City brings Savannah Development and Renewal Authority back after controversies

Of all the decisions of former City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney, the dismantling of the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority was one of the poorest. Even if there were a few legitimate but minor questions raised by an audit, the organization’s fine work over the years proved its worth. The SDRA was absolutely critical in the rebirth of Broughton Street and in creating a vision for the MLK/Montgomery corridor.

Yes, I think the SDRA could have been a little more entrepreneurial and even ambitious. And, yes, I think the organization occasionally got more caught up in esthetics than in encouraging commerce — like in the decision to create too hard of a median along much of MLK, with the effect of cutting off key east-west connections.

But the SDRA’s good work and intense focus on downtown revitalization paid a lot of dividends, especially for the money invested in the office and in a handful of employees.

Small-Toney said she planned to replace the SDRA with another agency, but those efforts never got anywhere that I know of.

So it’s good to see acting City Manager Stephanie Cutter, Mayor Edna Jackson, and the rest of the council bringing the SDRA back. From Savannah city officials restore SDRA board:

Cutter identified revitalization of Montgomery Street as the highest priority, but she also wants the board to focus on wider, long-term goals.

Another issue will involve clearly defining how the SDRA’s role will work with the city’s economic development department with no duplication of function, Cutter said.

That department also is in transition. The city is advertising for the open director’s position.

[Architect Jerry] Lominack wants the board to return to promoting the Downtown Master Plan, which created a blueprint for deciding how the desire for economic development would meld with maintaining the physical beauty, culture and quality of downtown life.

“We need to get action on that,” he said. “It’s a good plan.”

He hopes, too, that the board can play a role with other organizations to develop a larger economic plan for the whole city, one that considers residents’ needs, tourism, education and the type of growth the city wants to see.

A word of caution, however. While I know and respect about half the 15 board members selected so far, it seems odd that the entire list, I believe, is made up of men. On its face, that seems like a rather serious issue. (You can see the list in the article above.)

Let’s hope that greater diversity is represented in the other 10 selections.