Now that the city council has approved a change to the city’s height map for the construction of a slew of developments, the four-acre plot of land at the east end of Bay will be occupied. And while it will block one of the riverfront views in the city, it will jolt needed life into the Savannah economy.
In 1992, a report entitled “A City of Streets and Squares, Savannah Design Guidelines for the Historic District” was prepared for the city and emphasized the importance of height regulations so that the development of the Historic District would have some “surety.”
The height map of the city originally put a two-story restriction on buildings north of River Street. With the approved proposal, Northpoint Hospitality Group, Inc., will be allowed to build a three-story building, or 45 feet above Bay Street.
The development is set to include two hotels, shops and a parking garage. There will also be 5,600-square-feet set aside as a “pocket park.”
The key factor that led to the 6-2 decision was that the proposed project would create numerous jobs, something that would help curb the current 25 percent poverty rate in the city.
Not only that, but the estimated property tax revenue for the new buildings clocks in at $1.2 million.
But as with all political decisions, the new ordinance is not being met favorably.
Allowing the city’s height map to be changed for the development of this new hotel has some worried that a precedent is being set for future developers that come to Savannah. But this does not mean that the Savannah skyline will soon be littered with towers and skyscrapers.
Had the proposed hotel been located in another area, say somewhere closer to the center of the Historic District, the proposal would have been met with little to no favor. However, the subject area for the hotel is on the edge of the Historic District, a small portion even extending beyond the lines that dictate the boundaries of downtown Savannah.
Another reason for debate in the matter was the Hostess city’s Southern charm. Local residents and business owners were worried that the new building would not only block views of the river, but would also jeopardize the character and integrity of the Historic District.
The eastern end of River Street, which is by no means a hub for tourists or locals, is not the epicenter of downtown Savannah. Currently, the subject area is empty, unused space owned by Georgia Power. And the river view that is now at risk of being blocked is the view from Bay Street.
When locals and tourists want to see the river, they go to River Street. They do not keep an elevated distance from Bay, especially it’s less intriguing east end.
Also, the proposed hotel is held to strict design standards as far as materials used for the exterior, the continuity of Savannah’s aesthetic will remain intact.
While size is still an issue, the design aspect of the hotel should hold more sway in public opinion. Urban planner Christopher Chadbourne, who was behind the aforementioned report, stressed the importance of maintaining the “predictability” of the Historic District’s development, ensuring that the root of its tourist economy remained untouched.
It would have been a safer, smarter idea to simply build a hotel that met the two-story height limit. But as it is, the proposed hotel poses little a threat to Savannah’s charm and promises to bring more money in the economy.
Those unhappy with the decision claim that money won over city council, that they strayed from public opinion. But once the development is completed, locals will find the view of the river they know and love remains untouched.Contact Eric Ramirez.