SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Savannah mayor and City Council members took a tour of Savannah’s new Cultural Arts Center on Thursday. It’s been under construction for the last two years and is expected to open in the early part of 2019.
The controversial project was the center of a WTOC investigation in 2016 after the community was not behind the modern design that the city of Savannah was planning to spend more than $24 million in tax dollars to build it.
“I’m amazed, it’s a beautiful facility,” said Mayor Eddie Deloach. Even though the voters were in favor of spending $24 million in SPLOST funds, many of the local art organizations never got behind the modern design.”
The city moved forward with the project anyway despite concerns about how it would fit in the heart of the Historic District and how the flex-space theater would handle performances, specifically acoustics. Theater experts we spoke to in 2016 were skeptical, but architect Patrick Shay says they brought in an acoustician to make sure the space would be able to accommodate all types of performances.
“You will not be able to hear outside noise,” Shay said. “The acoustician told me that there’s an outside chance that you may be able to hear a fire truck if it were pulling up to the building.”
It’s too soon to know for sure about the acoustics, but the vibes about the modern design in the Historic District are already being heard.
"It’s not a historic look, but I think they did the best they could,” said Savannah visitor, Bryon Boyd. "I think they should have it look historic, this is the historic district,” said Kim Boyd.
That same argument was made in the 2018 assessment of Savannah as a National Historic Landmark District.
In fact, the survey cites the Cultural Arts Center as being among some of the contributing factors that is threatening the city’s status saying, “the construction of the Savannah Civic Center, Chatham County Courthouse and jail, and the Cultural Arts Cnter has and will interrupt the Savannah Town Plan.”
Whether the city keeps their designation or not, there’s nothing to lose other than the prestige of holding the title as a national historic landmark district.
WTOC: “Does the city care about maintaining the NHL designation or does it even matter?”
Mayor Deloach: “I don’t think that’s a question. That’s not something we talk about. We all understand that we need to keep it.”
Even though they accepted the risk of putting a modern design in the Historic District, Mayor Deloach says there are many other efforts underway to improve their status.
"If we return some our squares and add all of the housing that goes around it, you’ve added a lot of quality and what historic people would be looking for,” Deloach said.
As for now, the only people looking are those who are curious about the new building.
“Change can be good and change can be bad, but with this day in age, I don’t see anything wrong with it,” said Jabre Benlevi of Savannah.
“I think when they walk through and look at it, I think they will be proud of what they’ve done, and realize how that splost penny works,” Mayor Deloach said.
The mayor says they still don’t know what they are going to do with the Savannah Civic Center once the Cultural Arts Center opens in early 2019.
It’s also unclear how much it will cost the city to maintain and operate the new facility once it opens.