Broughton Street and the transformation of 16 buildings along the historic corridor by Atlanta developer Ben Carter and his team received statewide recognition last month by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.
Carter’s team along with Savannah-based DPR Construction, Hansen Architects and Tharpe Engineering Group were presented with the Excellence in Preservation Award during the 40th annual Preservation Award Ceremony last month in Gainesville, Ga.
The restoration and preservation, which has been ongoing since 2014, included the removal of mid-century added concrete and stucco facade uncovering the original architecture and other original features dating back to the mid- to late 1800s. Many portions of the buildings had been vacant for decades.
“While this was an all-encompassing street redevelopment project, specific attention to each building and its detail had to be made in order to maintain the living character of Broughton Street,” Patrick Phelps, Senior Principal and Project Architect at Hansen Architects, said in a joint press this week.
“While there are certainly challenges to preserving historic buildings correctly, the end result is well worth it, as evidenced by the demand for businesses and residents to return to Broughton Street in such short time.”
Echoing Phelps’ sentiments, Seth Cannon, project manager with DPR said that while each building brought its own unique challenges, his team was fortunate to uncover long forgotten pieces of Broughton Street such as original heart pine floors and old ship ballasts.
“It was great to be able to work with the design team and the Ben Carter team to salvage and repurpose these materials. It gave the project authenticity and added to the historic character of downtown Savannah,” Cannon said.
The recent award joins a local 2016 Preservation Award from the Historic Savannah Foundation and now the team is focusing on the national level having applied for an award from the National Trust, which will announce winners later this year.
The Broughton Street project, which Carter first introduced in early 2014 with two buildings and a projected investment of $75 million, has grown to 36 buildings encompassing about nearly 190,000 square-feet and a ticket price of about $90 million.
“I also have a conservation background, so to do development and conserving at the same time has always been my goal and this project has been the perfect opportunity for that,” Quito Anderson, CEO of Ben Carter Enterprises, told the Savannah Morning News earlier this week.
According to Anderson, the retail aspect of the project is about 95 percent leased and the 52 apartments are fully leased with a waiting list and the team is working on a deal that would take up about half of the available office space.
“We’re stepping out of the construction phase and stepping up into the final leasing and implementation of the final project. We felt that the Christmas celebration we hosted was a good grand opening for us, we do still have a few spaces to do, but otherwise we’re done with it,” he said.
Retail tenants along the street make up about 126,000-square-feet and have been a mixture of national, regional and local retailers including, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, Dress Up boutique and Dancing Dogs Yoga. The newest addition, Massachusetts-based clothing retailer Vineyard Vines will open in mid-May.
“They’ve made a tremendous investment in that space,” he said of 301 W. Broughton St. The space previously housed Loco’s Grill and Pub, but is now lined with antique heart pine floors, white shiplap paneling and both old and new photos and scenes from around Savannah.
Other openings on the horizon include a bar/lounge below Victoria’s Secret and an antique market below J. Crew and possibly a restaurant, although Anderson couldn’t provide any more details.
“That will pretty much make us 100 percent leased,” he said.
The longtime vacancies have posed the biggest challenges to crews working on the spaces.
“A lot of these buildings went neglected for 60 years and I’m grateful that they didn’t tear them down, but when you start pulling away the walls you never know what you’re going to find,” Anderson said.
“And that was the hardest thing financially and physically.”
Another challenge the team faced was convincing traditional retailers to change their way of thinking and set up shop in a space that wasn’t built specially for them, Anderson said.
Visitors to Victoria’s Secret will notice JCPenney logo in their entryway while Vineyard Vines is embracing a decades old Havertys logo. While not their traditional designs, retailers have embraced the historical elements like old advertising, exposed brick and high ceiling giving their spaces a unique look and feel.
The completion of Broughton Street comes at a time when many brick and mortar retail stores across the county are experiencing turmoil as consumers turn to online retailers like Amazon for convenience and competitive pricing, but
“This is a fulfillment of what Ben and I saw happening about four or five years ago. This is not a hard time for retail, it’s a transition. Retail is always a cycle and we’ve seen this cycle and you can see the evidence of that cycle on Broughton Street with these magnificent buildings,” he said.
“They were built in the late 1880s, early 1900s to hold some of the largest retailers in the country. This was the mall of the 1990s and then you saw the exodus out to the suburbs and new malls and now you’re just seeing the completion of that cycle. People are coming back to it.”
And being in a city location that lures more than 13 million visitors each year also doesn’t hurt, either.
“If you look at these historical photos, the streets were filled with people. Then they had a period where it wasn’t as much, but now we’re coming back to that. You can’t reproduce these buildings and in so many cities they’ve been torn down,” he said.
“So to get a collection of this size with this much historical infrastructure, you can’t find that everywhere and then add 13.5 tourists on top of that.”
Earlier this year, Carter listed the Broughton Street properties for sale with commercial real estate company CBRE in order to restructure, which is often done to reduce a company’s debt and equity and make its capital more stable through investments and partnerships.
During an interview with the Savannah Morning News in February, Carter said the goal wasn’t to sell, but to recapitalize and remain a long-term owner and citizen of Savannah through the company’s investments on Broughton Street. The properties will remain affiliated with Ben Carter Enterprises.
“We’re still working through that process,” Anderson said, adding that interest in the project had been growing.
“… We’re not leaving town. We’re here, we’ve clearly made an investment in the city and we fell in love with Savannah. We fell in love with these buildings and that’s why we care so much about them and the way we’re restoring them and the way we’re looking to recapitalize on this project.”
Anderson said the restoration and revitalization along Broughton Street creates a snowball effect for improvements in other areas of downtown and that along with city support and incentives for businesses creates a vibrant and stable downtown community.
“(Businesses) identified the opportunities in the tax incentives and that’s why they decide to locate in towns like Savannah. If you don’t have a thriving downtown area it’s hard to get those big jobs and those big employers,” he said.
“… There’s been nothing more rewarding than this whole project. I could build 20 shopping centers in a green field and not get the satisfaction of this one project in downtown and seeing these beautiful grand dames restored.”