SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Sunday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill into law that officially gives the convention center on Hutchinson Island a new name.
It also creates a new authority to oversee operations. The new name is the most visible change with House Bill 525 being signed into law. If you’re downtown looking at the side of the building facing the river, you can see the new name: “The Savannah Convention Center.”
The general manager of the Savannah Convention Center says a lot of visitors to downtown Savannah don’t realize there is a very nice convention center just across the Savannah River. The hope is a name change and a new signage will draw some attention.
“From the other side of the river, people either don’t know what this building is, or think we’re part of the Westin,” said Sherrie Spinks, General Manager, Savannah Convention Center. “So we wanted everyone to know, we’re the Savannah Convention Center and we’re here to host their events.”
About $20 million has already been set aside through state and local efforts to keep the design phase of the convention expansion on track. Space additions include a 100-thousands square foot exhibit hall, 15 new meeting rooms, and more than 900 new parking spaces.
“We expect to have 100 percent design documents completed by July or August. The construction team is working closely with the design team, and when we have enough money, of how we can phase in the construction,” Spinks said.
Spinks says construction will take about 27 months, with $234 million being requested for the whole project. The creation of the Savannah-Georgia Convention Center Authority is the other part of the newly-signed law.
“That will allow for funding now to come from the state to expand the convention center now, 100 percent. That means it’s much bigger than what most people think of - as this as a tourism product - so on and so forth. It’s far, far bigger than that. In the short term, it means hundreds of construction jobs,” said Michael Owens, President/CEO, Tourism Leadership Council.
In the long term, Owens says it means customers coming to Savannah for convention events. He says convention business is recession resilient, able to bring money to Savannah should there be a down-turn in the economy in the near future.
“Savannah is an extraordinarily important part of our state’s economy,” Owens said. “This governor, his team, they understand that. They’re willing to invest in it and make good, great decisions that will benefit all Georgians.”
Owens says a groundbreaking is anticipated for January or February of next year.