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City Talk: It pays to be patient with Savannah River Landing

As regular readers of this newspaper know, the sale of the 57-acre Savannah River Landing site closed last month. The price was almost exactly $30 million.

The new owner is an LLC comprised of Atlanta-based Regent Partners and Mariner Group, which developed the Mariner Grove Apartments on East President Street.

According to recent reporting by Katie Nussbaum, phase one of construction will include a public parking garage, a hotel, 300 multi-family units with dedicated parking and new public spaces.

There have been many misconceptions about the Savannah River Landing site over the years, so it’s worth adding the city of Savannah never owned the property and certainly wasn’t responsible for the failed plans of previous developers. City officials have, however, spent a lot of time and money to make sure development eventually happens.

The upfront public investments will eventually pay off in increased economic activity and property tax revenue.

But what if we have another recession?

Of course we will have another recession. If you look at the average length of economic expansions since World War II, you will find the U.S. economy is already overdue for a recession.

Barring something bizarre, however, the next downturn won’t be like the 2007-2009 recession.

Long before the first developer’s plans for Savannah River Landing collapsed, the local and national economies were showing clear signs of strain. I wrote extensively about the problems in the local housing market, which had been out of whack for many months, even as speculation continued.

Home prices lost their fundamental relationship to prevailing rents, and construction permits lost their fundamental relationship to population growth and area wages.

Consider all the major residential developments besides Savannah River Landing that were supposed to have been built by now, from Hutchinson Island to New Hampstead.

Area population growth was never going to be fast enough to sustain the kind of growth that both private developers and public officials envisioned.

Yes, some of those planned neighborhoods still face dim futures, but Savannah River Landing is a logical extension of East River Street. The location will inevitably attract strong interest from the hotel industry, so let’s hope the developers aren’t tempted to scale back the residential investment.

The current vision for Savannah River Landing is projected to cost $500 million and take eight years to complete. Given the scale of the project, the difficulty of getting things done in Savannah and the likelihood of another recession in the next few years, I don’t know if that timetable will hold.

But we can wait. A major downtown expansion like Savannah River Landing isn’t going to happen overnight and it shouldn’t happen overnight.

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

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