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CITY TALK: City launches web page to fight bad info

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 9:16pm

Last week, the city of Savannah launched Just the FAQs, “a new web feature to help answer pressing questions the public may have about decisions the city has made, or services it offers.”

You can find the new web page at

According to the press release, “Just the FAQs will respond to misinformation or rumors about city issues that often circulate quickly and can be taken as fact.”

First, I should say creation of the site was a good idea. I see some crazy assertions these days on social media, and if I were in the city administration, I would want to make relevant facts as easy to find as possible.

But the timing of the launch makes the effort look politically motivated. With an election a month away and with widespread frustration about government inaction on a wide range of issues, some incumbents might be thrilled to see a more vigorous defense of city decisions and priorities.

It’s also possible appointed city officials might be under pressure to prove they are doing the jobs they are paid to do.

I was struck by the historical crime data on the new web page, especially the fact that there were 60 homicides in Savannah and Chatham County in 1991. For the past decade, we’ve been averaging about half that number.

The web page says officials are not trying to “minimize the crime problem in Savannah,” and I’m not trying to minimize it either. It’s just good for readers to know more about Savannah’s violent history.

The page about crime even details the rise in aggravated assaults with guns in 2014 and 2015, so it’s not as if city officials are trying to dodge the bullet, so to speak.

Still, as with other topics covered at Just the Faqs, I’m struck by the information that is not there.

The site uses the word “drugs” just one time, and there is no intimation of the history of almost unchecked drug sales in many neighborhoods. That’s a point Chief Jack Lumpkin routinely points out.

The words “Lovett” and “corruption” are also missing.

By the way, if you want a clearer sense of the pervasive corruption within the Counter Narcotics Team, you might want to read the RICO civil suit filed last week by four former Savannah-Chatham police officers.

The site mentions “fully staffing” the force, but it does not discuss how the department became so poorly staffed in the first place.

So voters have plenty of reason to be angry — livid, disgusted, insert the adjective of your choice — about crime even if they have a level-headed grasp of the data.


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 TalkSection: BiSTopic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Is consolidation of Savannah, Chatham County on the way? Is it a good idea?

Sat, 10/03/2015 - 10:34pm

At the forum sponsored by the Jaycees last week, Savannah’s mayoral candidates were asked whether they favor a consolidated city-county government. It’s a topic that seems to be coming up more and more in public discussions.

Challenger Murray Silver said he is aware of a five-year plan to consolidate the city of Savannah and Chatham County.

If such a plan exists, Mayor Edna Jackson must be out of the loop. If she were aware of any such efforts behind the scenes, she surely would have come up with a better answer to the question than the one she gave.

Jackson said that she opposes consolidation because of the struggle to finalize the police merger, which seemed a weak analogy to me. If we decide to consolidate the city and county governments, we wouldn’t have two governments to haggle over details for a decade after the merger has taken place.

A consolidated city-county government would, in theory, save tax dollars by eliminating duplicative services, departments and payrolls, and we’d possibly see a reduced property tax burden, especially for those of us who live within the city limits.

I’ve heard many area residents say black leaders would never allow consolidation because it would dilute the power of black voters within the city limits, but maybe Al Scott’s 2012 election as chairman of the county commission has changed that dynamic.

Still, the more I think about consolidation, the less I like the idea. Maybe I’ve just lived here too long.

If we had a consolidated government, what would happen if we elected weak leaders who chose a poor manager? Then we’d have a clunker for everyone who currently resides in either the city limits or the unincorporated county.

With two governments, we at least have a chance that one of them will get things right.

Also, I know many residents of the unincorporated county do not share the priorities of city residents who favor things like traffic calming, greater protections for bicyclists and pedestrians, the removal of the

I-16 flyover and a host of other policies that would promote quality of life in urban areas.

And many of us who live near the walkable center of the city do not share the spending, policy and quality of life priorities of those who live in more suburban areas.

Could we actually find a way to respect the priorities of our fellow residents in a consolidated government?

Getting rid of the tour guide test

Savannah city officials are planning to drop the requirement that local tour guides pass a history test as part of the licensing process.

I wrote quite a bit about the issue of the test after a group of tour guides, supported by the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice, mounted a court challenge to the city’s licensing requirements.

The tour guides’ lawsuit was filed in November 2014 in U.S. District Court. In December 2014, city officials revised the tour guide ordinance to eliminate a required physical exam, but the written test was left in place.

The majority of readers of this column seemed to favor the retention of the history test, even though the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found there was no evidence that a similar test in Washington, D.C., actually furthered any of the stated goals. That court also found that the test was an unnecessary abridgment of free speech.

A separate appellate court found that New Orleans could continue to require a written test for tour guides. The Supreme Court has not taken up the case, so we are left with conflicting rulings.

It was interesting as the controversy percolated to hear history test proponents defend the requirement even as they sighed about inaccurate information that is dispensed to tourists.

I’m not sure about the internal decision making at City Hall, so it’s possible officials decided the written test didn’t actually accomplish anything, that the testing process required too much staff time or that it wouldn’t be worth fighting a lawsuit the city might eventually lose.

While many defended the idea of the test, I found myself among those who thought it was an abridgment of free speech and an example of unnecessary city bureaucracy.

The Tourism Leadership Council is working on a voluntary certification process for tour guides — an idea that was also discussed in this column many months ago. Other organizations, like the Savannah Tour Guide Institute, could also step forward with certification processes.

But will “certification” make any difference to consumers? After all, the average tourist now has a smartphone with which she can confirm facts on the spot. Sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp incentivize quality tours.

And let’s give the hard-working guides a little credit here. Most of them want to give accurate information, and most of them want Savannah’s visitors to leave with a better grasp of the city’s rich fabric.


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:  billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiSLead photo: Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Continued jobs growth predicted for Savannah

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 8:57pm

According to estimates released recently by the Georgia Department of Labor, Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 5.9 percent in August, down slightly from the 6 percent rate in July and down markedly from the 7.1 percent rate in August 2014.

Thirty-eight states had lower rates in August, but it’s still good to see the data headed in the right direction.

The state had robust job growth over the last year — a solid 2 percent increase in payroll employment between August 2014 and August 2015. Private sector employment actually increased 2.6 percent, but the final number was restrained by declining public employment.

The Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties) had 2.3 percent payroll employment growth between August 2014 and August 2015. That’s considerably faster than the rate of population growth.

The manufacturing sector added an estimated 700 jobs in the Savannah area over the past year, as did retail trade. The category of transportation, warehousing and utilities added 500 jobs.

But those gains pale beside the annual increase of 3,300 jobs in the broad sector of professional and business services.

By contrast, employment in leisure and hospitality added just 100 jobs over the past year. Statewide, the leisure and hospitality sector added 10,100 payroll jobs, so the local estimate is something of an outlier.

Government employment and construction employment declined over the past year, but those were rare weak spots in this upbeat data.

The preliminary estimates from the Georgia Department of Labor put the Savannah metro area unemployment rate at 5.6 percent in August. That number, which is not adjusted for seasonality, represents a dramatic decline from 7.6 percent in August 2014.

The only worrisome note in the data is the year-over-year decline in the total size of the labor force in the Savannah area. I noted that issue in last month’s estimates as well. I’d like to see a few more months of data before getting too worried about the decline, however.

The unemployment rate in the city of Savannah was 6.5 percent in August, dramatically lower than the 8.8 percent unemployment rate in August 2014.

Such vigorous employment numbers would typically work in favor of incumbents in the upcoming mayoral and aldermanic races in Savannah, but crime has developed into the most important issue.

The unemployment rate varies widely across Georgia. The estimated August rate was over 8 percent in 30 of the state’s 159 counties. Many of those counties that are lagging the recovery have low populations and are located in middle and south Georgia.


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

CITY TALK: Will slow pace of change become Savannah election issue?

Sat, 09/26/2015 - 10:51pm

The Savannah City Council held a three-hour workshop session on the morning of Sept. 17 and then had a two-hour regular session in the afternoon.

All council sessions like these are televised, and all eventually appear on the web for on-demand viewing. If you’re a regular spectator of these official public meetings, you already know the bureaucratic tedium is punctuated by moments of great seriousness, of farce, even of passion.

In the most recent workshop, Chief Jack Lumpkin updated the council on a wide variety of issues involving the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department’s attempts to return the force to full staffing and to employ new strategies to fight crime.

After a lengthy discussion among council members about various ways to fight crime, Alderman At-Large Tom Bordeaux, who is not seeking re-election, used some surprisingly frank language about political inaction.

“I think this brainstorming session is great,” Bordeaux said. But a moment later he added,

“This is what in college we would call a bull session.

“We’re talking like we’re people running for office, not like we’re people who are serving in office. We have the authority now,” Bordeaux said, tapping the conference table in time to his increasingly insistent words. “We have the power now.

“We are three and a half years into this term, and we’re talking like ‘this is what I will do if I get elected.’ Well dang it, we’re already elected, and this is silly.

“It’s a waste of this man’s time,” he said, pointing at Lumpkin. “It’s a waste of his staff’s time. He’s got other things to do to put some of this into effect, and he’s standing here listening to us brainstorm.”

Bordeaux said “brainstorm” with special frustration.

Bordeaux then noted that he and the rest of council voted for a budget that did not contain money for some of the initiatives aldermen apparently want.

Later in the meeting, Alderman Tony Thomas appeared frustrated with the slow pace of fully staffing the police force and with the pace of implementation of pay raises for police officers. Much of that frustration was directed at City Manager Stephanie Cutter.

I’ve been writing about crime in Savannah off and on for 15 years, and this could be a watershed moment of widespread discontent when real change is possible.

Or not.

I’ve written in recent weeks about various issues that might be on voters’ minds as we approach the citywide elections in November, and crime is clearly at the forefront. But Bordeaux’s comments about the slow pace of change certainly resonated with me on multiple levels.

Yes, we are three and half years into the term of the current City Council, and the aldermen still have not approved an amended ordinance allowing chickens and other animals. The issue was publicly debated in 2011, and Chatham County changed its ordinance in 2012.

In 2012, Alderman Carol Bell told city staff she wanted to see a food truck ordinance, and we’ve just this month received a first draft, one so restrictive it will scare away would-be entrepreneurs.

City staffers have been revising the alcohol ordinance since January 2013.

The proposed Cultural Arts Center ­— first approved by voters a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — remains mired in controversy, and, amazingly, the city still owns a Waters Avenue strip mall, an entire vacant city block on Hall Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and another large lot on MLK where the city itself demolished a historic and architecturally significant African American-owned pharmacy.

Continued inaction on policy and property issues like these is hurting the city’s economy and doing real damage to the neighborhoods and to the business owners who are most affected.

Eight of nine incumbents on Savannah City Council, including Mayor Edna Jackson, are running for re-election. At least publicly, those incumbents have repeatedly praised the work of the city manager and her staff, so the elected leaders don’t seem too troubled by the fact that so many problems have remained unresolved for the past three and a half years.

I suppose a cynic might even be happy with some of the current political inaction. By every measure I’ve seen, the Savannah area economy is growing. Payroll employment is up, and the unemployment rate is down. Why risk messing things up by, you know, actually doing something?

Of course, that’s not a tenable position, not with crime up and with the police force woefully understaffed.

And not with so many business owners and residents negatively affected by such slow decision making.


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: BiSLead photo: Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Residential development on fringes of downtown

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 9:49pm

Residential development is planned for the north side of the 300 block of West Gwinnett Street on the southern edge of the Landmark Historic District.

The project has been scrutinized at the most recent meetings of the Historic District Board of Review, and a variety of changes are in the works in response to concerns about the massing of the buildings, design details and other issues.

After that wrangling concludes, we will eventually see townhouses facing Montgomery, Gwinnett and Jefferson streets, with shared parking accessible via Hall Lane.

It’s a full city block — 240 feet by 130 feet. The site has been home to Bowyer Motors for decades.

If you’ve been following development in the greater downtown area, you know this project is big news.

Most obviously, these new homes will increase downtown residential density in ways that are in keeping with historical patterns.

If we want to nurture neighborhood businesses, we need residents in those neighborhoods.

We are also seeing the continued erosion of a neighborhood stigma. Jefferson Street has long been considered a dividing line in much the way Price Street was seen as a dividing line on the east side.

And this is another example of the evolution of the Montgomery Street corridor.

Automobile related uses sprung up on Montgomery Street in the second half of the 20th century, but those uses are becoming less viable as the land value rises and as residential demand increases.

The various auto lots and related businesses on Montgomery Street might be thriving businesses, but at some point the landowners will see greater value in more intense development.

And as we see more developments like this one on West Gwinnett Street, new investors will begin scrutinizing the underutilized properties that dot Montgomery Street farther south.

There will probably be some bureaucratic problems as developers target the large lots on Montgomery Street, and we might need different guidelines for “campus style” residential developments.

I suspect that we will also see hoteliers move into the corridor. In a few years, that prospect won’t seem as crazy as it sounds now to some of you.

As development pressures increase, we certainly need clearer historic protections for the neighborhoods along Montgomery Street. The Bowyer Motors site is just half a mile north of the historic Meldrim Row cottages that the city of Savannah demolished for a sprawling, suburban style police precinct.

By the way, it’s worth adding that economic development on Montgomery Street is also hampered by the lack of southbound traffic because of the patterns created by the Interstate 16 flyover. That’s another issue that needs long-term consideration as this long-neglected part of the city evolves.


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: Savannah's draft food-truck ordinances opens some doors, closes others

Sat, 09/19/2015 - 10:29pm

City of Savannah officials have been hosting a series of public meetings about a proposed ordinance that would dramatically expand the options for food trucks in Savannah.

According to city officials, Savannah has 16 active food trucks. Those include trucks operated by the dining services at Armstrong State University and the Savannah College of Art and Design and those operated by various restaurants.

But, under current law, food truck operations are severely restricted, and we don’t have anything like the food truck cultures you’ll find in cities throughout the Southeast, including Charleston and Atlanta.

Last week, I attended the eighth of the public meetings. There was a low turnout at in the fellowship hall at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, but several entrepreneurs were on hand, as were representatives from the city and from the Chatham County Health Department.

The city has scheduled another public meeting for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at Jacob G. Smith Elementary, 210 Lamara Drive.

Also, as of late last week, the city’s draft ordinance had not been posted to the web. From the presentation to members of City Council several weeks ago, I assumed that an ordinance would be drafted after the series of public sessions, but a draft already exists.

The process seems unnecessarily convoluted. If members of the public are being asked to respond to the city’s plans regarding food trucks, wouldn’t it make sense for everyone to have easy access to the existing draft?

I’ll dig more deeply into the draft ordinance soon, so for this column I’ll just make a few observations about where we are in the process.

First, it’s worth stating that city staffers are serious about crafting an effective, detailed ordinance that could allow food trucks to thrive.

Second, we are nowhere near the finish line. It was suggested at the recent City Council workshop session that the elected leaders might have an ordinance in front of them

before the end of the year. That looks highly unlikely.

Now let’s dig into some of the difficult details.

If you can find the proposed map where food trucks would be allowed (it’s not on the web right now either), keep in mind that the ordinance would only allow the trucks on private property, except when permits have been obtained for special events.

Charleston has both franchised and non-franchised spaces in the public right of way for mobile food vendors, but our draft ordinance has no such provisions.

By restricting food trucks to private property, we would severely limit their use in redevelopment corridors. For example, you’ll find tons of on-street parking on portions of Montgomery Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, but food trucks would be confined to leasing spaces on privately owned parking lots.

If a brick-and-mortar business meets only the minimum requirement for off-street parking, then that business could not logically lease spaces to food trucks.

There has been considerable discussion about the possibility of food trucks in a public space like Daffin Park, but food trucks would be prohibited under the current draft unless a special event permit were secured.

The current draft also says food trucks must conform to relevant sign ordinances. At the meeting I attended, Alicia Scott from the Citizen Office suggested food trucks in Savannah might not be allowed to sport colorful designs like those found routinely in other cities.


Also, the draft would limit the number of food trucks in any one place, even on private property, so we wouldn’t see the food truck clustering that you’ll find in some cities.

The Alpharetta Food Truck Alley, which has more than 11,000 fans on Facebook, features seven or eight trucks every Thursday evening, but we won’t have anything like that if the language of the current draft survives.

Also, it’s worth noting that the proposed ordinance would essentially be a revision of the zoning ordinance, but it’s clear city officials have not coordinated their efforts with the staff at the Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Would food trucks be written into the code as an accessory use? Would food trucks be implemented via an overlay district?

And what happens when and if the city implements the NewZO ( — the new zoning ordinance that the MPC began drafting in 2007?

I haven’t heard any public objections to provisions in the food-truck ordinance that would protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from predatory competition, but the current draft places many other limits on food truck operations.

If we want to have a thriving food truck culture in Savannah, we will almost certainly need a less restrictive ordinance than the one currently being considered.


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: Savannah highlighted at its best — and worst

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 9:57pm

Saturday was a remarkable day in Savannah.

The Savannah Philharmonic kicked off its season in grand style at the Lucas Theatre with featured soloist Joseph Conyers, a Savannah native who is a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Despite the rain, Savannah Pride attracted thousands to Forsyth Park.

The Tunnel To Towers 5K Run & Walk was a huge success.

Revival Fest showcased 14 excellent bands at the Georgia State Railroad Museum.

The Sand Gnats wrapped up their time in Savannah on Saturday night.

Yes, it’s sad to see the Gnats move to Columbia, S.C., but a college league is coming to Grayson Stadium next summer. Maybe we will make some smart investments that will keep the historic stadium in use for many years to come.

Since I’ve been covering so much music in recent years, I opted to spend my Saturday at Revival Fest, but it was easy to sense the community support behind those other events.

We are also on the cusp of the hectic fall festival season, which seems to bring a new event every week. The 34th annual Savannah Jazz Festival kicks off on Sept. 20.

For many of us, Savannah is a spiritually fulfilling and culturally rich place to live. And, most of the time, the living is easy.

If you have a modest amount of disposable income, some mobility and any interests at all, you can be involved in the life of the city.

Also on Saturday, another tragic shooting left two men dead.

No city is perfect, and Savannah is just one of many crime-ridden cities in America with stark economic, racial and cultural divides.

But Savannah’s relatively small size and unique geography make those divisions even starker.

Of course, violence is nothing new in Savannah. Violent crime has been on the rise, but the final crime stats for 2015 will probably pale beside the more violent years of the 1990s.

I don’t say that to encourage complacency or resignation. I’m just hopeful that citizens and voters will have some perspective.

No one is going to be able to change Savannah overnight. It will likely take years of crime enforcement and prevention initiatives before we see significant progress in reducing the number of senseless shootings.

Every few years, crime concerns dominate public discourse for a while before eventually being pushed to the back burner.

It’s easy to be cynical about change, but maybe we’ve hit a critical moment — an upcoming election, a strong police chief, heightened public awareness — when real progress is possible.


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

CITY TALK: Ordinary Pub brings casual dining, drinking to Broughton St.

Sat, 09/12/2015 - 11:39pm

The Ordinary Pub at 217 1/2 West Broughton St. has been open for two months, but the business just got its liquor license recently. That news prompted a friend and me to check out the new spot.

The Ordinary Pub ( is underneath Free People and Urban Outfitters in a space formerly occupied by Taco Abajo and T-Rex Mex. The Ordinary is using more of the basement than T-Rex Mex used but less than Taco Abajo.

The pub has a pleasant, somewhat rustic dining area at the base of the main staircase, with a separate bar area over to the side.

We decided to eat at the bar. The excellent local duo Wood and Steel was performing several feet away from us, but the sound level was still perfect for conversation. There are a couple of unobtrusive televisions in the bar too, so I was able to keep up with Roger Federer’s U.S. Open match.

We both opted for burgers, which are made from an exceptionally flavorful combination of Angus beef and pork. The bacon pesto burger ($13) includes a fried green tomato and mozzarella in addition to a healthy portion of woven bacon.

The bun was barely strong enough to support such a rich burger, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A side of pickled vegetables was good too, but the flavor was so sharp I didn’t eat the entire dish.

Other tempting items on the dinner menu include pork belly sliders, shrimp & grits, a flank steak roulade and a vegetarian pesto pasta. All the dinner items – including appetizers, salads and entrees – are priced between $9 and $16. The lunch menu, which also starts around $9, includes a few more sandwiches.

The Ordinary Pub has a nice selection of beers on tap, including a number of local and regional options.

Downtown Savannah doesn’t have a large number of businesses in basements, but there are subterranean successes within a few blocks of The Ordinary Pub. Jazz’d Tapas Bar, Alligator Soul and The Bar Bar have been part of the downtown landscape for many years.

Of course, The Bar Bar is in the middle of City Market and has especially prominent entrances. Jazz’d is adjacent to Ellis Square and highly visible from the street. Alligator Soul is in a less visible spot, but the fine dining establishment has employed excellent marketing over the years.

So one challenge for The Ordinary Pub will be to lure patrons from areas with more nighttime foot traffic. And if the pub wants to capitalize on tourism, the business will need to lure visitors who are shopping on Broughton Street and staying in the hotels.

A casual, comfortable spot like The Ordinary Pub could develop into a hangout for locals, especially those who want to take a break from the hustle and bustle above ground.


The glacial pace of city government

I was doing a little background reading on Savannah’s proposed new alcohol ordinance, and I ran across a Savannah Morning News article – “Savannah looks to rewrite liquor laws” – written by Lesley Conn (remember her?) in January 2013.

Here comes the punchline. According to that article, city officials “hope to have revisions before City Council for approval in about two months.”

The two-month timetable was probably never reasonable, especially since city officials seem to have increased the reach of the ordinance rewrite. But did it really need to take 20 months before a first draft of the new ordinance was released to the public?

That draft needed major revision, but a year has passed since that initial release.

Booze is big business in Savannah, and dozens of establishments will be impacted by any changes, but we are approaching three years since city staff first announced that revisions were in progress.

As has been discussed often in this paper, we have seen major delays on other important initiatives, like the planned Cultural Arts Center and the sale of the city-owned shopping center on Waters Avenue.

Voters are rightly concerned about crime as local elections loom, but there are plenty of other issues on the table. I don’t know if we can expect any substantive movement on anti-crime initiatives when the city bureaucracy so often seems to move at such a glacial pace.

The city’s current effort to craft a food truck ordinance sounds easy in comparison to more complex initiatives, so it will be interesting to see if we will actually have an ordinance in place before the end of the year as officials have suggested.

I hope that the candidates – both challengers and incumbents – will try to get to the roots of the delays and dysfunction. Are the problems primarily attributable to personnel? Staffing? Funding? Communication? Lack of vision?

If we expect anything of substance to happen over the next four years, we need answers to those questions.


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: Marc by Marc Jacobs leaves Broughton

Mon, 09/07/2015 - 8:58pm

The Marc by Marc Jacobs store on Broughton Street closed recently.

I’ve learned over the years of writing this column that it’s difficult sometimes to know why businesses have closed.

But not in this case.

The Marc by Marc Jacobs line is being folded into the company’s main line, which is simply called Marc Jacobs.

That move was signaled in March, and Savannah never seemed a good candidate to get an upgrade to an even pricier Marc Jacobs store.

In fact, Savannah never seemed a good candidate for Marc by Marc Jacobs either.

After some other recent store closures, the Marc Jacobs website lists just 11 Marc by Marc stores remaining in the United States. The company has only 21 total stores in the U.S., with none in Georgia, South Carolina or North Carolina. There is one store in Florida.

Marc by Marc Jacobs certainly contributed to the city in its eight years, and I’m sorry to see them go.

The company turned a huge vacant space at Montgomery and Broughton streets into a showpiece overnight. The store held down that corner through the deep recession and slow recovery, and it’s entirely possible that the just-below-luxury line helped attract other retailers.

The company was also a major fundraiser for Chatham County’s planned skate park.

There have been reports in recent months that the ongoing streamlining of the Marc Jacobs corporate structure is in preparation for an IPO.

The announcement of Marc Jacobs leaving Savannah predictably produced all sorts of teeth-gnashing about the state of Broughton Street and the state of city government. Some local commenters on Facebook blamed Mayor Edna Jackson and city officials for the Broughton Street closure.

The public discourse over Broughton Street and over downtown development has degenerated during this election season.

Does it really make any sense to blame the city for major chains coming to Savannah one day and then to blame the city the next day for Marc Jacobs’ departure?


Hang Fire staying put, for now

In a recent column, I wrote about the expiration of Hang Fire’s lease at 37 Whitaker St. The small club has been involved in legal wrangling with a neighbor over sound issues for years, and all parties thought it best for Hang Fire to move.

At the last minute, Hang Fire’s lease was extended through the end of the year. The owners have announced that they will move to a new space in the same neighborhood in 2016.

As I write this, the bar’s current home on Whitaker is listed for lease for $4,000 per month.


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
  • Sales associate Micah Bunn bags some merchandise at the Marc Jacobs clothing store on Broughton Street.
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Is it time to talk traffic calming in downtown Savannah?

Sat, 09/05/2015 - 11:05pm

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a car with out-of-state plates was parked in front of a house on Whitaker Street a few blocks south of Anderson Street.

Oddly, that particular block doesn’t have a no parking sign. There is fresh yellow paint along the curb near the next cross street, but none in the middle of the block where the car was parked.

Yes, parking along the curb obstructed the right lane as it is currently marked, but there are other spots around town where on-street parking interferes with a travel lane. You’ll find a few spaces that fit that description on Jefferson just south of Jones Street.

In other words, if the driver was new to Savannah, there would have been no reason not to park on the street in front of the houses facing that stretch of Whitaker.

I stood on the next corner for a few minutes to see how drivers reacted to the parked car. There was so little traffic that most just slipped by with only a slight decrease in speed.

When I wandered by again a couple hours later, the car was still there. It still had not been ticketed.

If I had thought the parked car posed any hazard, I would have called the police, but there was plainly no threat. The car was within sight of the Whitaker Street Fire Station and just a few blocks from the Central Precinct, so public safety professionals likely saw the car and chose to do nothing.

That portion of Whitaker Street is nearly 30 feet wide. It has two lanes with no on-street parking. The Federal Highway Administration recommends 12-foot lanes for freeways. Think about that for a second.

What happens when you put drivers on a 30-foot wide road with two travel lanes? We all know the answer.

One afternoon a few weeks ago, a nasty three-vehicle wreck had closed Drayton Street near 34th Street. This was near rush hour, but the detour caused no delays. Like Whitaker, Drayton just doesn’t have that much traffic through much of the day.

It looked like the drivers escaped serious injury, but all three cars had to be towed. I chatted with a few neighbors about the crash, and they suggested the wrecks on Drayton Street would be less routine and less severe if drivers would just slow down.

But drivers aren’t going to obey that posted speed limit when they are in a 15-foot lane with a flat, straight road ahead.

In a recent column, I cited traffic calming as an important issue for residents of Savannah’s second district. Critically, the newly redrawn district now includes the full length of both Drayton and Whitaker streets, so maybe residents will be able to speak more forcefully about the damage those streets do to quality of life and to property values.

By the way, I’m not necessarily suggesting we should add on-street parking to Drayton and Whitaker streets, although we could do so and still have two travel lanes. There are lots of other options — both radical redesigns and minor alterations — that could be effective.

From the Federal Highway Administration guidelines for a “reduced-speed urban environment”:

“The design objective is often how to best distribute limited cross-sectional width to maximize safety for a wide variety of roadway users. Narrower lane widths may be chosen to manage or reduce speed and shorten crossing distances for pedestrians. Lane widths may be adjusted to incorporate other cross-sectional elements, such as medians for access control, bike lanes, on-street parking, transit stops and landscaping.”

So we can improve safety for both drivers and pedestrians, while also achieving other goals like beautification, increased parking and higher property values.

I know there are city of Savannah employees who have thought about some of these issues for years. Those of us who live near roads like Drayton and Whitaker — they really aren’t “streets” — have talked about these problems for many years, too. The concept of “road diets” has gotten traction across the United States.

But history tells us that many people will reflexively reject any change to the status quo, and our current city administration has a growing backlog of major projects.

If voters in the downtown area want to make traffic calming a priority, they need to make their voices heard between now and the November election.


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: BiSLead photo: Topic: City Talk

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 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: 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 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 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 (, 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 Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
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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 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 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 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 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, 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 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 Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
  • CITY TALK: Cotton & Rye opens at Habersham and 34th
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