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CITY TALK: Entrepreneurs pushed boundaries in Savannah in 2014

As 2014 draws to a close and we reflect on the year, it’s worth noting that entrepreneurs are taking bigger risks than at any time since the recession.

Some of those entrepreneurs are bringing new business models to the Savannah market or are pushing existing boundaries in meaningful ways.

Consider developer Ben Carter’s efforts on Broughton Street, which were covered extensively by this newspaper in 2014.

Carter certainly isn’t the first businessperson to buy multiple properties or to try to lure higher-end national retailers to Broughton, and his ambitions pale beside those of the Savannah River Landing developers in the years before the recession.

But Carter’s attempts to remake the Broughton landscape don’t have any clear precedent. It’s a big gamble.

Carter isn’t the only one testing limits.

Savannah as a “beer town”

Moon River Brewing Company unveiled a new beer garden in spring 2013, Southbound Brewing Company opened on Lathrop Avenue in fall 2013 and Service Brewing opened on Indian Street in fall 2014.

Coastal Empire Beer Co. on Ross Road is poised for the grand opening of its tasting room.

Savannah would seem to have many characteristics that would encourage other entrepreneurs to open breweries and brew pubs, but we need a more supportive local ordinance and desperately need an overhaul of state law.

According to Citizens for GA Beer Jobs website, Georgia is “one of only 5 states left where a brewery cannot sell beer to directly to consumers” and “ranks 47th out of 50 states in terms of breweries per capita.”

If Georgia state law is brought into line with laws in neighboring states, we could really see the local craft beer industry take off. Go to http://gabeerjobs.com to sign the petition.

 

High demand for college student housing

One West Victory and The Hue opened in recent months. Both large apartment complexes are being marketed to college students, primarily SCAD attendees.

One West Victory is at the southeast corner of Barnard Street and Victory Drive. The Hue is on West Bay Street next to the bridge.

In 2013, we saw the opening of the Avenues on 61st, a townhouse development also marketed to area college students.

These developments have boosted population density and have sparked economic activity on lots that had been vacant or under utilized.

How many more such student-oriented apartment complexes can Savannah support?

As regular readers know, I’m an advocate of more apartment buildings in the downtown area, but I’d like to see them

marketed more broadly to older and year-round residents.

A new wave of restaurateurs?

Hugh Acheson’s The Florence is part of the One West Victory development. The “celebrity chef” also has highly-regarded restaurants in Athens and Atlanta, so his Savannah venture has attracted considerable attention from around the state and around the country.

The Grey will open soon in the old Greyhound bus terminal on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Owner John Morisano has lived in Savannah for several years, so he’s not exactly a newcomer, and Chef Mashama Bailey has local roots.

But Morisano’s and Bailey’s backgrounds have already helped the new venture attract important press, including a short piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Chef Bailey most recently worked at the acclaimed Prune in New York City.

According to its website, 39 Rue de Jean will open on West Oglethorpe Avenue in early spring 2015. It’s the sister to a restaurant of the same name in Charleston. Both spots are part of the Holy City Hospitality group.

The restaurant business is fickle and Savannah is a relatively small market, but if ventures like these are successful, more restaurateurs and chefs from around the country will consider an expansion into the Savannah market.

 

Pushing the physical boundaries

Ben Carter’s Broughton Street efforts are obviously in the heart of the Historic District, but all the other developments mentioned above are on the edges of it.

The Grey’s space was first used as a restaurant well over a decade ago, but the other sites have historically had much less intensive uses than they have now.

Breweries, apartment buildings, even restaurants – these types of businesses need space, sometimes much more space and sometimes considerably less expensive space than can be found in the Historic District.

These aren’t the only new types of businesses that are breaking new ground. For example, I hope to be writing soon about a recent surge in collaborative studio spaces for artists.

Fortunately, as I’ve noted here before, Savannah still has a lot of available land close to the traditional borders of downtown. If the local economy continues growing at its current pace, we could see some exciting developments in 2015 and beyond.

 

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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