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City Talk

City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday - Email me. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

CITY TALK: Where can you find downtown parking?

Before a big downtown gathering recently, would-be attendees peppered the Facebook event page with questions about where to find parking. I’ve often said in this column that downtown parking is generally easy to find, although it may not be exactly where you want it. Many of my readers apparently don’t trust my take on that.

CITY TALK: Population boom fuels local employment growth

Six Georgia counties now account for about two-thirds of population growth in the state, according to research by University of Georgia demographer Matt Hauer that was reported in this newspaper last week.

Five of those six counties are in the Atlanta metro area. Chatham County is the other. That’s an interesting and not especially surprising data point given the steady strength of the local job and real estate markets.

CITY TALK: New office to anchor south end of Forsyth

In 2013, I wrote about a planned development that would have transformed the south end of Forsyth Park. At the time, the large lot at the southwest corner of Bull Street and Park Avenue was slated for a mix of residential and commercial uses.

This rendering depicts a planned development that would transform the south end of Forsyth Park. (Courtesy Bouhan Falligant)

CITY TALK: Emergent Savannah panel emphasizes proactive planning

Emergent Savannah packed The Sentient Bean last week for the latest installment in its series Monday Means Community. This month’s meeting, titled “The Politics of Place: People, Planning and Possibilities,” featured panelists Tom Thomson of the Metropolitan Planning Commission, Kevin Klinkenberg from the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority, SCAD professor Ryan Madson and attorney Harold Yellin, whom you’ve probably seen in action representing clients before various municipal bodies. Savannah Morning News reporter Mary Landers moderated the conversation.

Photo via https://www.facebook.com/emergentsavannah/

CITY TALK: Four questions about the proposed new arena

Whew. Glad that’s over. Last week, Savannah City Council finally laid to rest the question of the location for a new arena to replace the aging one at the Civic Center.

As regular readers know, I’ve always been a fan of the site just west of downtown selected about 15 years ago when Floyd Adams was mayor.

CITY TALK: Can we learn anything from Charleston's Gaillard Center?

Charleston’s Gaillard Center reopened last fall after a $142 million renovation. I recently visited the 1800-seat concert hall for a tremendous Spoleto Festival performance by the L.A. Dance Project.

CITY TALK: Survey wants input on city manager search

Savannah residents have until June 17 to complete an online survey about the qualities they want in a new city manager. The search firm Colin Baenziger & Associates will apparently use the responses as they consider candidates for the position, but it’s hard to know how much weight they will, or even should, give to the results of a generic survey like this one.

CITY TALK: Dramatic changes on West Oglethorpe

Before I talk about the dramatic improvements, it’s worth noting that the first block of West Oglethorpe Lane already had a few characteristics that distinguished it from most lanes in the city. 

CITY TALK: Housing costs strain Savannah's low-wage workers

According to a study released last week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Georgia ACT, a renter with a full-time job needs to earn $17.25 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent in the Savannah area.

CITY TALK: More calls for redesign of Drayton, Whitaker streets

Alderman Bill Durrence is just the latest voice calling for the redesign of Drayton and Whitaker streets so that we can calm traffic and improve safety. “I would love for us to try something, anything. Let’s try something and see,” Durrence recently told WTOC.

I appreciate the flexibility of Durrence’s position. I certainly haven’t decided what the best redesign would be, but it’s long past time to do something.

CITY TALK: Will national attention spark more work on crime?

Last week, CNN covered violent crime in Savannah. The piece was widely shared around town and drew coverage from this newspaper. As a resident, I’m glad to see continued outrage about violence in the city. It’s absurd that we’ve put up with high crime rates for so long, and it’s even more absurd that for decades we’ve accepted blatantly obvious street crime as the norm in some neighborhoods.

CITY TALK: One final trip to Johnny Harris

I had not eaten at Johnny Harris Restaurant for a couple of years, so I dropped by for a late lunch last Wednesday. Barring some unforeseen development, the iconic Victory Drive restaurant will close for good on May 28. 

CITY TALK: Arena study answers questions, raises some new ones

In Sunday’s City Talk, I shared a few preliminary thoughts on the feasibility study for the city of Savannah’s proposed new arena.

Since my deadline for that column, I’ve had time to read and begin to digest the voluminous report prepared by Barrett Sports Group LLC, Gensler, JE Dunn Construction, and Thomas and Hutton.

CITY TALK: Jane Jacobs and the search for connectivity

As I wrote in more detail about Savannah’s mixed-use urban fabric, readers routinely began bringing up Jacobs’s ideas, especially those articulated in her influential 1961 book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

Primarily through observation, Jacobs identified four key elements of urban vibrancy.

CITY TALK: Bay Street plan may make things worse

Maybe we should just change the name of Bay Street to Bay Road and call it a day. Intentionally or not, the city of Savannah has taken steps over the years to reduce Bay Street’s friendliness to pedestrians and to small businesses.

Trucks travel on East Bay Street earlier this month. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)

CITY TALK: Have we recovered from the housing bust?

Remember the housing boom and subsequent bust? That’s a rhetorical question. Of course you remember it. But are you still living with the effects of the bursting of the housing bubble?

CITY TALK: Plant Riverside redevelopment still an exciting prospect

Last week’s debate over the city of Savannah’s bond issuance to fund the construction of a parking garage for the massive Plant Riverside hotel development raised many difficult questions about the limits of public/private collaboration.

If all goes according to plan, local taxpayers will come out ahead. Developer Richard Kessler and his team will pay off the bond debt, and we’ll end up with approximately 240 parking spaces for public use in the new garage.

CITY TALK: Labor force rising, but poverty a real concern

For the most part, when I write about employment data here at City Talk, I’m detailing the estimates for payroll employment from the ongoing survey of establishments. 
 
However, the unemployment rate and other characteristics of the labor force are determined by the household survey, not the establishment survey. The household estimates can be noisy from month to month, and sometimes they are out of step with the payroll estimates. Eventually, though, the two surveys align.

CITY TALK: What will Husk's arrival mean for Savannah?

“Brock isn’t reinventing Southern food or attempting to create some citified version of it,” wrote Bon Appetit. “He’s trying to re-create the food his grandma knew – albeit with the skill and resources of a modern chef."

CITY TALK: New apartments bring essential downtown density

Earlier this month, the Metropolitan Planning Commission approved a 70-unit apartment complex for 1020 E. Broad St. That huge empty lot at the northeast corner of East Broad Street and Park Avenue had been vacant for many years. At one point, city officials were even negotiating to buy the property for a new Central Precinct, but that deal fell through. Plans are also moving ahead for The Bowery, a 59-unit apartment complex at 515 Montgomery St., near the corner of Huntingdon Street.
Rendering of The Bowery apartments, which are currently under construction at 515 Montgomery St. (Special photo rendering by Beacham Bunce and Manley Architects)