Updated: Mon, 01/28/2013 - 08:21

Savannah Coffee Roasters to open cafe downtown

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Lori Collins, owner of Savannah Coffee Roasters, overlooks the warehouse at 217 West Liberty Street where she plans to open a coffee shop and roasting facility.   Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News
Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News
Lori Collins, owner of Savannah Coffee Roasters, overlooks the warehouse at 217 West Liberty Street where she plans to open a coffee shop and roasting facility.

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Savannah Coffee Roasters' promised return to the local café scene is nearing fulfillment.

Company CEO Lori Collins is purchasing the former Huskey Auto Parts store and warehouse on Liberty Street. Renovations on the 8,500-square-foot space will begin in coming weeks.

Collins has targeted a spring opening for a café, retail store and coffee roasting facility.

“This is what I wanted all along,” said Collins, who purchased the business from its founder, Hayden Banks, in December 2011. “People love our coffee once they taste it. We need to be able to brew on site.”

Collins has been operating Savannah Coffee Roasters as a wholesale business, operating out of a small roasting plant off Islands Expressway. Yet many of her customers remember the company’s two retail locations — one on Congress Street downtown and the other in Oglethorpe Mall — that Banks closed a decade ago.

Collins announced her intentions to reopen a storefront last summer. She eyed several locations, including one on East Bay Street, before settling on the Liberty Street building, which has been vacant since 2006. The site, located across Liberty from the Savannah Civic Center parking lot, is highly visible and includes parking for 14 cars.

She envisions attracting business from neighborhood residents, tourists and Savannah College of Art and Design students. The store is within sight of SCAD’s Oglethorpe House residence hall.

Transforming the former auto parts warehouse will require a “significant investment,” even as Collins plans few renovations beyond replacing the roof, installing central air conditioning and performing cosmetic improvements. She likes the space’s warehouse-like feel, complete with concrete floors, and the skylights that provide natural lighting in a part of the building that will house a dining area.

Collins is a chef and will bake breads and pastries and also offer a light lunch.

Savannah Coffee Roasters won’t be the only business in the building. Collins plans to lease 3,500 square feet to a “compatible business” and has been in contact with potential tenants.

The two businesses and a new apartment complex planned for a neighboring parcel will revitalize what local commercial real estate agent Jim Bryant deemed a “blighted” pocket of the historic district.

“That building has been sitting empty for too long,” said Bryant, who’s with Sperry Van Ness, the listing agent for the property. “We’ve had many things planned for there and haven’t been able to get them done. This will be good for that neighborhood.”

The building was once scheduled for demolition to make way for a five-story condominium complex, but the economic downturn led the developer to scrap those plans. The property owners also bid the site for the U.S. Attorney’s office but failed to secure a necessary height variance from the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission. The U.S. Attorneys ultimately ended up in the new Cay Building on Ellis Square.

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