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City Talk: Trends to watch in Savannah in 2018

  • Bill Dawers

In last Sunday’s column, I wrote about some of the major developments of 2017. So today let’s consider a few trends worth watching in 2018.

This newspaper will obviously be covering many stories in the new year, and many of those articles will be in response to sudden, unexpected events, but you will likely be reading more about the trends I’ve decided to include here:

Ongoing changes in neighborhoods near Historic District

A number of recent City Talk columns have detailed the surging investment in areas that were long neglected. That new attention has generally brought about positive changes in neighborhoods like Thomas Square south of Forsyth Park.

But 2018 looks to be a pivotal year that could determine the new character of the Bull Street and Montgomery Street corridors from Anderson Street to Victory Drive. We might also see more rapid investment in other areas near the downtown core.

We don’t need to discourage investment, but we need to make smart decisions rather than just say “yes” to every plan that requires zoning variances and changes.

The Husk effect

Chef Sean Brock is one of the most important figures in the Southern food revival. Brock won the James Beard Award for the Best Chef in the Southeast in 2010 for his work at McCrady’s in Charleston.

In that same year, he opened the fabulous Husk on Queen Street in Charleston, which puts the farmers and other food suppliers front and center. Brock and the Neighborhood Dining Group opened a Husk in Nashville in 2013 and another in Greenville, S.C., just last month.

Savannah’s Husk will be located in an allegedly haunted historic building at 12 W. Oglethorpe Ave. Just four years ago, an article in this newspaper noted community concerns over the state of the structure, which burned almost a decade ago.

That formerly blighted building will soon hold a restaurant that will attract national attention for Savannah’s maturing restaurant scene and for suppliers of traditional foods along the Georgia coast.

The opening of Husk in Savannah will certainly boost culinary tourism, but I suspect the restaurant’s presence will have even broader effects on the city’s culture and identity.

Crime, governance

The Savannah-Chatham County Police Department is demerging. Residents of Skidaway Island might be on the path toward a vote for incorporation, and residents of Oatland, Talahi, Whitemarsh and Wilmington islands are also studying the possibility of incorporation.

Ironically, a couple of years ago, many Savannahians assumed that we were headed down a path toward the consolidation of city and county governments, but now we are going in the opposite direction.

We currently have eight cities and towns in a county with a population of less than 300,000, so why not 10? Heck, why don’t we make it an even dozen?

I’ll confess to being baffled by the fractured system of local governance, and I don’t have any predictions about how the current issues will play out.

But it will be interesting to see if the impulse to divide rather than unite dominates local political discourse in 2018.

It’s the economy, stupid

A decade ago, I was warning of an impending economic decline due to the inevitability of the bursting of the local housing bubble, but I don’t see any major warning signs for the Savannah area economy as 2017 comes to an end.

The local population and payroll employment are both growing steadily, and Savannah seems poised for continued growth for a variety of reasons.

But we are ultimately at the mercy of the national economy, which could fall into a cyclical recession in the next year or so. Given the local reliance on sectors like trade and tourism, an unexpected economic contraction could hit some Savannah households hard.

If I had to bet, however, I’d wager that the U.S. economy will continue to expand through 2018 and that Savannah will see a surge of new investment and construction in the new year.

‘There’s no parking downtown’

In 2018, the city of Savannah will increase hourly rates and extend the times of parking meter enforcement in portions of the Historic District.

We needed to make changes to parking policies in the busiest portions of downtown, but the areas where parking will become more expensive include many blocks that routinely have quite low demand.

I hope I’m wrong that the new policies will hurt some small businesses, especially those north of Liberty Street, and I hope I’m wrong that the new policies will make even more Savannahians cynical about the future of our storied Historic District, which seems increasingly unwelcoming to many area residents.

We should have a better sense of the impacts of the policies by the end of 2018.

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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