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CITY TALK: Developments east, south of downtown worth attention

Regular readers of this newspaper are probably familiar with the major hotel developments in the works at the west end of River Street. If you haven’t walked down there in a while, you should take a look at the current state of the project.

You probably also know that development plans are in the works for the large Savannah River Landing tract at the east end of River Street.

But there are smaller developments that are changing the face of the greater downtown area.

One of the most interesting and promising projects is the rehabilitation of the historic Kehoe Iron Works at 660 E. Broughton St., adjacent to Trustees Garden.

According to the website for Lominack Kolman Smith Architects (https://www.lksarchitects.com/kehoe-iron-works), the oldest portion of the grand building dates to 1873. The future uses include “event space, a black box theater, and an outdoor plaza and amphitheater.”

There is also a major development in the works near the intersection of 38th and Bull streets. Two large properties near that intersection — a sprawling church complex and a city-owned police building — have been on the market.

The Foram Group, which has an impressive development portfolio, posted but then removed an ambitious mixed-use plan, which included residences, office space, restaurants and a large event and performance venue. That’s obviously a story that I’ll be following closely.

We are also seeing activity at other key properties along Bull Street south of Forsyth Park, even as the old Sears building — perhaps the most visible and most discussed property in the corridor — sits idle. If that structure and parking lot were listed for sale at a price the market could support, there is no doubt that investors would start making offers tomorrow.

I know there is a great deal of angst about downtown area development. Yes, neighbors should certainly be ready to scrutinize any plans that require zoning changes or variances, but it’s clear that there are some positive changes on the way.

Charleston’s lesson in connectivity

While downtown Savannah residents are making little headway with traffic calming, our neighbors in Charleston are about to embark in a major redesign that will dramatically improve quality of life on the peninsula.

Charleston’s elected leadership agreed several years ago to convert Spring and Cannon from one-way to two-way streets, but the conversion process has been delayed several times.

According to a recent article in the Charleston City Paper, the one-way to two-way conversion should be undertaken this summer. The change won’t reduce the number of vehicular lanes, but it should have several clear benefits.

Here’s a key paragraph from the weekly’s most recent coverage: “Planning Director Jacob Lindsey says the ultimate purpose of the conversion of the two routes that connect the Crosstown and Ashley River bridges to Upper King Street is to slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety in the surrounding residential neighborhoods. “

Lindsey also notes that the resulting improvement in connectivity will increase traffic safety: “In general, converting streets creates more routes of travel through the network and helps better distribute cars throughout the city.”

Two-way streets are also generally more attractive to residents and investors than one-way streets.

Lately it seems that whenever we debate traffic calming measures, the conversation devolves into bickering about bicycles.

In those arguments, we lose sight of the fact that improved connectivity can also benefit drivers tremendously.

Have you ever been stuck on Liberty Street, Oglethorpe Avenue or Broughton Street while trying but failing to drive out of downtown? Blame poor connectivity.

Across decades in the 20th century, Savannah disrupted the efficiency of the downtown street grid. We removed key blocks from east-west streets on the west side of the Historic District and converted important commuting routes to one-way.

In days of yore, a westbound driver on Broughton Street who wanted to go south could have turned on Jefferson Street, which is now interrupted because of the Civic Center, or on Montgomery Street, which is now one-way northbound.

How many times have you driven several blocks east or west out of your way just to find a decent route north or south?

As the downtown area experiences additional development, we are going to see increased concerns about traffic calming in the city’s older neighborhoods. In many cases, we can address those concerns while also providing better connectivity for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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