The tussle over the future of River Street’s east end has been joined. North Point Hospitality brought its plans to develop an eight-building hotel/retail complex on the former Georgia Power headquarters property before the Savannah Historic Board of Review on Wednesday. The nearly three-hour review – the first of at least four the project will face prior to construction – ended with North Point requesting a continuance to a later meeting. The hotel/retail complex was introduced earlier this year when North Point petitioned for a change to the Historic District height map to accommodate a multi-story hotel on the waterfront. Savannah City Council granted North Point’s request despite heavy public opposition. The Historic Review Board was among those opposed to the height map change. The project’s architect, Pat Shay with Gunn Meyerhoff Shay, worked to smooth any raw feelings during his presentation to the board. “We have a commitment to create a place that is every bit a part of Savannah as River Street and Rousakis Plaza,” Shay said. “We are deeply committed to creating another amazing place in Savannah along the riverfront and want to work with you to get as good a place as we possibly can. We want to get it exactly right.” Differences about the project emerged shortly after Shay extended his olive branch. The complex will alter the vista of the waterfront, with four two-story retail buildings and a multi-tiered hotel to be built on what is currently greenspace and a surface parking lot along the riverwalk. The buildings will obstruct views of the river from River Street and the hotel, built on the east end of the site, would essentially wall off the vista looking east, contended Metropolitan Planning Commission staffers, Historic Review Board members and public citizens. “Those five buildings will change the whole character of River Street,” board member Reed Engle said. Shay bristled at many of the suggested changes to the development along the waterfront. He went so far as to hint that if the board demanded a greater setback from the riverwalk for the waterfront hotel he would petition to make the hotel taller to recoup the lost square footage, which he said is equal to 20 riverview rooms. The hotel could be built one story taller provided North Point agrees to make above-and-beyond allowances in design or construction, such as using highest-quality materials for the façade. “To subtract from one place I have to figure out a way to recover or recoup something in return,” Shay said. Shay also subtly threatened to turn the four small retail buildings along the waterfront into two larger buildings or one gigantic building should the board follow a recommendation to remove pedestrian bridges designed to connect the upper floors of the retail buildings. Several members of the public expressed detailed concerns about the project. Daniel Carey, CEO of the Historic Savannah Foundation, summed up the general feeling by telling the board, “We’re talking about the cradle of Savannah here. This is an immensely important site.” The board discussed the height and mass of the buildings at length prior to the continuance request, offering North Point and Shay guidance going forward. The discussion covered the entire complex, including the three buildings not located along the waterfront. Plans call for the construction of a parking garage along General McIntosh Boulevard and a second hotel located south of River Street. The existing office building that formerly housed the Georgia Power headquarters will also be utilized in the project. Shay called the review a “real crossroads moment” for the project. He pledged to return in January with an updated petition.
In Case You Missed It