The former Coastal Empire Fair site may be transitioning from funnel cakes to films.
A state lawmaker is trying to convince city officials to sell his private investment group about 15 acres of the 67-acre site along Meding Street to develop as a production complex for movies and television.
Rep. Craig Gordon, D-Savannah, has secured $2.5 million in private funding for the project that includes renovating existing buildings — including a hangar that could be quickly converted into a production stage — and the construction of on-site housing for production crews, said the legislator’s attorney, Charles Bowen.
Gordon was in legislative session Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
As Savannah’s popularity as a filming destination grows, the complex would help the city meet the increased demand for adequate facilities while providing on-site job training and employment opportunities in collaboration with Savannah Tech and Savannah State University, Bowen said.
“The response from production companies I have talked to has been wildly enthusiastic,” he said.
The district’s alderman, Estella Shabazz, is also a fan.
Shabazz said she believes the project would be beneficial to the area and her support is boosted by Gordon’s involvement, noting the lawmaker would be investing in a community where he grew up and still lives. But before the Savannah City Council takes any action, the plan will be presented to residents of the neighborhoods that surround the site to get their input, Shabazz said.
“I think they are going to like it, but it definitely has to come with approval first from the community,” she said.
The council approved the $2.9 million fairgrounds purchase last August after community leaders cited a need for more recreation options for Savannah’s youth and implored the mayor and aldermen to buy the property to control what goes there.
Feiler Park Neighborhood Association President Betty Jones said on Tuesday she was unaware of Gordon’s plan, but the lawmaker had contacted her about meeting with the community to discuss the site. Jones said she is not sure yet whether the community will support the idea, but she does know that area residents remain committed to having the city provide more recreational opportunities for young people.
“Mostly we are pushing for something for the children,” she said.
Shabazz said there would still be opportunities for recreational development since the film studio would only require a portion of the site.
When the City Council was considering the purchase last summer, staff said the city’s nonprofit development partner, the Community Housing Services Agency, was planning on purchasing 16 acres of the site for $1.5 million, although the infrastructure for a potential housing development was projected to cost the city another $5.65 million. After the council approved the purchase, city staffers issued a report that estimated more than 16 acres of the site could be developed to accommodate 90 to 190 dwellings — depending on the type of housing called for in the final development plan.
But area residents have expressed concerns about affordable and multi-unit housing being built at the fairgrounds site, and Shabazz has also said she is opposed to the idea.
Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach said Tuesday he supports the construction of single-family housing on the site for middle-class workers, but that the city has not drafted any specific plan for the property. He is open to Gordon’s proposal, but wants to hear from residents before offering his support, he said.