On Savannah’s Broughton Street: Ben Carter vs. Who????

I’ve been writing about Broughton Street changes in my City Talk columns for over 14 years, and I have a slightly different take on the recent moves by developer Ben Carter, who now controls about three dozen retail properties in the corridor and who is trying to lure more upscale chains, than many of my regular readers.

1. It strikes me that Carter’s plans are a logical extension of trends we’ve been seeing for many years. Carter’s aggressive investments represent an increased pace and intensity, but they aren’t fundamental changes to the underlying trends.

2. I have mixed feelings about Carter’s plans for two separate taxing districts to fund streetscape improvements, and I have questions about what types of modifications we need, but there seems little doubt that the public spaces of Broughton Street need a major rethinking. Personally, I love the idea of palm trees and planters on the very wide sidewalks, as well as more visible crosswalks and all sorts of other changes. Ideally, those improvements should extend all the way east to Randolph Street rather than end at Lincoln Street as Carter has proposed.

3. Like many other people interested in preservation, I’m appalled by the complete demolition of 240 West Broughton. At minimum, some portion of that facade should be retained, and I’m angry that the Historic Review Board’s protection of the building was overruled and that other entities around town acquiesced to the razing.

All that said, I fully realize that some people around town seem to hate Carter’s plans for Broughton, and some even seem to hate Carter himself.

Into the debate came yesterday’s somewhat bizarre piece by the Wall Street Journal: Savannah Preservationists Stymie a Developer’s Comeback.

Excuse me?

First, has Carter been stymied? Well, there has been some resistance to his plans for those special taxing districts for streetscape improvements and maintenance, but I haven’t seen any preservationist groups oppose those. Am I missing something? Other than putting up a short but losing battle to save 240 West Broughton, preservationists haven’t really gotten in Carter’s way at all. In fact, with his plans to rehabilitate facades, fill vacant ground-level retail spaces, and fill upper-story condos, Carter’s plans are in keeping with the goals of many locals who consider themselves preservationists.

So who are the people opposed to the streetscape enhancements and the higher taxes for Broughton Street businesses that would fund those improvements? It’s a loose coalition of locals who are uncomfortable with so much change, fear Broughton feeling more like an “outdoor mall” than a vibrant city street, worry that higher taxes and property values will push all local businesses off Broughton, and fear that Savannah will lose its uniqueness.

The subhead of the WSJ piece maybe hits a little closer to the mark, even if it contains a major grammatical error: Plans to Upgrade Commercial Corridor Meets Resistance.

From the piece:

Now Mr. Carter is running into friction with his plan for $6.5 million in upgrades to Broughton Street’s lighting, sidewalks and amenities. Some preservationists have expressed concern that upgrades would make too much of the street look the same.

“Parts of Broughton Street hail from very different times in our history and it’s important to preserve the architectural history of the different eras,” says Joe Steffen, a Savannah lawyer who once served as the chairman of the city’s Historic District Board of Review. “There’s a Disney way of preserving that makes everything look exactly the same.”

Mr. Carter said the visuals he released last week “weren’t meant to be plans I’m recommending. They were meant to start a dialogue on whether Broughton Street needs to be renovated and improved.”

But does a little “friction” over the esthetic choices of streetscape improvements warrant a (mis)framing of the entire issue by pitting Carter and preservationists against each other?

Here are a few Instagram images that I’ve posted of Broughton Street:

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Broughton at night #savannah

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New Kate Spade in #savannah looks great. Pic taken last evening.

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Lovely late summer evening on Broughton Street. #savannah

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Currently unoccupied by humans but bats have moved in. Their squeaking is audible on sidewalk in at dusk #savannah

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Historic Berrien House renovations continue. #savannah

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3 comments for “On Savannah’s Broughton Street: Ben Carter vs. Who????

  1. Lee Maltenfort
    October 16, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    New York City had a wonderful idea in the late 60s to deal with portions of Manhattan city streets where buildings were condemned. The city took wvnership o9f the property and built a mini-park. Typically they were less than 20 feet wide and the approximate depth of an early NYC brownstone. Most had a water feature, some shade trees that could survive four seasons and seating. They were very popular among those who brown-bagged lunch, or needed a midday break away from where they worked.

  2. Designer
    December 5, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    I went to college in Savannah and badly wanted to make it my permanent home but for the lack of jobs in my field. I was amazed to see the changes that have happened on Broughton St. just since I graduated about a decade ago. The opposition to chain stores is humorous — what could be more “historic” for Broughton than high fashion national retailers? That’s exactly what the street once was, and can be again.

    • December 7, 2014 at 10:35 am

      That’s a great point — and a point I’ve made in a variety of ways before.

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