In a 7-2 vote today in one of the last acts of the DeLoach administration, Savannah City Council voted to relocate the iconic Waving Girl statue from one end of River Street to the other — despite a previous unanimous vote against the move by the Historic Sites and Monuments Commission.
Its new home is set for the immediate area of the new Plant Riverside, a project of developer Richard Kessler.
The statue currently stands in Morrell Park on the east end of River Street. It was moved 95 feet from its original location overlooking the river for the 1996 Olympics, which held some sailing events in the Savannah area.
The Olympic Flame was lit in the space the Waving Girl was originally located, and the cauldron in which it was lit still stands.
Speaking in favor of the statue's move, Kessler admitted "yes, I have interests in the West end." But he said that's not only reason he wants the Waving Girl moved to his development.
"Most citizens of Savannah never see the Waving Girl" where she is now, he said. "For the citizens of Savannah, she needs to be moved."
He said tourists will find the move more accessible — "there will be far more people" at the new location.
Concerned citizen Rachael Shaner responded that "When a millionaire stands up here and says he represents the citizens of Savannah, let's remember about 50 percent of the City lives below the poverty line."
Shaner said moving the Waving Girl will set the precedent of letting millionaires move beloved public monuments "on a whim" when it benefits them.
Two incoming City Council members, who won't have a vote until January, spoke against the move.
Alderwoman-elect Alicia Blakely, who also serves on the Historic Sites and Monuments Commission, said "I'm asking that you look out for the people who work on the east end and allow that monument to stay there... We always talk about small businesses and how we want to promote small businesses. If you move that monument you're affecting about 25-30 businesses."
Alderwoman-elect Linda Wilder-Bryan recalled visiting the Waving Girl as a child.
"Part of the attraction of the Waving Girl was the story behind it... if we keep saying this is a historic city, we need to preserve the historic nuances... we must be reasonable and logical... make this vote about the people, and not about money," she said.
Mayor-elect Van Johnson said the public at large hasn't had the opportunity to weigh in on Waving Girl move.
"We're being asked to make a decision of, shall we say, monumental importance," he said. "We're hearing an appeal on a decision that's already been made by the Historic Sites and Monuments Commission."
Johnson and Alderwoman Estella Shabazz were the only two votes against the relocation.
The Savannah Propeller Club has been pushing for some kind of relocation of the Waving Girl for years, saying that its original purpose — to greet ships coming in on the Savannah River — had been hampered by the move for the Olympics.
Another reason given for the move is that a small group of trees lessen its visibility from the river itself.
A second relocation is set to be considered: Moving the current Olympic torch cauldron to the location where the Waving Girl is now, after the Waving Girl is relocated.
Richard Kessler was a major financial contributor to several of the outgoing members of Council who subsequently voted in favor of the relocation, including Mayor Eddie DeLoach, Alderwoman Carol Bell, Alderman John Hall, Alderman Bill Durrence, and Alderman Tony Thomas.