Savannah City Council views plans for proposed Canal District redevelopment

(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah city leaders once again saying they want to start seeing results when it comes to the new arena project in the Canal District.

It's been a year since Barrett Sports Group presented its study results and the estimated cost at $140 million for the arena alone.

Urban design firm, Sottile and Sottile, was tasked with creating a multi-phase development plan for the area surrounding the new civic arena that's slated to be built at the corner of West Gwinnett Street and Stiles Avenue.

The firm showed council renderings highlighting four elements of the first phase, which include development around the arena itself, a 55-acre park featuring recreational space, widening of the canals and street improvements to main thoroughfares around the district like Louisville Road, Stiles Avenue and Gwinnett Street.

District 1 Alderman Van Johnson echoed what he told WTOC on Monday night outside his Savannah Forward meeting, that the SPLOST dollars are there to start building the arena and that's where things should be going sooner than later.

But this is a multi-stage project that developers and city officials alike want to make sure they get right.

Tuesday, WTOC got a one-on-one with the developers before they presented council with the master plan update, showcasing colorful renderings of a Canal Park with expanded canals for waterway travel and wider, more travel-friendly streets surrounding the new arena.

Developers explained this Canal District concept is more than just a tourist attraction.

"The question about, is this about tourism? I think it's the exact opposite of that. Tourism is something the community benefits from, but ultimately will you set out to design a park like this and do you a civic anchor like this, it's about your own community. It's about serving the neighborhoods and residents in your community," said Senior Associate Anthony Cissell, with Sottile and Sottile.

To make this vision possible, the Springfield Canal would be widened to 50 feet, allowing for better storm drainage.

Tuesday, council members heard about Phase One of the redevelopment. Phase One will focus on Louisville Road to Interstate 16 and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to the outlining areas of Carver Village.

"It really improves the space between established neighborhoods, that are beloved neighborhoods in the city. Everything that we are working on is designed to go in that space in-between to make sure the work that is done makes the aesthetic quality of the area but also functional," said Christian Sottile, Design Principal for Sottile and Sottile.

The firm's leaders pointed out to council that developing the Canal District would not only improve infrastructure on the west side of the city and connect its neighborhoods with the downtown area, it would create a public space and encourage the growth of private and public enterprise.

It all comes with a price tag, though, to the tune of about $41 million for the first phase of parks and infrastructure.

The reality for city leaders is that money, unlike the funds coming from SPLOST for the arena, simply isn't there right now.

"It really connects, again, those west side communities to the downtown core. But again, it's a significant amount of money, it's a multi-year project and it's not been voted upon in any given type of way. But the arena has been voted upon. And I just think we need to start making some movement on that before we even start doing anything else," said Alderman Johnson.

Johnson also points out that the longer the City of Savannah waits to start on the arena, project costs go up.  Barrett Sports Group said during the meeting with council that the projected cost for the new arena, $140 million, has likely gone up since they presented their findings last year.

"Every year we wait, we're talking about millions of dollars that the price goes up just due to the market," said Alderman Johnson.

At the end of the meeting, city council agreed Savannah City Manager Rob Hernandez should move forward with Barrett Sports Group's recommendation of assembling a project team to develop a concept design for the arena, to at least get that project moving forward again.

There are mixed reactions from those who live and work in the area. A lot of people are unsure of the Canal District redevelopment but remain hopeful for the change in the years to come.

Hernandez also says he believes it's reasonable to say the arena could be built by 2021, and some of the Canal District Project to be started.

For those we spoke to in the area of Stiles Avenue and West Gwinnett Street, the main issue for them is the lack of beautiful spaces here and the continuous crime surrounding them. They question if a brand new arena and a 55-acre park could change their way of life.

One man working here in West Savannah told us he is very much for the revitalization of this area encompassed by Carver Village and so many other nearby historic Savannah communities.

"Right, you know we need things for more positive and more things for kids, like active things where they can stay out of the streets and not go to crime and doing other things and negative things," said Sean William, who works in the Canal District.

Check out a map of the planned location of the new arena by clicking here. For more Canal District redevelopment information, click here.

Let us know what you think. Are you for the changes proposed through the Canal District Redevelopment?

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