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CITY TALK: Plant Riverside redevelopment still an exciting prospect

Last week’s debate over the city of Savannah’s bond issuance to fund the construction of a parking garage for the massive Plant Riverside hotel development raised many difficult questions about the limits of public/private collaboration.

If all goes according to plan, local taxpayers will come out ahead. Developer Richard Kessler and his team will pay off the bond debt, and we’ll end up with approximately 240 parking spaces for public use in the new garage.

Still, the bond deal raises thorny questions — some of which were posed in an editorial in this newspaper — about the role of city government in picking “winners” in the local economy.

As we continue to debate this agreement and others like it in the future, we should also remember the unique nature of the Plant Riverside project.

If you’ve been to River Street in the last 20 years, you’ve probably seen the decommissioned power plant and the vast swath of land that it occupies.

From the beginning, the redevelopment project has relied on public support.

For example, we are extending our famed Riverwalk several blocks westward. Right now, the path along the river comes to an abrupt and ugly end just west of the downtown Hyatt.

I’ve written occasionally over the years about the difficult business climate on West River Street, and the extension of the Riverwalk seems a logical and necessary step to unlock the economic potential of that extreme northwest corner of the Landmark Historic District.

We will also be improving pedestrian pathways from Bay Street to River Street, most notably with a staircase in the Montgomery Street corridor. Right now, you’ll just find a well-worn dirt path.

Remember how people immediately started using the new Ellis Square when it was unveiled in 2010? We’ll see the same kind of immediate use when these new connections are finished. Folks will suddenly be walking the full length of River Street and will have an easier route to get to the City Market area.

These improvements will eventually necessitate other investments in public spaces.

For example, as we see more foot traffic on the northern blocks of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, we will need, for safety’s sake, significant upgrades to the pedestrian crossings at Bay Street and Broughton Street. We will probably need new crosswalks at other intersections too, possibly Congress Street.

Yes, these are big investments, but they’ll almost certainly pay off in increased economic activity, new options for visitors and quality of life for residents.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via . Send mail to 10 E. 32 St., Savannah, GA 31401.

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