Summer doesn’t officially begin for a few weeks, but Savannah’s summer break has begun.
A decade or so ago, the ending of the Savannah College of Art and Design’s spring quarter was like the flipping of a light switch for the downtown area. Everything would be busy one week, and then the city would be much quieter the next.
We don’t see the same sort of dramatic summer slowdown these days. The SCAD student renters are dispersed over a broader area, so their exodus isn’t as noticeable as it once was. Tourism activity would also slow as the summer heat took hold, but we now have more tourists year-round.
Back in the day, everything in the downtown area — including business openings, land development and governmental actions — happened more slowly with the advent of June. Now, not so much. With so much going on, here are some trends worth watching over the summer.
New investment, business openings south of Forsyth
If you follow the business trends in Savannah, you already know that we are seeing a surge of investment south of park.
The law firm Bouhan Falligant recently moved to its new digs on Park Avenue — more on that soon — and several businesses are poised to open in the coming months in the Bull Street corridor between Forsyth Park and Victory Drive.
We are also seeing heightened interest from developers and investors in the Barnard and Montgomery street corridors north of Victory Drive.
As I have argued routinely over the years, the large underutilized properties and convenient location make the neighborhood ripe for development.
An important summer for tourism management
We might get some big news this summer about the future of tourism in Savannah.
We are likely to see new zoning guidelines for the development of large hotels in the downtown area and we should see new rules for future short-term vacation rentals, or STVR.
The new policies could ultimately address three key areas of concern: the degradation of the residential character of downtown neighborhoods, the privileged position given to hotels in our existing development rules and the sense that we have collectively been prioritizing tourists over residents.
Or, alternately, the proposed fixes might prove too timid to have any significant impact on those concerns.
Community members noted tourism management as a major issue during the recent meetings for Savannah Forward, an ambitious new initiative recently launched by city officials, so we might see additional proposals for hotels and STVRs.
I hope readers understand, however, that tourists are likely to keep coming in larger and larger numbers, no matter what. Savannah is an alluring destination for a multitude of reasons, and we should expect — and welcome — more visitors from around the world.
Will crime trends continue to improve?
As of May 27, there had been 17 homicides and 97 street robberies in the total jurisdiction of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department. We had 25 homicides and 143 street robberies at this point in 2016.
The latest crime tallies do not show year-over-year improvements across the board, but the numbers give plenty of room for optimism.
For example, the number of citizen-initiated calls for police has declined by four percent in 2017 compared to a year ago, and the number of calls for shots fired has declined even more sharply.
Savannah has a very high crime rate given its population, and that fact isn’t going to change any time soon. However, we might be seeing the crime rate return to long-term averages, and maybe we are even seeing the early stages of a sustained decline.
Can council stay on track?
Will important city initiatives get derailed by the recent controversies involving Alderman Tony Thomas?
I suspect that City Manager Rob Hernandez, Mayor Eddie DeLoach and other officials can focus the agenda appropriately, but there will surely be more political brouhahas ahead. Those tensions, especially if combined with premature political posturing for the 2019 city elections, could spawn all sorts of trouble.
Hold on to your hats. It could be a stormy summer.
City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.