Economic leaders in Savannah predicted big things to come in 2013 at an economic luncheon Thursday afternoon. Will one of those big things be a new entertainment and sports arena?
A site study to determine which of four possible locations is the best is about to begin soon. Economic agencies like Savannah Economic Development Authority say quality of life is a big draw for new business and a modern, all-purpose arena is one of the keys to selling Savannah to new businesses.
"Right now,with the facility we have, we can't do that," Trip Tollison, SEDA executive director, told WTOC.
Not many people would disagree with the lack of allure the Savannah Civic Center offers. The facility is already scheduled to get $200,000 in renovations just to be up to safety codes.
A new arena, Tollison says, could be the difference in drawing more big-name entertainment and events to Savannah, which would make Savannah more attractive to companies and their employees.
"At the end of the day, quality of life is a very important option when companies look at Savannah and see new arenas, new schools, and things like that," Tollison said.
For 2013, along with a new cultural arts center, the much talked about cruise ship terminal proposal and the Coffee Bluff Marina, the new arena is on the list of projects the city wants to see progress on. It's getting a lot of attention right now as Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson called for progress on the arena to be sped up.
"It has not been moving along at the pace I would like," Mayor Jackson told WTOC.
Four sites have been named as possible locations for the new arena, including the existing arena site at the civic center and the Savannah River Landing property on President St., which has been ready for development but is seen best suited for retail/housing than for a major event arena site.
The Springfield Canal area in west Savannah, near the old Chatham Steel, may be the early front runner, with it's location, space and access to I-16. The fourth possible site is a stretch of property off the Savannah River between Bay St., Fahm St. and Indian St.
However, narrowing down the possible sites is as far as the process has moved so far. Some on council, including the Mayor and alderman Tony Thomas, are questioning how much the process has cost so far.
"No one can answer those questions. How much has been spent on arena studies? We know how much has been spent on the cruise ship terminal, but I want to know who's on the committee for the arena, where they've gone to visit other cities' arenas and how much has been spent? Those are genuine concerns," Thomas told WTOC.
"We made a commitment to the residents of this community we would build an arena," Mayor Jackson said.
While Mayor Jackson looks to keep her promise, economic leaders and their words seem to indicate picking a site may be the easy part.
"It is going to be a big deal for us to keep the city committed to this project," Tollison said. "We don't want to see it deteriorate."
The city council is hoping to have the full arena report, including costs so far, details on visits to other arenas and more, in hand by March. The bidding process on what firm will do the study is expected to begin soon, with the contract awarded and studied started around the same time council is expected to get their detailed report.