At a Savannah City Council workshop session last month, Mayor Eddie DeLoach objected to the design for the new Central Precinct, which is planned for the east side of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard near 33rd and 34th streets.
The large site has been sitting empty for over two years. In 2015, the city demolished 18 cottages, most of which were duplexes, that made up part of historic Meldrim Row, which was developed in the late 19th century as housing for African American workers and was rehabilitated in the late 20th century as affordable rentals.
Fortunately, Meldrim Row still exists on the west side of MLK, but that fact doesn’t temper the loss of so much history in a city with a reputation for protecting history.
As I noted repeatedly in columns in 2014 and 2015, the immediate neighborhood around Meldrim Row is dotted with vacant, underutilized properties that few would consider historic. There are obviously other sites that could house a new police station.
I was glad to see Mayor DeLoach object to the latest design, which he likened to a prison. Let’s hope city officials do their best to lessen the negative impacts of the building, but we’re probably going to wind up with forbidding frontages facing both MLK and Montgomery Street.
We are also almost certain to end up with a large, unsightly and mostly empty parking lot. The current Central Precinct, which is only five blocks away, has a much smaller parking lot, but officers routinely use adjacent church parking that sits empty most of the week.
Once the new precinct is completed, neighbors will quickly realize that the building will be locked and and quiet most of the day and night. That’s as it should be – we want officers out in the community as much as possible – but city officials convinced many folks that choosing this site would transform the neighborhood.
Of course, the neighborhood is transforming – rapidly – but the changes have nothing to do with the dormant Meldrim Row site. As the economic recovery continues, investors are flooding into the Metropolitan Neighborhood, which has been experiencing rapid demographic change for over 20 years.
City Manager Rob Hernandez, Mayor DeLoach and several aldermen had no hand in any of the bad decisions of the previous administration, but maybe, at minimum, they find a design and site plan that minimize the negative impacts.
Or maybe they’ll make a bolder move. This particular site has awesome potential, especially for mixed-use development with affordable housing.
City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via email@example.com. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.