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.

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