Any doubts that Savannah residents were invested in the future development of the former Coastal Empire Fair property were put to rest this week. Three potential concepts for the property unveiled at two open house events drew hundreds of residents from around the city.
The city purchased the 67-acre parcel at 4801 Meding St., which is in the fifth district, for $2.9 million in 2016. Unlike other major projects, the public was given the chance to view the concepts before they were formally presented to the Savannah City Council.
“These are still concepts and whatever is done still has to go through the development and review process,” Mayor Van Johnson told council Thursday during a special called workshop to view the proposals.
“To that end, the city staff is still in the middle of their due diligence and so they have to weigh the technical and financial components, so they still do not have a recommendation for us.”
Council will not vote on the issue until that recommendation from staff is finalized.
Savannah Bridge Development Team
Touted as a “live, work, play, eat and learn” project, the initial concept by the Savannah Bridge Development Team is broken into eight sites.
Site one is proposed to be used for parking, but the team is open to other community-oriented uses depending on stakeholder feedback. The second site could feature a specialty grocer, food hall and community greenhouse space.
Sites three, four, five and six would be a mixed-use complexes featuring retail, a health clinic, offices, food and beverage options, apartments, townhomes, classrooms, financial services and parking.
The group is exploring possible tenants for sites three and four, to include JC Lewis Health Systems and the Manchester Bidwell School. Sites five and six would be developed as subsequent phases and be dependent on market demand.
Site seven would be dedicated to commercial development, such as a movie studio and office space. The site could accommodate two office buildings and a movie studio consisting of three soundstages, warehouse and production space.
The final site would be a community-focused space and would be developed in conjunction with the city. The team put forth the ideas of a community recreation center, ice hockey training center and additional athletic fields.
The core development team behind Savannah Bridge Development Team is made up of Savannah-based Polote Corp., Summit Smith Development and QXI Development. The team aims to bridge the “economic gap” in a number of ways.
“We took this as our mission to bridge the fairgrounds district and its surrounding neighborhoods — Tatemville, Liberty City, all of those areas,” said Benjamin Polote Jr.
“But in doing that we also realized that this was an opportunity to bridge the economic gap, to bridge the gap between economic disparity and economic growth and r
evitalization that this project is bound to have.”
The plan presented to council by Knott Development on Thursday focuses largely on recreational uses, including potential improvements to the Tatemville community pond area such as a fish pier or new pavilion.
The plan proposes two gyms, a sports park with six synthetic turf athletic fields, more than five acres of greenspace with open lawns and two miles of trails, including connectivity to the Tide to Town Urban Trail. A four-acre park with amenities based on neighborhood preferences is also being proposed.
The plan also focuses on pedestrian and bicycle-friendly streets that connect with the existing neighborhood, including one street that could be closed to vehicles and utilized for special events and activities. A parking plaza would allow for uses such as food trucks or famers markets.
A wetlands park would include walking trails and boardwalks and a 58,000-square-foot aquatics and community center would be geared toward nearby neighborhood residents.
The development team is also proposing a buffer of 70 feet along Meding Street and a 100-foot buffer along the athletic fields near West 60th Street.
Aside from the many recreational spaces, the plan also calls for 48,000 square feet of retail, food and beverage options and office spaces spread across a two-story building.
Maryland-based Knott Development is led by Frank Knott but is working with Savannah-based engineering and architecture firm Barge Design Solutions and Symbioscity, an urban planning consulting firm, founded by Savannah-Chatham School Board Member Denise Grabowski.
The team’s approach is to recognize the legacy of the fairgrounds site as a place of fun and enjoyment, while envisioning it as an asset to both the surrounding neighborhoods and the city of Savannah as a whole, Grabowski said.
“We really see this as a fantastic opportunity to introduce much needed recreation and open space opportunities that are not present right now particularly in this area of our city and do so in a way that will also be economically productive and also have great benefits to the community,” she said.
P3 Joint Venture Group
The plan presented by P3 to council Thursday calls for a large recreational component that would include a 75,000-square-foot indoor youth sports facility; 81,000 square feet of multi-purpose sports fields; two basketball courts along with community gardens, and a three-acre lake. The recreation component would utilize about 18 acres.
Spread over six acres would be four soundstages at 20,000 square feet each and a creative exchange network, which would include space for e-gaming, animation and career training in entertainment, music and technology.
Housing would account for 14 acres and include approximately 400 dwellings ranging from single to multifamily homes. Many of those units would be reserved for seniors.
There would also be a mix of light commercial uses on the property to include food and beverage options along with a healthy-food market, cafés and boutique shops.
Near the center of the property would be a two-acre park and the plan also calls for a wetlands and nature preserve totaling 20 acres. The team would also conduct right of way and street improvement, which would account for about 11 acres.
Made up of several firms, P3 Joint Venture is working with several local firms including Thomas and Hutton and GM Shay Architects. Former Georgia House Rep. J. Craig Gordon is a principal partner of the group.
The group is also working with Aeroscope + RG Media, which Gordon said has more than 200 years of combined experience in the entertainment production industry.
“We are fulfilling a demand by (Savannah Economic Development Authority), the chamber of commerce, in all regards, to build soundstages that are greatly in need,” Gordon said.
“We have a plan to connect our bustling small business community with the film industry, as they have been in many cases deprived of those economics. We are locally owned and operated and we can help retain our youth who continue to leave our city to pursue greater opportunities.”
Katie Nussbaum is the city and county government reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: KmartSMN