Hotel moratorium to be proposed Thursday before Savannah City Council

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The tourism industry in Savannah is a $2.7 billion a year business that has hotels popping up all over the city.

But what's good for business isn't necessarily sitting well with downtown residents.

A proposed hotel moratorium is being presented to Savannah City Council on Thursday. A massive construction project on the east end of River Street is about to be a $270 million hotel. A sign of booming business but an eyesore and inconvenience to many downtown residents

This is just one of four hotels under construction in the downtown area. However, they don't seem to be a welcome project for residents downtown trying to preserve the character and authenticity that comes with the "Savannah" name.

City council will hear a recommendation to temporarily halt any more lodging projects from coming to Savannah until they have re-zoned the downtown area. Right now, all hotels fall under the same umbrella in the city.

A potential re-zoning could put them into two separate categories. Smaller hotels with 55 rooms or less would be the only ones allowed to open within certain downtown residential neighborhoods. Alderman Bill Durrence says one of the biggest concerns is the quality of life for downtown dwellers.

"This is a living city," Durrence said. "It's not a museum or a theme park. It is a real place. And authenticity is a real buzz word these days for historical tourism. What we want to do is make sure we are maintaining that character, and with the constant growth of hotels in the downtown area, we are concerned that we start losing that."

It is a delicate balance, protecting the interest of downtown residents as well as the tourism industry that employs 27,000 people here.

"If we don't protect this city the way it exists now, then we also damage the product that the tourism industry is trying to sell," Durrence continued.

He says that the biggest priority is protecting the quality of life for people who live downtown until they can find a responsible way to maintain Savannah's character and accommodate the masses.

Durrence said, "If it comes down to making a choice about a particular issue… if it's this to satisfy the residents or this to satisfy the tourist, it has to be to satisfy the residents."

Durrence made it clear that the word "moratorium" can have an anti-business bias and that is not what the city is trying to do.

"We can't go too far one way or the other," he explained. "It can't be unregulated growth, and it also means that we can't put a halt to growth altogether. Change is inevitable except from vending machines. It's our responsibility to make sure that change is positive to our community."

Should this hotel moratorium pass, it would not stop the current lodging projects that are already under construction.

The Savannah Tourism Leadership Council presented this statement to the city as they consider halting future hotel business, saying in part:

We feel compelled to advance the notion of a temporary and limited pause on certain potential future lodging use projects within the Historic District, thereby allowing opportunity for the City, stakeholders and citizens to form a well-educated basis for the future of one of our community's most important and thriving sectors. This Pause must not come at the cost or disregard of current and active investments nor the standing legal rights of property owners and investors.

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