For years it was invisible in plain sight. Lately it's been the local face of America's real estate crash.
But what Hutchinson Island becomes next could determine how Savannah and its identity procedes in the future.
Progress could soon begin on a major development project across the river from Savannah's Historic District, a multi-faceted urban resort that could eventually include another hotel, a new marina and residential, retail and commercial options, growth that would be to the benefit of Savannah as well as venture partners CSX and Atlanta-based Batson Cook Development.
"Well, first of all, it will help the tax base,'' says Tom Thomson, executive director of Savannah's Metropolitan Planning Commission. "The value of the things built there will certainly be nearer the higher end than a lot of other development. It's a pretty big area that's going to be used to help other areas that need help that don't generate that type of revenue.''
"I think the key word is ‘complement,''' added Mark Spadoni, general manager of the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort, which will be involved with the development taking place around the hotel. "I don't think our objective over here is to have some incongruent community that is completely juxtaposed to what we have downtown''
Savannah businessman John Cay is involved in the partnership and says the plan for Hutchinson would transform the city and create new possibilities locals and tourists.
"We do want to embody those elements that attract, excite, educate and delight people,'' said Cay. "For Savannahians, I think they'll come here, I think ultimately, they'll shop here, some of them may work here and some of them will live here.''
"I think it will end up being an extension of Savannah,'' added John McKleskey, who attempted to develop Hutchinson in the 1980s and is now a consultant on the project there. "It won't be exactly like downtown. You can't reproduce downtown and we don't want to. But it will certainly reflect a lot of historic qualities.''
And several parties involved say a developed Hutchinson would also share Historic District sensibilities, even if developers would not be required to adhere to them.
"Clearly,'' said Spadoni, "the idea is to remember where our roots are. And that's this structurally, architecturally, great designed city that we have and not cast it to the wind with what happens 800 feet across the river.''
"Ii'm not sure there's a marketplace for it,'' added Thomson, "But I'm not sure 10- to 20-story buildings wouldn't be ok because we're not trying to preserve the character of the Historic District, which is relatively low buildings.''
"But there is a plan,'' said McKleskey. "So there will be some controls to keep us from doing anything crazy over here.''
Cay says successful riverfront expansion transformed other East Coast cities from Boston to Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale.
But he also understands his hometown is unique and any growth here would have to be as well.
"The one thing you don't want to do is over-promise and under-deliver,'' said Cay. "Savannah is a world-class city and it's known for its great architecture, it's great public spaces, parks and squares. I see it as even more of a destination than it currently is.''
Thursday, June 20 2013 12:05 AM EDT2013-06-20 04:05:47 GMT
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