Thursday, August 30, 2018

Arena Construction Manager contract delayed after $3.9 million error causes controversy

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2018 at 6:27 PM

A key City Council vote to award the "Construction Manager At Risk" contract for the Savannah Arena was delayed two weeks due to chaos caused by a so-called "scrivener's error."

The error, totaling a nearly $4 million upward adjustment in the winning contract, provoked a formal protest and appeal by a losing bidder, as well as unrest on Council itself.

The winning bid was from national giant AECOM Hunt, whose resume includes Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The error on their bid caused the potential award to jump from $7,316,016 to $11,166,016.

"The reason for the discrepancy is a misreading of the fee proposal document submitted by AECOM Hunt," City staff explained.

City Manager Rob Hernandez apologized to Council, saying, "We just didn't catch it... that should not have happened."

Nonetheless, Hernandez recommended moving forward with the award to AECOM Hunt, which remained the low bidder even after the "scrivener's error."

Walter Murphy of competing bidder JE Dunn, the only local firm of the three bidders, forcefully spoke against the vote:

"You just added $3.5 million" to the Arena construction contract, he told Council.

"How you did that I don't know... who is looking out for the taxpayers?"

Murphy intimated that there was fraudulent activity in the bid process.

"Today you were misled" by AECOM Hunt, Murphy said to Council. "Is there a separate ground rule for out of town firms?"

This contract is just the tip of the iceberg for the winning Construction Manager, who will spend much more money than that to hire various subcontractors to work on the Arena.

Estimates for the total cost of the Arena construction range from $120 to well over $140 million.

Alderman Bill Durrence said, "I'm very nervous. I've never spent $140 million before."

Durrence said that with such a "huge disparity in numbers, it seems like that should have been a red flag."

The "scrivener's error" boiled down to different ways of filling out the bid paperwork, a City staffer explained.

"The City requested that the proposers express construction manager fees, including overhead and profit, as a percentage of all subcontracted and all self-performed costs. All three proposers provided the percentage of construction manager fees as requested, but the City did not originally recognize that AECOM Hunt did not add that dollar amount to its bottom-line price on the fee proposal document."

Despite the threat of a potential lawsuit, Hernandez maintained that the process was done according to City protocol and policy, and the error in no way minimized AECOM Hunt's status as the highest-scoring bidder on the City's award matrix.

In other City Council business, plans moved ahead to sell the historic Gamble Building on Factor's Walk to the Foram Development Group, which is also behind the controversial Starland Village project.

Foram plans high-end condos on the site, with rooftop gardens.

Aldermen Tony Thomas and Van Johnson both objected to the sale, saying the City will have to lease expensive space in the Savannah Morning News building for the City staff that will have to leave the Gamble Building.

"The City is giving up its imprint on the historic waterfront," Thomas said.

"It boggles my mind that we are selling buildings to pay rent on others," said Johnson.

In another development, an alcohol license transfer brought what to some observers seemed like a mean-spirited, xenophobic reaction to an immigrant entrepreneur on the City's westside.

The license for Jyoti B. Patel narrowly passed after neighborhood opposition based on perceived high crime in the area around the convenience store at West 60th and Montgomery Streets.

In opposing the license for Patel, Alderman Tony Thomas repeatedly lambasted what he said were Patel's frequent trips to India.

Patel's attorney responded that she recently went to India to visit her son, but resides in Chatham County.

Thomas went on to berate Patel, through her attorney, for having limited mastery of English.

City Attorney Brooks Stillwell had to remind Council that there was no legal way they could require Patel to be on-site constantly as the alcohol license holder, as was suggested by several Council members opposed to the store — and apparently also opposed to her traveling to her home country. 

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

National Park Service puts Savannah National Historic Landmark District officially in "Threatened" status

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2018 at 10:13 AM

The National Park Service (NPS) this morning released official findings from a recent study it commissioned to determine the status of the Savannah National Historic Landmark (NHL) District.

"Following a comprehensive study, site visits, public meetings, and a public comment period, the NPS has determined that the overall condition of the district falls into the 'threatened' condition category. This assessment does not change the designation status of the district as a national historic landmark," the National Park Service reports.

"Through the condition assessment process, the NPS found that the Savannah NHL District continues to retain the qualities for which it was originally designated and is not a candidate for losing its designation," the NPS says through its Southeast Regional Office.

"However, the study also reveals that the Savannah NHL District has lost some historic integrity and faces preservation challenges."
The principal historic feature of the District is the Savannah Town Plan designed by James Oglethorpe in the 1730s, the NPS says.

"The District’s 'threatened' category status is based on several identified challenges including the impact of new construction on the Savannah Town Plan; the vulnerability of archeological resources, historic pavement, and cultural landscapes; threats from natural disasters; and a series of intangible threats like noise and traffic," the NPS reports.

“The Savannah National Historic Landmark District remains a national treasure and we look forward to assisting the community in continued preservation efforts,” said Cynthia Walton, Southeast Regional Office National Historic Landmark Program Manager. “By having this information, the community can better understand and protect the unique character of the Historic District that makes it such a special place to live in and visit.”
The NPS study sparked controversy this past spring when the media it, along with the recommendation from the study that the NPS put Savannah on the Threatened list.

Savannah's Landmark District had been in "Satisfactory" status since 2006.

At the time, City Manager Rob Hernandez wrote an op-ed to the daily paper claiming falsely that the NPS had discredited its own study.

At a press conference about the study, Ellen Harris, Director of Preservation with the Chatham-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, pointed out the extreme development pressure that in part contributed to the Threatened status.

“Last year the [MPC] Board and staff reviewed 372 Certificates of Appropriateness — that’s more than double what it was ten years ago," she said in March.

The NPS says it will continue to monitor proposed projects that may diminish the integrity of the Savannah Town Plan and has recommended several steps to improve the overall health of the district including updating the NHL nomination and developing a cultural landscape report.

The NPS says it will continue to work with the community in their preservation efforts and will remove the District from the “threatened” condition category when the proposed actions and conditions that may diminish the District’s historic character have been addressed.

The public can learn more about the Savannah NHL District condition assessment by visiting

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

City to ask public to "help shape" new Savannah Arena

Posted By on Wed, Aug 22, 2018 at 10:06 AM

The City of Savannah will hold a news conference on Thursday, August 23 about the design phase of the new Savannah Arena project.

The conference is Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall.

"Pete Shonka, the Executive Director of Arena Development will announce how the public can provide feedback to the City and the arena design contractor Perkins + Will. The City will be soliciting input concerning the features and amenities inside and outside the new arena," a City spokesperson says.
Perkins + Will was recently awarded a nearly $9 million contract to provide the design of the new arena. The total cost of building the arena will be at least $120 million, with tens of millions more budgeted for road widening, drainage, parking, and other amenities not funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax which is funding the arena itself.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Savannah Music Festival announces new Executive Director

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 11:55 AM

The Savannah Music Festival (SMF) Executive Committee and Board of Directors today announced the hire of David Pratt as Executive Director following the recent resignation of Rob Gibson from the Executive & Artistic Director position.

Pratt is the former Executive Director of the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus, in that post from 2010-2015.

"Pratt leaves his current post as Chief Executive of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO) in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in September, and will begin full-time at SMF in late October," says an SMF spokesperson.

Pratt says, “I’ve always had a great appreciation for SMF’s work in arts presenting and education, and look forward to being part of the leadership team that ushers in the 30th festival season.”

In the wake of the staff shakeup, longtime Marketing & Managing Director and current Interim Executive & Artistic Director Ryan McMaken has been named Artistic Director to serve the artistic aspect of Gibson’s previous position.

Both he and Pratt will report directly to the Board.

SMF Board Chairman Dave Neises and the Executive Committee began forming a search committee last month, and "subsequently learned of David Pratt’s desire to return to Georgia."

Neises says: “David Pratt is a seasoned arts administrator who is also well-loved in Savannah. His nonprofit business acumen and leadership skills, along with his extensive experience within the musical arts, make him an ideal fit for the Executive Director role at SMF.”

The 30th festival season begins on March 28 and runs through April 13, 2019, with a lineup announcement on November 9, 2018.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Statts Fest solidifies lineup of bands, events

Posted By on Tue, Aug 14, 2018 at 10:18 AM

  • Shehehe
More details are set for this year's edition of beloved local music festival Statts Fest.

Festival organizer Friends of Statts will hold its 10th annual fundraiser Saturday, Sept. 29, at The Rail Pub and The Jinx in downtown Savannah.

Proceeds from the  event benefit Jason Statts, 44, a local musician and visual artist who was rendered quadriplegic during a 2008 armed robbery in Ardsley Park after he and a friend were returning from playing.

“Jason has always been an amazing friend, musician and artist,” said John Collenberger. “And it feels only natural for us to keep doing and growing this event. It lets us honor and give back to him.”

The inaugural Friends of Statts event was held at The Jinx in 2009.

Since being shot through the neck and spinal cord, Statts is unable to move except for limited use of his arms or hands. He keeps up with reading, films and music, though, and stays in touch with friends via social media.

"Evolving circumstances require more assistance, and more cash. Event organizers are grateful they can contribute to their friend’s mounting medical expenses, and hope they can make him smile, too," an event spokesperson says.

This year’s event is held in two parts on the same day: Statts Fest features live outdoor music and a silent auction at The Rail Pub, 405 W. Congress St., from 3 to 7 p.m., followed by Statts After Dark at The Jinx, 127 W. Congress St., from 8 p.m. until closing.

Daytime alt-country performers include Joe Nelson, Damon and the Sh*tkickers, Bottles & Cans, and The Train Wrecks.

The nighttime festival segment features heavier acts SheHeHe, Nancy Druid and the legendary GAM. Pre-sale tickets can be purchased at $15 for each venue; or for $20 at the door.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Savannah Police officer and his wife stabbed to death on Wilmington Island

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 2:05 PM

The Chatham County Police Department is continuing its investigation into an early morning double homicide on Wilmington Island involving a Savannah Police officer and his wife.

"Police were called to a home on Palmetto Bay Cove around 6:30 a.m. Monday, August 13, 2018," police report.

"Upon arrival, they found a deceased male inside a home. Next door, they found a deceased female. Both victims appeared to have been stabbed," police say.

The victims have been identified as a Savannah Police Department officer and his wife. The names of the victims are currently being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

"While at the scene, police confronted a 16 year old juvenile who resided with the victims, and is believed to be a relative of the female victim. The juvenile has been taken in for questioning, and investigators say there is no threat to the public at this time," police say.

The ongoing investigation into the facts and circumstances of the crime is continuing.

Kris Kristofferson and the Strangers set for Savannah show Nov. 13

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 10:43 AM

Legendary singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson will perform at the Lucas Theatre on Nov. 13.

Tickets go on sale to the public Friday, Aug. 17 at 10 a.m. by phone e at 912-525-
5050, online at and the Savannah Box Office located at 216 E. Broughton St.
The show is sponsored by Bud Light and produced by Six String Southern Productions.

Heralded as an artist’s artist and a legend of the stage and screen, Kristofferson will be joined by special guest members of the Merle Haggard band. The three-time GRAMMY award-winning performer will perform songs from his three-decade-long career, as well as some of his newest compositions off The Cedar Creek Sessions album released in 2016.

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Port of Savannah has its second-busiest month on record

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 10:06 AM

Photo courtesy GPA
  • Photo courtesy GPA

The Georgia Ports Authority announced today that it has "moved 378,767 twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUS) in July, an increase of 12.7 percent, or 42,668 TEUs, compared to the same month last year," according to a GPA spokesperson.

In all, this July was the second busiest month on record for the Port of Savannah.

"July was an incredible start to our fiscal year, with double-digit growth across our container, breakbulk and dry bulk operations," said GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch.

In Fiscal Year 2018 (July 2017-June 2018), GPA says rail cargo at Garden City Terminal increased by 16 percent (60,000 containers) for a total of 435,000 intermodal rail lifts.

July continued that trend, they say, with the busiest month on record for intermodal cargo, at 41,070 container moves.

That's an increase of 20.8 percent (7,087 containers) compared to July 2017.

"Greater capacity, via cost-effective 14,000-TEU vessels transiting the Panama Canal, makes Savannah an even more competitive option to serve the Eastern U.S.," said Lynch. "This, in part, is driving an increase in rail moves to markets such as Memphis and Nashville."

Since Fiscal Year 2016, the GPA has seen its container trade grow by nearly 16 percent, or an additional 560,000 TEUs.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Man arrested for Aug. 5 homicide

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 12:20 PM

An 18-year-old man has been charged with murder in connection to the fatal shooting of Jernard Burton on Aug. 5.

"Around 8:30 p.m. Aug. 5 officers responded to a vehicle versus building crash in the 900 block of Carter Street. Burton, 19, was discovered in the vehicle with gunshot wounds. He was transported to Memorial Medical Center where he died as a result of his injuries. No one inside the building was harmed," Savannah Police report.

Detectives say they believe the shooting occurred near W. Gwinnett Street and Magazine Avenue. "The vehicle Burton was traveling in at the time had been reported stolen the previous day," police report.

On Aug. 8, Jevon Williams was arrested and charged with murder. The incident remains under investigation.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Bob Dylan and His Band set for November show in Savannah

Posted By on Mon, Aug 6, 2018 at 7:53 AM


Bob Dylan and his band are scheduled to perform at the Johnny Mercer Theatre on Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. A longtime local favorite who appears in Savannah regularly, the icon's last appearance here was in 2015.

Tix go on sale this Friday, Aug. 10, at 10 a.m., and are $55, $85, and $115 at Savannah Civic Center box office,, or 800-351-7469. 

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