The new Cultural Arts Center: economic development? re-establishing the downtown grid? serving community needs?

As you can tell by my overly long title to this post, Savannah’s new Cultural Arts Center will have many effects — all positive, I think — assuming it is sited, designed, and administered well.

I write about the site choices (the preferred site at Oglethorpe and MLK, plus the rejected sites on Orleans Square and at Hall and MLK) in my Savannah Morning News column today: Where should the city’s new cultural arts center go?

Since writing that piece, I’ve thought of another benefit to biting the bullet and putting another $5 million into the project to make the Hall Street site viable: the ease with which many relatively poor residents — both adults and children — could get to that site vs. the others.

I hear occasionally from readers who are suspicious of any ideas to recreate the original downtown grid. They talk about such efforts as being somehow out of step with the times, as sentimental, even romantic. But Savannah’s original grid pattern works. More than two centuries after Oglethorpe, Jane Jacobs outlined some of the key principles that we put in action here: frequent streets that allow for pedestrian and vehicular options, a mix of building styles and ages and values, a mix of uses, and so on.

As regular commenter Matthew noted in another post, the worst traffic in the downtown area is in the area where the grid has been most disrupted: the MLK/Montgomery corridor where one-way traffic has been needlessly added and where east-west connections were severed over the years for our current county courthouse (a horrendous building), the Civic Center, etc. I wasn’t in Savannah to see the old Municipal Auditorium on Orleans Square, which closed off a block of McDonough Street back in 1918, but which apparently worked pretty well in that space since it did not obstruct Perry, Hull, and Jefferson. The placement was akin to the federal courthouse on Wright Square, which straddles two trust lots.

All in all, I think the city over the long haul would benefit the most from the Hall Street site, even if the underground parking seems prohibitively expensive right now.

4 comments for “The new Cultural Arts Center: economic development? re-establishing the downtown grid? serving community needs?

  1. February 6, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    The REAL question is: Will this project TRULY take into account the needs and desires of the very people who will be most likely to want to present cultural art events in the space, or will it be yet another example of the City leaving aesthetic, architectural and technical decisions to an in-house crew of folks with little or no actual understanding of what would most benefit the promoters, producers and artists such a facility purports to serve?

    Without such dedicated and sincere outreach, all we’ll wind up with is yet another incredibly expensive missed opportunity that frustrates and insults those whose partnership is required for its long-term success.

    With such a cooperative spirit – and the recognition that specialized facilities of this sort demand specialized design that the City’s usual list of “go-to” planners and designers may not possess, we the people could wind up with a wonderful, useful venue for all manner of community building productions and events.

    I personally am petrified we’ll instead be delivered another Forsyth Park Bandshell – aka The Giant White Middle Finger…




  2. Lee Maltenfort
    February 6, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Jim: For my money, you’re right on the money. It’s sort of a throwback to “Let’s build a play and put on a barn”.

    • bill dawers
      February 6, 2011 at 11:30 pm

      Well I learned a lesson from the bandshell and from the practically-hidden entrance to the Ellis Square parking garage. If I can get access to the plans to the arts center early on, I’ll see if there are obvious red flags like there would have been if I had looked at those projects in the design stages.

      • matthew
        February 10, 2011 at 6:33 pm

        Not to beat a dead horse, but the Ellis Square Garage is such a giant missed oppurtunity. Does the city have a marketing division? First off, if the only entrance is on Whitaker Street, shouldn’t it be the Whitaker Street Garage? Last time I was there three floors were empty and yet I had to pay $2 an hour to park there. Ummm, how about dropping the rate until people start using it, and then raise the rates. I know they have to pay for it, but if no one is using it… In Charleston, the city garage flanking King street is free for the first two hours, similar to the way we use Broughton. Could that not work at ‘Ellis Square’.. I have to say it is a wonderful garage and easy to use (unless there is a large event and you get a bottleneck at the cashier) I just wish a little more thought went into the marketing end of it.

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