BACK IN FEBRUARY, on a blustery cold day on Broughton Street, developer Ben Carter addressed an eager crowd at his first local press conference—the kind of event usually reserved for elected or appointed officials.
To be precise, it was in the 200 block of West Broughton, in the “old” Clipper Trading space before that operation had to move elsewhere down the street. The spacious corner spot was completely empty except for the trappings of the press conference.
Last week, the new downtown J. Crew celebrated its grand opening in the very same space.
I like J. Crew. I have some things in my closet from J. Crew. I have zero problem with J. Crew. I’m sure I’ll be stopping by to shop there soon. I hear it’s great.
I mention the new J. Crew only to point out how incredibly quickly—by Savannah standards anyway—that particular store was able to go from 0-60 mph.
In six months, that West Broughton space went from literally empty to a fully-permitted, fully built-out and certified place of retail business—in a town where retail proprietors routinely take that long just to figure out how many City departments are holding how many hoops they have to jump through before they can maybe, possibly open, one day.
I know plenty of local small business owners who have waited six months literally able to do nothing in their spaces except count the rent money flying out of their pockets, while some bureaucratic nightmare with the City permitting process took its sweet time getting sorted out.
J. Crew didn’t have that problem, in a space developed by Ben Carter Enterprises.
Now, the worst-kept secret in the world is that the more money you have, the more things go your way. Clearly a corporate interest will be better equipped to navigate the frustrating local regulatory minefield than a mom-and-pop shop.
And it must be said that part of that is that corporate outlets are generally just plain better at launching new stores than Mom and Pop are.
But speed is the name of the game on Broughton Street these days, with new developments—both literally and figuratively—happening at lightning speed by Slow-vannah standards.
To be sure, some of what’s going on is that Savannah needs to step up its game.
The other part is, that’s just how Ben Carter rolls. Shock and awe, as it were.
For example, this weekend brought the “breaking” news, apparently in planning behind the scenes for quite some time, of an expansive and ambitious streetscape vision from Mr. Carter for a dramatic aesthetic and functional overhaul of much of Broughton.
The backbone and chief funding mechanism for the vision involves a Tax Allocation District (TAD), similar to the one currently in operation at the lifeless Savannah River Landing and once proposed for the yet-to-be-built Westside arena.
Make no mistake: It would be a public/private partnership of sorts. Especially in the wake of Savannah River Landing, it deserves as close a look as the public can give it.
Reasonable people can disagree about the appropriateness of a TAD for Broughton Street. Certainly much more independent reporting needs to be done on it.
But the swift rollout of the idea as almost a fait accompli makes me think at this moment that it may be farther along and moving much faster than we’re used to things moving around here.
It’s a brave new world and we all better get up to speed. For our own good.
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