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Commercial Real Estate

FEATURE: Savannah River Landing project moves forward with 6-0 Council vote to finalize negotiations with new developer

Category: Commercial Real Estate

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

May 26, 2017 – The Savannah City Council has given approval to City Attorney Brooks Stillwell and city staff to move forward with final negotiations with the new developer of the long imagined ‘Savannah River Landing’ project, a multi-use project that will sit on 55-acres along the Savannah River, immediately east of the Marriott Riverfront hotel property. 

Formerly owned by The Ambling Company, the property is now controlled by that company’s lenders after the project to build an extension of Savannah’s historic district collapsed in the 2007 – 2007 economic downturn.  The new development company is operating under the the corporate name Savannah River Landing Land JV LLC to build residential, retail, hospitality and office space on the 55-acre Savannah River Landing site.  That corporation is part of Regent Partners, LLC, located at 3340 Peachtree Road, NE Suite 1400, Atlanta. 

The new project includes two large parking garages, with more than 1,200 spaces, to both meet the needs of offices, residential properties, restaurants, retail stores and use by the public that will have access to the new parks that front the river and the Riverwalk.  The latter was completed more than 10 years ago, but has never been opened to the public.  (See SBJ photo below.)

The land was long ago made into a Tax Allocation District (a TAD) to finance the public infrastructure component, a joint agreement of the City of Savannah and the Savannah-Chatham Public Schools.  Millions was borrowed by the city to construct infrastructure, including water, fire and roads, and a Riverwalk.  That borrowing is costing the city $1.3 million a year.  The funds also paid for the widening of the Bilboa Canal on the eastern edge of the land, and other improvements to reduce flooding in thearea of President St. and General McIntosh Blvd. 

In a presentation by Atty. Stillwell Thursday, he said that the “developers have all told us that nobody wanted to proceed putting tons of million more General McIntosh and President Street is finished,” he explained.  Those road construction projects to widen the roads and raise their levels to address flooding are on track to be completed by January 2018. 

Represented by Savannah attorney Harold Yellin, the city will now complete contract negotiations with develop    by the end of the summer, Stillwell said, negotiating a new development agreement that will outline obligations and rights of the developer and the city in a public private partnership, “as we had with the prior developer.  This agreement will supercede the prior agreement.”  

Savannah’s  public improvements director Peter Shonka has been working on the project for the city for ten years.  With Stillwell, he explained that it is a similar site plan to the one designed 10 to 12 years ago, but with moreparking, four public park areas, and no residential homes along the river.  There are also changes in the road system in the area, including three stop lights to improve traffic flow into and out of the area.  

There will lighted intersections now , and the prior plan to build a city-owned parking garage on the south side of President Street has been shelved.  Instead, there will be two large garages within Savannah River Landing, and the city will use the former Tybee Railroad Depot land along President Street for some other purpose in the future.

One of the traffic lights and roads will interact with and connect to the Trustees Garden project being built by Charles Morris.

Now, the parking garages will be closer to the new jobs, retail, homes and for the public who want to use the parks and Riverwalk.

The first parking garage will be built in Phase I of the project, close to the area of the Marriott, and will be within a large building that will be surrounded by 300 or more apartments.  There will also be two restaurants close to the river area in that part of the acreage. 

Office buildings and a hotel are also in the design.

Another parcel of the land the city recently rezoned, on the south side of President Street, will also become a new hotel area. 

The City will not have to proceed with the garage  project “until there is assurances” the developer will be moving forward with the restaurants and the hotel, and the financing is in place,” explained Stillwell.   “They will be responsible for improvements on the site, except for    already committed to improvements by the city in the prior agreement.

The city will pay for the four parks, which Shonka described as ‘basic city park standards,’ and not as elaborate as those in the Historic District.  

And the Riverwalk will finally be built in front of the Marriott – funded in a prior SPLOST - but never built, which will connect the dormant Riverwalk area with the rest of the mile long Riverwalk along River Street.    

The parking garage will be funded by the parking and mobility fund, not the city General Fund, and “will cash flow,” Stillwell said, and ties into the needs outlined in the recent Parking Study.   

“This is significant,” said Alderman Tony Thomas, speaking about the project that is anticipated to cost between $600 to $700 million. “An opportunity like this comes only once in a hundred years,” said Thomas, stating that he is confident that it will be architecturally pleasing. 

Brent said that the City staff “has been great to work with. We have met weekly, and there has always been a quorum to move this forward.” 

“We don’t have all the answer on that this will look like, but we do accept the challenge,” he added. 

“Don’t forget the small guys when the big guys come in here,” to do the construction, urged Mayor DeLoach.  “Let’s not drop the opportunity; $600 million (in work) doesn’t come along very often, and we want to shake that tree.” 

Aldermen Johnson, Bell and Shabazz did not vote on the project; they had to leave for conflicting meetings and graduations as the Council meeting ran long.  

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