the relatively new Emergent Savannah.

 

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

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CITY TALK: Does Savannah need a vision for a revised alcohol ordinance?

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 10:25pm

At the Savannah City Council workshop session on July 9, Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Herman gave a presentation about the latest revisions to the proposed new alcohol ordinance.

The first questions from council members suggested that there is broad agreement on the key changes in the ordinance.

Deeper into the conversation, however, the elected officials had some tougher critiques of the current draft.

For example, Tom Bordeaux — himself an attorney — thinks much of the language needs to be more precise.

Bordeaux also joined Van Johnson in concerns about the lack of a “vision” for the city regarding alcohol policy. Alderman Tony Thomas added the word “brand” to the discussion.

As Thomas noted, “Savannah at midday versus Savannah at midnight is two different cities.”

That’s not a bad thing, of course. Savannah is a major tourist destination, a regional economic hub and home to large numbers of soldiers and college students.

Savannah is big enough to be different things to different people.

So, a “vision” for alcohol policy in such a diverse city?

Let me take a roundabout stab at that question.

I wish I had the proverbial dollar for every time I’ve seen downtown visitors’ faces light up when they realize they can take drinks outside as long as they stay north of Jones Street.

They’re not happy because they want to get blindingly drunk — one can do that anywhere — but because the policy seems so hospitable, sensible and, yes, even civilized.

In a nation where drinking in public has been stigmatized, Savannah’s to-go cups seem wonderfully libertarian. And there’s a bit of libertinism, too, which echoes the city’s longstanding acceptance of eccentricity.

To-go cups in Savannah have also turned out to be a tool for economic development. It should come as no surprise that the practical folks in Ohio recently approved the creation of legal outdoor drinking areas in any city with more than 35,000 residents.

There are obviously many other components of the alcohol ordinance than the to-go cup regulations, which seem likely to change very little when and if a new ordinance is adopted.

Frankly, I see great benefits in expanding the to-go cup zone, but there is no public consensus on that.

And the members of city council seem to have some valid concerns about package sales at convenience stores in certain neighborhoods.

Still, those to-go cups might be a good metaphor for the personal freedom and personal responsibility in Savannah’s alcohol “vision.”

You can watch reruns of the entire July 9 workshop on the Savannah Government Channel. The video is also available on the city’s website.

 

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

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CITY TALK: Would Savannah ever replace the Johnny Mercer Theatre?

Sat, 07/11/2015 - 9:56pm

In recent City Talk columns, I’ve discussed potential uses for the site of the Martin Luther King Jr. Arena on the north side of Liberty Street between Barnard and Montgomery streets.

When the city of Savannah builds a new arena just west of downtown, we’ll have an unprecedented opportunity to re-imagine a big piece of property in the heart of the Landmark Historic District.

First and foremost, I’m an advocate for re-creating the Oglethorpe Plan as much as possible. As I’ve said here many times, we have ample evidence that Gen. James Oglethorpe’s street grid works as well in the 21st century as it did in the 18th century.

Beyond that goal, we have all sorts of options for the property, although it’s worth emphasizing that we are all working under the assumption that the Johnny Mercer Theatre will remain where it is.

The theater is 40 years old, but that’s no reason to replace it. The Lucas Theatre and Trustees Theater are decades older, and we would never tear those down.

But is the Mercer Theatre up to par? If Savannah considers itself a city with a special devotion to the arts, is the Mercer good enough?

I don’t sense broad popular or political support for replacing the theater, but many of us are not fans of the space. The acoustics are fuzzy in some spots, the architecture is drab and there’s a huge gulf between the stage and the first row of fixed seating.

Consider that Charleston’s Gaillard Municipal Auditorium — a building similar to the Mercer in size and vintage — is currently being transformed into a spectacular new performance space. The total price tag is $142 million, but that includes city offices and exhibition space.

Private donors are funding about 50 percent of the Gaillard project, but it’s always worth remembering that the Charleston metro area is bigger and wealthier than Savannah. Supporters of the new Gaillard worked for years to make it a reality.

Still, at some point, I suspect we’ll see a similar effort here to replace the Mercer.

When that day comes, we could look for another downtown site, or we could dramatically renovate the existing theater as Charleston is doing at the Gaillard.

Or, if things get rolling sooner rather than later, we could consider building a new performance hall on the site of the existing arena.

Just a thought.

Public forum on noise ordinance, music scene

At 7 p.m. Monday at The Sentient Bean, Emergent Savannah will host “The Price of Silence: Balancing Savannah’s Live Music and the Noise Ordinance.”

This is another public forum in Emergent Savannah’s Monday Means Community series.

Many voices in Savannah have long been critical of the existing noise ordinance — and for good reason.

Here’s a line from the ordinance: “However, bars, taverns, lounges, nightclubs, dancehalls, game rooms and similar activities which produce a noise that is plainly audible beyond the premises shall be deemed a noise disturbance in violation of this article.”

Imagine that you’re a tourist walking down Congress Street or River Street and you’re looking for something to do. Imagine that there is no sound whatsoever bleeding onto the street from restaurants and bars.

Wow, what a boring city that would be.

Local officials generally have not enforced this most restrictive portion of the ordinance, but it’s right there in black and white.

I really don’t know how anyone could read that and say the ordinance doesn’t need revision. Recent disputes about noise have also highlighted the need for substantive changes.

Let’s hope Monday night’s discussion spurs some action. The panelists include sound engineer and architect Kevin Rose, whom I quoted extensively in a 2014 column about the failings of the current ordinance.

By the way, it’s probably worth adding that vibrant cities will always have noise conflicts and that those problems will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and even from block to block. I’d argue, for example, that somewhat different standards should apply on Broughton Street than should apply one block away on Congress Street.

But the inevitability of noise disputes is no excuse for having an ordinance that criminalizes the standard operating procedures of many establishments in the city.

 

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

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CITY TALK: Timeshare complex could spur Hutchinson development

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 10:07pm

On Thursday, July 9, Savannah City Council will likely approve the rezoning that will enable the development of a significant timeshare resort on Hutchinson Island.

It’s a big step for Hutchinson Island, where major construction plans have stalled or collapsed in recent years.

Edgewater Resorts LLC’s 316-unit timeshare complex will be around the unused silos just east of the bridge. Back during the boom years, a major condo development was going to make use of those silos, but that idea is long gone.

The subject property is more than 21 acres, but the development will only use 13 acres. Zoning officials have classified the use as “short-term vacation rental” and will apply multi-family zoning standards. All the units will have two bedrooms.

The development will have more than 500 surface parking spaces, some of which will be under the five buildings ranging from six to 10 stories. Only three of those buildings will be especially visible from River Street.

Some of the units will surely have amazing views.

The existing silos will be modified and incorporated into the design. The development will have a pool, a large recreational lawn along the river and a dock that could eventually be used for ferry service.

Absent a pedestrian bridge, access will continue to be the major impediment to development on Hutchinson Island.

Yes, the ferries are fine, but they don’t have the capacity for large groups and events. Plus, they stop running at midnight and only get passengers as far as River Street.

Driving to and from Hutchinson Island can be cumbersome, especially when West Oglethorpe Avenue is backed up. By car, the distance from the new timeshare development to the downtown Kroger is almost four miles.

If the folks staying at the timeshare choose to drive into the heart of downtown, they will obviously face parking problems.

The city of Savannah is investing in public safety facilities on Hutchinson, but the island still lacks rudimentary private services like a pharmacy, gas station and grocer.

These could seem like major inconveniences for prospective Hutchinson residents but might seem minor for those who are just here for a week or two every year.

On the other hand, the island has a restaurant and bar at the Westin, not to mention a golf course and spa.

And the new timeshare development will certainly increase demand for services on Hutchinson Island, so perhaps we’ll see the types of commercial development that could spur hotel and home construction. We might even see demand for public transit on the island. A regular shuttle from Hutchinson to the Joe Murray Rivers Jr. Intermodal Transit Center on Oglethorpe Avenue would seem easy enough.

 

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

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  • Eric Curl/Savannah Morning News This photo of a rendering shows the proposed design for a 316-unit timeshare resort for a site east of the Talmadge Bridge on Hutchinson Island where 16 former cement storage silos are located.
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Study details economic benefits of preservation

Sat, 07/04/2015 - 10:36pm

The Historic Savannah Foundation recently released “Beyond Tourism,” a 60-page study about the impact of historic preservation on our economy and quality of life.

You can buy your copy of “Beyond Tourism” through HSF at www.myhsf.org. You might also want to check out Eric Curl’s coverage of the study at savannahnow.com.

“Beyond Tourism” is a good read, especially for those who like hard numbers and bar graphs along the way.

Here’s the subtitle: “Historic Preservation in the Economy and Life of Savannah and Chatham County.” That’s probably a better reflection of the contents than the title, but it’s still worth lingering a moment over the phrase “Beyond Tourism.”

The report argues that historic preservation has many measurable economic benefits other than luring visitors. That’s a tame enough proposition, but it might be interesting to see a similarly detailed study that explores more of the tension between tourism and other economic sectors.

“Beyond Tourism” was written by Donovan Rypkema and Briana Paxton with the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm PlaceEconomics. They called upon data from a wide array of organizations, agencies and other sources.

Here’s a passage from the report’s conclusions: “The impact of heritage tourism in Savannah and Chatham County captures the headlines and is certainly important and widely recognized. But the impact of historic preservation on the everyday lives of its citizens is less understood and perhaps even more profound. General James Edward Oglethorpe laid the foundations for the Savannah of the 21st century.”

We’ve touched upon this theme often over the years here at City Talk. The Oglethorpe Plan isn’t just some stray remnant of history — it’s not some curious relic in the chronicles of urban planning.

The key features of Savannah’s oldest neighborhoods — the mixed uses, the narrow lot widths, the relatively high residential density, the frequent streets, the public spaces — are also features that align with the quality of life desired by so many young Americans today.

“Beyond Tourism” makes special note of the work of the HSF’s revolving fund, which has had a “catalytic impact” on private investment. (The organization’s revolving fund allows it to purchase historic but endangered properties and resell them to people or organizations with credible restoration plans.)

There are some excellent maps that accompany the discussion of the revolving fund. Through the 1970s, the HSF focused its energy in the Landmark Historic District, but in recent decades there has been an emphasis on properties farther south, especially in Thomas Square and the Victorian District.

It’s worth adding, however, that the HSF has continued to use the revolving fund in the Landmark district in the 21st century.

The report also notes the impressive preservation efforts of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Since 1999, SCAD has tackled over a dozen major rehabilitation and preservation projects.

The analysis for “Beyond Tourism” showed that the changes in property values around SCAD projects outpaced the citywide changes.

Savannah’s historic districts comprise just 8 percent of the city’s land area, although that number would be higher if the city had not annexed so much land to the west. Still, those historic districts hold 16 percent of Savannah’s population and 24 percent of the taxable value, according to the study.

“Beyond Tourism” chronicles the dramatic increase in construction activity in historic districts since 2007, with more than half the spending on new structures. I’d love to see the numbers broken down a bit more, however, so we would know how much of that money was spent on hotel versus residential construction.

Savannah’s historic districts are also home to a disproportionate share of the city’s jobs, especially ones with knowledge-based businesses, startups and other small firms.

Property values in historic districts have outperformed the city as a whole, and, interestingly, those districts had markedly lower foreclosure rates between 2008 and 2014 than the rest of the city.

One of the most interesting sections of “Beyond Tourism” discusses the positive effects of residential density at a “human scale” and other quality of life issues, such as walkability and bikeability.

As I said above, “Beyond Tourism” is well worth a read.

 

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

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CITY TALK: New uses could replace arena, improve downtown

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 9:35pm

In a recent column, I noted that the construction of a new arena gives Savannah an unprecedented opportunity to recreate lost portions of the Oglethorpe Plan on the west side of the Historic District.

I am in favor of the total demolition of the existing arena and for the re-establishment of as many blocks as possible, including Perry and McDonough streets from Barnard Street all the way to Montgomery Street.

But there are a number of sensible plans that would stop short of maximum re-establishment of Gen. Oglethorpe’s famed grid.

For example, we could seek a private developer who would utilize the footprint and some of the infrastructure of the existing arena.

The arena floor is below street level, so that space could be converted to a large underground parking lot.

Some of the infrastructure above the parking lot could be repurposed for multiple uses that could improve quality of life for downtown residents and enhance the experiences of Savannah’s visitors.

Do we need another downtown grocery? That could take over the ground level space above the level of underground parking.

Then how about more commercial development on top of that? Perhaps a multiplex?

The Lucas Theatre, Trustees Theater and a few other venues occasionally host film screenings, but I’m talking here about a multi-screen cinema that shows newly released films, including some foreign and independent ones.

Where would filmgoers park? Many patrons would arrive on foot or on bicycle, but drivers could use the underground parking and also use the city’s Liberty Street Garage on weekends and at night.

So we could still develop the existing Civic Center parking lot for private, taxpaying uses and re-establish Jefferson Street between Liberty and Hull streets.

And we could also re-establish the blocks of Perry and McDonough streets between Barnard and Jefferson streets. So we would once again have the traditional boundaries of the trust lots on the west side of Orleans Square, which would give us a tremendous chance to expand the rich architectural fabric around Savannah’s squares.

By the way, it seems like there are other opportunities for multiplexes on the fringes of downtown, but we might need to make it an economic development priority if we’re serious about having one.

There are surely other types of private development that could repurpose some of the arena’s existing infrastructure, but it’s hard to imagine any public uses that would be worth pursuing on such a valuable piece of land.

I’ll touch upon some other options for the site of the existing arena in future columns.

 

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

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CITY TALK: New 'general store' offers local, regional products

Sat, 06/27/2015 - 10:23pm

PW SHORT General Store opened a couple of months ago at 414 Whitaker St. That’s at the corner of Taylor Street in the heart of the Downtown Design District.

As we wandered through the shop recently, proprietor Scot Hinson described it as “a regional, food-forward general store.”

So PW SHORT has items for gardening, cooking, dining, entertaining and just about anything food-related. Most of the products are locally or regionally sourced, although there are a variety of exceptions for unique and well-designed items.

The store is also generally “eco-minded,” according to Hinson.

The small rooms at PW SHORT are filled with dozens of items — portable gas stoves, bamboo fiber bowls, lovely cutting boards made from olive wood, an interesting collection of barware, garden tools, canning supplies and on and on.

PW SHORT, which is named for Hinson’s late grandfather, even sells push lawnmowers and compost bins.

The store also stocks products distributed by culinary historian and author John Martin Taylor, including a user-friendly oyster knife and the stone-ground grits from Taylor’s Hoppin’ John’s label.

Some of you will surely remember Taylor from the original Hoppin’ John’s — the culinary bookstore that he opened in Charleston almost 30 years ago. Hinson even worked for Taylor in Charleston in 1987.

Taylor is also known for his influential cookbooks that have deepened our understanding of southern cuisine, including “Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking,” “The New Southern Cook,” Hoppin’ John’s Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah: Dining at Home in the Lowcountry” and “The Fearless Frying Cookbook.”

A 2012 Washington Post profile called Taylor a “low-country cooking icon.”

Taylor’s titles can be found at PW SHORT alongside a variety of other cookbooks, including ones by Libbie Summers, Steven Satterfield and Hugh Acheson.

Hinson is a board member of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market, so it’s no surprise that PW SHORT stocks a variety of foods – like sorghum from Canewater Farm in Darien – routinely sold by vendors at the Saturday market.

The store also carries a variety of products from Verdant Kitchen, which is based at Lebanon Plantation.

For many years, Hinson has collected and sold mid-century modern furnishings, some of which are also available in the new shop.

Hinson noted that he has been getting a steady stream of tourist traffic, in large measure because of the proximity of Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room.

“The locals are starting to find me,” he added.

Over a decade ago, I started writing columns about chefs, restaurant owners and other entrepreneurs who are both embracing and reinterpreting the best traditions of southern cooking. The opening of PW SHORT General Store fits in neatly with those trends.

The Downtown Design District hasn’t gotten as much attention over the last year or so as commercial corridors like Broughton Street and Starland, but the DDD is certainly alive and well.

If you’re driving to the Downtown Design District, you can generally find plenty of metered on-street parking west of Whitaker Street and south of Liberty Street. As I’ve noted here before, the high level of availability suggests the meters are timed too short or priced too high – or both.

Retailers in the district would see more business if those spaces were more attractive to local shoppers.'

 

Airport traffic continues rebound

There were just over 100,000 enplanements at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in May. That’s a number we haven’t seen in seven years.

We hit 100,000 enplanements in May 2008, but airport business declined sharply as the recession’s grip tightened.

If you’ve been flying regularly, you’ve probably noticed the increased traffic in and out of Savannah. Fortunately, we seem to have plenty of capacity – parking, gates and other infrastructure – to handle substantial increases.

And, at least in my experience, the increased business at the airport has not resulted in significantly longer waits at security or other major inconveniences.

While it’s great to see traffic return to pre-recession levels, it’s nevertheless worth noting that the airport had over 100,000 monthly enplanements three times in 2005.

With tourism booming and with the regional population steadily increasing, we will probably see steady growth for the foreseeable future in airplane ridership into and out of Savannah, but it’s a fickle business.

 

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

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