SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Among projects to keep track of is the Savannah Cultural Arts Center - the $24 million SPLOST funded project.
A WTOC investigation last year revealed the controversial project stemmed from a lack of support from many local art organizations and raised questions about possible cronyism among former Savannah city leaders. When the new, current administration took over, there wasn't much they could change about the plans. The project was already locked in and was in motion, so there was nothing this administration could do to change the plans, the location, or even the overall design.
For more than 15 years, a cultural arts center in Savannah has been nothing more than an idea that voters approved SPLOST funds for back in the early 2000s. Now, folks are finally seeing the idea come to fruition.
"Now, we are starting to see the formation of a building, certainly the formation of a theater. That's the part they are working on now," said Marty Johnson, Deputy Assistant to City Manager.
Local architect firm Gunn Meyerhoff Shay designed what's been criticized for being a very modern-like building in the heart of the Historic District. To this day, the city of Savannah lacks a true performance hall, which is why some theater and art enthusiasts believe the city of Savannah dropped the ball on the design - especially the theater. When the city refused to consider a traditional performance hall design, like the Gaillard Center that the City of Charleston built, local art organizations pulled their support. In 2016, design experts like Carol Thompson said the flex space theatre design is flawed, specifically because of retractable seating.
WTOC: "Have you ever seen a flex space like this?"
Thompson: "No, I have not. For what? Make it smaller? Then you move the seats back, then where is your audience? Just further back from the stage? When you open up the floor, you'll have more bounce of a bare floor. It's going to change your acoustics."
The city of Savannah was adamant about having a multi purpose space, but the city of Charleston was less literal with the term. In 2016, the CEO Tom Tomlinson told us then that they accomplished just that in their very traditional space.
"We do four or five Broadway-type musicals a year. We have a Jimi Hendrix show coming up. It's very much a multi purpose building," said Tomlinson, former CEO of Gaillard Center.
Now, it's a waiting game to find out whether these experts were right. Meanwhile, this administration is moving forward with the cards they were dealt.
"Right now, this is on track for a June-July opening," Johnson said.
Again, this is a $24 million project that taxpayers approved. So far, the city is on track and is expected to stay on budget.