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Business Buzzzz, 12/21/2009

12/21/2009 - If you want to keep away from the fighting side of Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson, don’t make even a peep about the City Council’s travel budget. If the mayor’s bags are packed and he’s leaving on a jet plane, wish him a pleasant trip.

“I’m going to travel when I need to travel,” Johnson insisted to colleagues during a workshop Thursday. He encouraged anyone who has a problem with that to try to stop him. That chance could come when a council delegation heads to Sweden, the mayor hinted.

Alderman Clifton Jones found himself in Lone Ranger territory when he suggested maybe the council should think about sharing in the sacrifices during hard economic times. Jones is missing the point, his fellow council members said.

The travel council members take often involves economic development and many times results in bringing groups and associations here that stay in local hotels and spend money freely during their stays.

The idea is to bring some value to the city through delegation trips and missions, Alderwoman Edna Jackson said, “I think that’s is what we’ve been able to do.”

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Get the nets ready. Ben Wilder and the Greater Savannah Sports Council have  landed a May 22 date for Tybee Island on the Extreme Volleyball Professional tour.
Wilder got the green light from his board to help sponsor the day-long competition that will be held partly on the same sand court used in the soon-to-be-released feature film “The Last Song,” shot on Tybee in the summer and starring Miley Cyrus. The beach volleyball court is where Cyrus, teen star of Disney Channel TV show “Hanna Montana,” meets her love interest in the movie.
Wilder says he hopes to stage a formal announcement of the event joined by Tybee officials in January. Tybee City Council has agreed to let tournament organizers use about 150 yards of beach from the pier to 17th Street.
The event will draw 300 or so professional and amateur players and should help kick start the summer season for area hotels and restaurants. The island will also get TV exposure. The Chicago-based Extreme Volleyball Professionals Tour makes telecast arrangements with regional TV sports networks run by such companies as Comcast and Fox that serve the localities in which tournaments are held.
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Nothing like a splash into a frigid ocean to help heat up Tybee’s economy in the slow season. That’s what’s on tap for New Year’s Day as hundreds of people flock to the island to indulge their polar bear tendencies. The fun and frolic begins at noon at the Tybee Pier & Pavilion, says Don Ernst of veterans group 40 Men or 8 Horses, organizers of the annual Polar Bear event. The rules are simple – you can dress as silly as you like but you must go into the water, even if it’s for a quick instant.
Look for sales of hot-buttered rum drinks to skyrocket on Tybee for at least a few hours on Jan. 1.
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Ellis Square will soon be looking like, well, Ellis Square. City Council Thursday approved buying 50 tables and 150 chairs from Landscape Forms for $42,558. They should be here in four to six weeks, city officials say.
Landscape Forms, of Kalamazoo, Mi., is the only manufacturer able to meet the city’s specifications for the outdoor furniture, according to City Manager Michael Brown, addressing concerns by Alderwoman Mary Ellen Sprague that the furniture contract and a host of other contracts up for approval Thursday were from sole source vendors, meaning no competitive bidding occurred.
Brown said the tables and chairs are specially designed and structurally solid – not something thieves are likely to try make away with.
Alderman Tony Thomas called the purchase a milestone in long process of returning Ellis Square to Ellis Square, a square lost in the early 1950s to a multi-story parking garage the city demolished three years ago in the first step toward restoring the square.
“What a glorious day for Ellis Square that we’re finally purchasing tables and chairs,” Thomas said.
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Not everyone in the Ellis Square area is a happy camper. Joe Richard, owner of Metals and Paint at 107 W. Congress, complained to the council Thursday that the city’s Citizens Liaison Office was tardy in telling him that West Congress would be torn up for three months to replace underground utility lines. Not knowing of the impending work, he bought $25,000 in inventory for his jewelry store that he now doubts he’ll be able to sell, he says. “I could be in such better financial shape to handle January and February if someone had just told us.”
He insisted he knew nothing of the project’s start until he noticed painted lines on the street designating where work was to begin.
The Citizens Office says he received written notice on Nov. 20, the day after the council approved the bid for the work. City policy specifies that notices of such construction projects can’t go out until a bid is approved, said Tara Polli of the Citizens Office.
Polli said the timeframe of the construction was well known among Ellis Square area merchants. She said Ellis Square Merchants Association members agreed at a meeting on Oct. 1 that they preferred to have the construction done December through February in order to have it completed by St. Patrick’s Day, when tens of thousands of visitors throng to downtown. Giving up some business during the holidays was a difficult choice. But the consensus, Polli said, was that “if you’re going to do a three-month project, two of our worst months are January and February.”
Richard did get some benefit from complaining to the council. The city manager had an extra catwalk built across West Congress near his store Friday, giving customers a way to cross the street to reach his business.
***
You have to wonder if leaving its lawyer at home would have helped Chili’s receive a lighter penalty than the 10 days alcohol license suspension the Savannah City Council handed it Thursday for a pair of convictions for selling alcohol to under-age minors. Attorney Mike Sard of Atlanta tested the council’s patience throughout the lengthy hearing, questioning whether there had been one conviction or two and arguing city code calls for the Chatham Plaza restaurant to be fined rather than lose its license for any length of time. His case drew repeated refrains of “let’s move on” from Mayor Otis Johnson.
Johnson said he is certain, from the excruciating detail the lawyer put forth and the presence of a court reporter brought in by Chili’s, that the bar and grill and the city will battle in court over the council decision to suspend the alcohol license from Dec. 21 through Dec. 31 and to condition renewal of the license for 2010 on the restaurant’s bartenders and managers attending server training, as required for bars, lounges and hybrid restaurant-lounges under a new city ordinance. The council also mandated that no minors be allowed to sit at the bar.
“He’s building his case,” said the exasperated mayor of the Chili’s lawyer.
As to attorney Sard’s claim city code specified a fine rather than license suspense, City Attorney Jimmy Blackburn said the fine applies in administrative hearing cases. This, on the other hand, was a “show cause” hearing based on a pair of convictions for alcohol serving violations.
Chili’s says it gets about 15 percent of its business from the sale of alcoholic beverages and that a week suspension would cost it about $20,700 and could result in layoffs at the bar and grill.
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