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City Talk: Deadline approaches for survey about Confederate memorial

The ongoing debate about the future of Savannah’s Confederate memorial in Forsyth Park will enter a new phase next week.

Member of the public have only until 5 p.m. on Nov. 13 to respond to a survey at http://www.savannahga.gov/confederatememorial. (The URL redirects to SurveyMonkey.) All of the responses will presumably be considered by the Confederate Memorial Task Force, which will eventually make recommendations to city leaders about possible changes to the site in Forsyth.

Two images of the memorial are included with the simple survey. A photo of the original 1875 monument shows the ornate statues of “Silence” and “Judgment” that were removed in 1879.

A second photo shows the memorial today, with the statue of an unnamed soldier on top. The modern image does not include the busts of Confederate officers Francis Stebbins Bartow and LaFayette McLaws, which were added to the site in 1910 after being removed from Chippewa Square.

The online survey asks respondents about their identities and addresses, and then asks whether the monument should be left unchanged, relocated, modified or reinterpreted through additional signage.

I walk through Forsyth Park often, and I’ve made a point in recent months of watching how visitors interact with the monument.

Regular users of the park breeze past the Confederate memorial, but tourists and other Forsyth newcomers frequently pause whether they are walking from either the north or the south. Many of those visitors immediately begin reading the rather lengthy text that accompanies the busts of McLaws and Bartow.

The original memorial does not elevate any personalities above others, but those busts of individual officers undercut the original intent of the Ladies Memorial Association, the group responsible for adding the memorial to Savannah’s civic landscape.

With so much competing visual stimuli – the towering oaks, the active playing fields, the grand buildings in the distance – visitors rarely look as closely at the central memorial as one might expect. If the busts were relocated to another site, the original monument with its mournful tone would have more visual weight, for better or for worse.

Given the patterns I’ve observed repeatedly, it seems clear that a significant number of Forsyth first-timers would read any text that we decide to add to the site.

For what it’s worth, I would recommend the relocation of the busts that were not originally intended for the memorial, the retention of the original monument and the addition of straightforward information, including the history of the memorial, the number of wartime casualties and the number of enslaved persons in the city who were eventually liberated.

But I’m not wedded to those ideas and am anxious to read the survey results and hear additional community voices.

Grocery closing in Thomas Square

According to the sign on the door, the Save-A-Lot at Bull and 40th streets will be closing permanently on Nov. 22, the day before Thanksgiving.

When the store opened in 2012, the building had been sitting empty for a number of years. Longtime residents will remember the site as home to David’s Supermarket.

Low-income area residents were the obvious targets of Save-A-Lot’s business model, and the store has held little appeal for the more prosperous newcomers to the rapidly changing Thomas Square neighborhood. The downtown Kroger has diversified its products to appeal to the shifting consumer base, but the Save-A-Lot chain is built on a discount pricing model.

In addition to the building itself, Save-A-Lot also has a sizable parking lot that takes up most of the block on the north side of 40th Street between Bull and Drayton streets.

I don’t yet know what will become of the space, but the grocery store’s departure creates an exciting development opportunity in one of Savannah’s most attractive corridors for investors. The site could in theory attract a specialty grocer, but that seems unlikely given the exciting array of possibilities.

At the same time, we should recognize that Save-A-Lot’s departure will hurt some lower income area residents, especially those who do not have reliable transportation.

As I argued recently in a column about residential development in the Montgomery Street corridor, we are seeing lower income residents being steadily squeezed out of areas where they have lived for decades. Businesses that cater to those residents are also being impacted, and we need to act soon if we want to retain the mixed-income character of the Thomas Square neighborhood.

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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