Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., formerly known as West Broad Street, was once the economic and cultural heart of the African American community in Savannah. Those who grew up here might remember that West Broad Street was home to more than 100 black-owned businesses, including a number of thriving restaurants.
West Broad Street was home to Union Station, a unique Spanish Renaissance style structure containing an octagonal rotunda and two towers. Many visitors disembarked trains onto West Broad Street, bringing plentiful business to restaurants, stores and two theaters. It was a gateway to Savannah.
Union Station was demolished in 1963 to make way for the I-16 exit ramp and flyover, creating a huge blemish in the historic pattern. Those stores, theaters and restaurants are all gone, too. In fact, the flyover removed about 650 feet of storefront display along MLK. It’s pretty safe to say we made a mistake, and it’s long past time to correct it.
Fortunately, the future is bright for MLK and Savannah’s west side. New businesses are opening on a regular basis. More residences are in planning or under construction. Foot traffic is noticeably up along the whole corridor. And planning is underway for the Canal District — a bold long-term vision for extending the success of downtown Savannah beyond the current perceived boundaries.
As many business owners take notice of the real estate and possibilities available along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and Montgomery Street, they’re finding a unique opportunity to invest in what is poised to again become one of the commercial hearts of the city.
But reclaiming the city’s historic street grid and removing the I-16 ramp can’t be forgotten. According to the Metropolitan Planning Commission, the benefits of the exit ramp removal will be significant.
A few of the highlights include: reclaiming eight acres of developable land, 650 linear feet fronting MLK and 350 linear feet fronting Montgomery; reclaiming MLK as a major economic mixed-use corridor, returning it to its natural role as a gateway to the city and establishing better connections between downtown, West Savannah and the Canal District.
Rarely will a transportation project have such a direct and measurable positive impact to the city’s bottom line.
It’s great to see that the whole Savannah community is beginning to realize the importance and the possibilities of this corridor. The future is only limited by our own imaginations. We at Savannah Development and Renewal Authority look forward to helping to lead the way forward.
Kevin Klinkenberg is the executive director of the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority. Email Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with SDRA on Facebook: facebook.com/savannahdevelopment.