Savannah man making efforts to ‘Save the Mercer’

Efforts to save Johnny Mercer Theater

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The clock is ticking on the Savannah Civic Center.

City leaders are moving forward with their plans to tear it down, along with Johnny Mercer Theater, which is inside the Civic Center.

The Civic Center has served many purposes for more than four decades. It’s destined to be torn down in the distant future, but one Savannahian is trying to start a groundswell movement to “Save the Mercer.”

“We’ve got so much art, so much culture. We’ve got so many things that depend on a venue that size, with theater amenities. We just have to keep it,” said Paul Mazo.

Paul Mazo has been in the entertainment industry in the area since 1978. He’s a local, and knows it will be a real struggle to save the Mercer, but he’s encouraged by what he’s hearing.

“I wanted to raise the flag because it needed to be raised, and the response I’ve gotten has been quite incredible, but I actually talked to someone higher up in the city a couple of days ago who says it’s a good thing because it’s probably going to open the door to some good community discussion, and that’s what we really need," Mazo said.

For now, the city is going with the recommendation to tear down both the arena and the theater, creating more green space in the area in what is called “The Oglethorpe Plan.” That is at least four years away, though. Mazo thinks that’s plenty of time to change some minds. Both he and the mayor agree on needing a theater in Savannah, but the mayor says - not this one.

“What we need is a new theater. Okay, a new theater would be an added feature that we should have in our community, so that would be something for another time, because right now we need to finish what we’ve got on our plate," Mayor Eddie DeLoach said.

"Theater shows are more intimate. They’re smaller. They’re contained on the sides. You’re not playing in a barn, which is what you will be doing if you go in to the arena.”

The four years mentioned is the approximate timeline recommended by the Urban Land Atlanta Institute, and it’s expected to start with the recent approval from City Council. While the Mercer isn’t coming down anytime soon, Mazo knows the clock is ticking.

In the next year, city leaders want to put together a strategy that includes what the area will be used for and how much it will cost. Then, two to three years from now, city leaders want to find ways to pay for the construction, and start building the new arena. Four years from now, they want to demolish the Civic Center.

We’re keeping a close eye on the project as it develops. We’ll update you every step of the way.

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