SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Two city of Savannah-owned buildings will soon be back in the hands of private designers - one of those for the first time in decades.
With a 6-3 vote in favor, the Atlantic Coast Line building at 601 East Liberty, as well as the Thomas Gamble building right next to City Hall, were sold with a combined net value of just over $17 million. However, not all council members were on board with the sales.
The city approved the sale of the Liberty Street building during last week's council meeting. The plan is to make it mixed-use, residential, and commercial street-level. The city bought the Atlantic Coast Line building back in 2015 for $3.5 million. Just over three years later, the majority of council approved the sale price of $5.9 million to developer, Standard Companies. This agenda item was the first up for debate, with those opposed stating their reasons why for the record.
"This was, in my mind, a wonderful opportunity to provide affordable and workforce housing for folks who live and work downtown," said Alderman Van Johnson, District 1. "Obviously, that opportunity is going away."
City Manager Rob Hernandez explained the plan so far is to put the millions from sales of city government property into a holding account in the general fund to be used specifically to help pay for a new municipal complex. He says there's still a lot of work to do on that concept.
"I think we've presented just a preliminary idea that we would build a new municipal office building and public safety headquarters in the arena development district," Hernandez said.
The sale of the Thomas Gamble building was next on the agenda. According to city records, Savannah bought the building in the early 1940s for $25,000. Since then, it's housed a variety of municipal offices. City staff says the building is outdated for government operations, and in need of major renovations.
"The job of the city is not to develop where developers are dying to develop," said Alderman Brian Foster, At-Large, Post 2. "The job of the city, with public money, is to develop where we need redevelopment."
Alderman Foster added that he believes that's in West Savannah, where the new municipal complex will likely go. Foster says the new tax revenue from both properties now in developer's hands will exceed what it's costing the city to lease offices at the Savannah Morning News building, which is a four-year agreement with an optional fifth year.
Alderman Tony Thomas, who opposed the sales of both buildings, says he hopes that's the case.