Construction crews putting finishing touches on Savannah's new Cultural Arts Center

Construction crews putting finishing touches on Savannah's new Cultural Arts Center W
(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on the city of Savannah's new cultural arts center located at Montgomery and MLK across from the Savannah Civic Center.

This comes just two years after WTOC launched an investigation into the project design and architect group that the city hired to do the job. The controversy over this tax-funded project began when members of the community were concerned about the modern design of both the inside and outside of the building.

After more than two years of construction, the Savannah Cultural Arts Center is almost complete. It's been an uphill battle for architect Patrick Shay, who works for the architectural firm Gunn Meyerhoff Shay. Between a tight city budget, two hurricanes, an ice storm, and pushback from the community, Shay is excited to finally see the project come to fruition.

"I think when it's all done, the people that were concerned are going to be very pleased. I'm not a fool enough for them to say that they all love it," Shay said.

Shay said the design is almost identical to the renderings, but it was the renderings that stirred up controversy in 2016 because of its modern design. There was concern about how it would fit in the heart of the Historic District and how the flex-space theater would handle the acoustics.

When the renderings were first released, WTOC spoke to Carol Thompson, a theater expert, who weighed in on the design.

"Have you ever seen a flex space like this," we asked her.

WTOC had a chance to see the inside of the unfinished theater on Thursday. There's still a lot to be done to know if it's really soundproof, but Shay brought in outside help.

"An internationally qualified acoustician came in and helped us shape everything from the design," Shay said.

City officials said they did not use tax dollars to construct a building just for professionals. The building is for the community. However, WTOC has been told the Savannah Music Festival has already inquired about the space.

"That's an experienced group of people that know they have to book venues early, and so they are obviously asking for their purposes because they are putting contracts together for the music festival next March," said Marty Johnston, Savannah's Chief Operating Officer.

Johnston said the city is not ready to start booking events or shows, and, right now, there are still no plans to stop booking events across the street at the Savannah Civic Center.

A WTOC investigation in 2016 revealed that the city has been losing money with that facility.

"So, what's going to happen with the Civic Center at the end of the day," we asked.

If the budget wasn't challenging enough this year, the city now has to plan for operating costs at the Savannah Civic Center and the Cultural Arts Center for 2019.

"We've got maintenance staff that can come over here, we've got stagehands that we use for the Civic Center that will have the understanding of how to come over here and operate, so I think there will be a lot of synergies together. We just have to figure out how all of that is going to work," Johnston said.

In the meantime, they are working to get the job done within the $24 million budget.

"Thank you to the City of Savannah and the SPLOST taxpayers," Shay said. "I think they are going to get their money's worth and I think they are really going to enjoy the building."

The City of Savannah expects the project to be complete by the end of the year, and they hope to have the space up and running by 2019.

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