Friday, February 28, 2020

Eastern Wharf development set to continue after fire

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2020 at 10:39 AM

The scene at Eastern Wharf the morning after the fire. Fire crews remain onsite to continue containment of still-hot areas. - PHOTO BY JIM MOREKIS
  • Photo by Jim Morekis
  • The scene at Eastern Wharf the morning after the fire. Fire crews remain onsite to continue containment of still-hot areas.

Separate sources indicate that the investment group behind the Eastern Wharf development plans to continue with construction after Thursday's devastating fire at a residential portion of the development — embers of which are still burning Friday morning.

"My understanding is the developers plan to rebuild," said Mayor Van Johnson at Thursday's City Council meeting — the first evening meeting in living memory, after a schedule change to allow more citizens to attend.

An attorney for the developers also confirmed the development will go ahead.

"The developers of Eastern Wharf are committed to this project" and will continue building it, said attorney Harold Yellin during a Council discussion of a new signage ordinance for Eastern Wharf.

The sprawling site just east of the Historic District — twice as large in area as Forsyth Park — is its own Planned Unit Development (PUD), and as such can develop its own internal ordinances separate from other areas of the city.

Last night's decision on signage, however, was delayed a month to give time for more citizen input and for First District Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier to become more involved.

Mayor Johnson said of the blaze that  "a ton of mud and a complicated layout have made it especially difficult" for first responders. "I thank God no one was hurt... I cannot tell you how proud I am of not only our professional firefighters, but our police officers on site."

In the wake of the fire, concerns emerged about taxpayers' stake in the project — $33 million in City bonds to pay for the parking garage immediately adjacent to where the fire blazed.

"The City has no financial stake in this project until we accept the garage when the construction is complete," responded Mayor Johnson.

Savannah Fire Department says that "investigators will resume interviews of construction crews in the morning with the assistance of the ATF National Response Team. The ATF National Response Team has offered to assist with resources for a large scale fire scene investigation."

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Eastern Wharf engulfed in blaze; no injuries reported

Posted By on Thu, Feb 27, 2020 at 3:07 PM

The blaze at Eastern Wharf, as viewed from Trustees Garden to the west. - PHOTO BY JIM MOREKIS
  • Photo by Jim Morekis
  • The blaze at Eastern Wharf, as viewed from Trustees Garden to the west.

The new and highly touted Eastern Wharf development, still under construction just east of the Savannah Historic District, was the site of an enormous blaze late Thursday morning, with the Savannah Fire Department containing the fire for the most part by early afternoon.

No injuries were reported in the fire.

The fire was in the hotel/residential area of Eastern Wharf, contiguous with the parking garage, also under construction.

The area is adjacent to the Marriott Riverfront, and was clearly visible from President Street as well as from the Trustees Garden area.

Roads in the immediate area were closed down, and citizens are urged to avoid that side of downtown if at all possible.

As of 6 p.m. Thursday evening, Gen. McIntosh Blvd. was still closed to traffic. East Broad at East Bay is closed for eastbound traffic only. Broughton at East Broad is closed for northbound only. President at Rudolph is closed for northbound traffic.

Savannah Fire indicated that indications are the fire started in the fifth floor of the construction site. 911 was called by construction workers who noticed smoke.

Savannah Fire responded immediately, with a total of 20 units eventually responding. About an hour after the blaze started, their Marine 1 firefighting vessel was staffed and also helping to contain the fire.

Marine 1 had been slated for complete mothballing by the previous City Council and City Manager in order to cut costs, but a crew was available to staff it today.

As the fire worked its way to the rear of the building, fire crews were able to gradually contain it.

Some embers from the fire were caught in the wind and taken across President Street, but were quickly put out.

As the fire first blazed, a citizen driving west on President Street took a video of a Savannah Fire truck on the way to the scene being stopped by the northbound train that often crosses President Street, and having to wait with other traffic.

Eastern Wharf is on the site of the former Savannah River Landing mixed-use development, an investment which went under after the recession of 2008.

City taxpayers underwrote over $30 million worth of bonds for parking facilities at Eastern Wharf, approved by the previous Council.

We will update this story as developments occur.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ghost Coast to host Savannah Tree Foundation fundraiser

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2020 at 12:19 PM


Savannah’s Ghost Coast Distillery is turning three years old and they’re inviting you to come “have a drink for the trees!”

The distillery’s birthday party will take place Saturday, March 7, 4-8 p.m. at 641 Indian St.

The shindig benefits local non-profit Savannah Tree Foundation. They are giving back $1 from every cocktail sold to the organization.

Local Grateful Dead Tribute Band, Charlie Fog, will be playing a free show from 4:30-7:30 p.m. and Bayou Cafe Food Truck will be on site with Cajun cuisine.

Savannah Tree Foundation is a non-profit organization that strives to preserve, protect, and plant canopy trees in Chatham County, Georgia. They promote, through direct action and education, an awareness of trees as vital environmental resources and an important part of Savannah’s cultural heritage.

Ghost Coast Distillery opened its doors in 2017 and has since made over twenty different award-winning spirits. 

Parking to be validated for Savannah City Council meetings; first evening meeting is Thursday

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2020 at 10:50 AM

Following through on a pledge by Mayor Van Johnson, the Savannah City Council will hold its first evening meeting on Thursday, Feb. 27, to make it possible for more citizens and families to attend in person.

The council work session will begin at 4 p.m., and the regular meeting will start at 6 p.m.

The City will validate parking for those who attend, as long as they park in the Whitaker Street Garage.

"You must bring your parking ticket with you to City Hall. Security personnel on the first floor will stamp the ticket as you leave the work session or meeting before you exit the building. Present the stamped ticket to the parking attendant in the garage, and you will be able to leave free of charge," says a City spokesperson.

City Council typically holds two meetings per month. According to the new schedule, the first meeting of each month will remain at the 2 p.m. start time, with a morning work session.

The second meeting of each month moves to the new start time of 6 p.m. Parking will also be validated for those meetings.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Entertainment, details released for 'Festival of St. Patrick' the weekend before parade day

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 2:32 PM

With the St. Patrick's Day Parade happening on a Tuesday this year, Savannah's Waterfront has released details about the "official" City and organization-sponsored celebration the weekend prior.

Called the "Festival of St. Patrick" to differentiate it from the actual March 17 celebration and parade, the weekend event covers the hours from 6 p.m.-midnight on Fri. March 13, 10 a.m.-midnight on Sat. March 14, and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday March 15. (Bars will be able to open that Sunday thanks to a special exemption.)

"Due to the festival and parade being separated by one day this year, there will not be a street party on Tuesday, March 17. Parade guests are encouraged to visit the bars and restaurants along Savannah’s Waterfront and in City Market after the parade on Tuesday," a spokesperson says.

What this means in practice is that the usual requirement to purchase a wristband to drink alcohol outside in the "Festival Zone" will only apply to those weekend hours, not on parade day itself.

Entertainment for that weekend centers on River Street and City Market, and includes several stages: The Guinness Stage at the Barnard Street ramp, the Coors Light Chill Stage on Rousakis Plaza, the Bud Light Seltzer Stage at the Abercorn ramp, the Wild Wing Bud Light stage at Ellis Square near City Market, the Bud Light Seltzer Stage at Jefferson and W. St. Julian Streets.

For a full list of bands and entertainment, go here.

If you’re going to the weekend festival, you will need to purchase a $10 wristband which is billed as "a cover charge for the street party."

Wristbands are required for those drinking alcoholic beverages outside on public streets in the festival zone, which extends from River Street to Broughton Street and East Broad Street to Fahm Street.

Wristbands are not required inside of establishments serving alcohol.

If you’re looking to join the party for more than one day, then you must buy a separate wristband each day.

Wristband presale is the only credit card purchase option. Credit card processing fees are added for each wristband transaction.

All festival onsite wristband sales and bars are cash only. ATMs are located throughout the festival zone.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Woman arrested in Tuesday night shooting

Posted By on Fri, Feb 21, 2020 at 12:45 PM

The Chatham County Police Department has arrested one woman in connection with a Tuesday evening shooting.

"Chatham County Police Department detectives arrested 21-year-old Devanae Johnson on Thursday, February 20, 2020. Johnson is charged with aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime," police report.

"Officers were called to the Akshar Food Mart located at 5402 LaRoche Avenue for a report of a shooting at approximately 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 18, 2020. They found one female who had been shot. She was transported to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries," police say.

Detectives say the shooting "was not random."


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Savannah Police seek suspect in West 60th Street homicide

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 11:51 AM

Rashaun Padgett
  • Rashaun Padgett
Savannah Police Violent Crime detectives are seeking the public’s help locating a suspect in the February 8 homicide of a 17-year-old female on W. 60th and Montgomery streets.

"At around 8:15 p.m., officers responded to Memorial Hospital after a shooting victim, later identified as Alexis Devoe, was transported to the hospital by private vehicle. Upon arrival, it was discovered that Devoe succumbed to the injuries sustained from the shooting," police report.

A second individual also responded to the hospital by private vehicle with a non-life threatening injury.

"Throughout the course of the investigation, detectives identified Rashaun Padgett, 25, as a suspect in this case. He is currently wanted for murder and a separate armed robbery charge that is not connected to this case," police say.

Padgett stands approximately 6’5” and weighs around 210 pounds. He is known to frequent the 4100 block of Rockdale Drive.

Anyone with information on this case or Padgett’s location can contact detectives at (912) 525-3124 or CrimeStoppers at (912) 234-2020. Tipsters are anonymous and may qualify for a cash reward of up to $2,500. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Savannah Tree Foundation and Green Truck Pub to mark Georgia Arbor Day with block party

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 3:33 PM

Savannah Tree Foundation and Green Truck Pub are teaming up to celebrate Georgia Arbor Day and Chatham County’s trees. They will host the Georgia Arbor Day Block Party on Sunday, February 23, 2020, 12pm-4pm at Green Truck Pub.

"The celebration caps off Savannah Tree Foundation’s week of tree plantings across Chatham County in honor of Georgia Arbor Day on Friday, February 21," says a spokesperson.

Savannah Tree Foundation will plant 36 trees across Bloomingdale, unincorporated Chatham County, Garden City, Pooler, Port Wentworth, City of Savannah, Thunderbolt, Tybee, and Vernonburg.

Green Truck Pub is celebrating its 10th year by giving back to the community. Sunday’s event is the official kickoff to a month-long fundraising campaign for Savannah Tree Foundation at the restaurant.

Green Truck is encouraging its patrons to “give green” and donate to Savannah Tree Foundation. Green Truck will match donations made through this campaign, with the goal to fund the planting of at least ten trees. All funds raised will offset the cost of the Cool Schools tree planting at Jacob G. Smith Elementary.

On Sunday, the block party will feature crafts, face-painting, and a petting zoo, hosted by Hunter Cattle Co., for kids. Low Country Turners will host woodturning demonstrations throughout the day. Rob Cuilty, a local arborist and bonsai enthusiast, will be on-site demonstrating bonsai techniques. Local groups COR Compost and Farm Truck 912 will also join the fun, with DJ Jose Ray providing music.

Green Truck Pub will serve a brunch special in addition to the regular menu. Green Truck will feature mimosas, micheladas, and Two Tides Brewing on tap.

Savannah Tree Foundation will give away 450 free Willow oak and Eastern red cedar seedlings at the event. They will also raffle off a ginkgo tree, a bonsai tree, and a gift certificate to Green Truck Pub. All proceeds will support Savannah Tree Foundation.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

City Manager search, Downtowner app trigger debates at City Council

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2020 at 5:07 PM

The search for a new Savannah City Manager took a twist at today's City Council meeting — the second full meeting of the new Mayor and Council.

An agenda item to award the search contract to the consultant firm The Mercer Group was questioned by Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter, who objected granting the contract "without us [Council] having an opportunity to own that process."

Mayor Van Johnson responded that "the quicker we're able to get a permanent City Manager on board, the quicker it solves many issues" the city faces.

There's a time crunch involved, as interim City Manager Pat Monaghan has said he would like to leave the position by this May.

Other Council opinion was split. Alderwoman Linda Wilder Bryan said Council will still get the final say: "For the sake of time I'd like to see this move forward."

Alderwoman Alicia Blakely said she wants the City to "start anew" with the search process, and discussed what she said were rumors that certain other local officials secretly wanted the job.

Alderman Nick Palumbo's motion to give the Mercer Group the contract failed. This meant Council could either choose to re-evaluate the four firms that had already passed the bid process — including the Mercer Group — or start the entire process over from square one.

Alderman Kurtis Purtee's motion for Council to reconsider the award between the four already-qualifying search firms did indeed pass.

Another much-discussed item concerned the annual award of $588,000 to the Downtowner app/rideshare firm, which contracts with the City to give free rides in the downtown area.

While the service is intended for service industry workers to safely and inexpensively get to and from work, anyone, including tourists, can download and use the app from the Florida-based company.

Alderwoman Blakely questioned why a much lower bidder, Chatham Area Transit, (CAT) didn't get the contract.

Parking and Mobility Services Director Sean Brandon replied that CAT's bid was contingent on developing an app with a third party vendor, whereas Downtowner already had its app.

Also, Brandon said, "CAT shuts down at midnight," while the Downtowner "really ramps up between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m."

Brandon said that while "I'd love to eventually work with CAT on this," the local transit system is simply unprepared at this point to deliver the service.

Brandon said that since this past May, the Downtowner has served 54,000 clients, with about 34,000 separate pooled rides, at an average cost of $17.29 per ride.

Alderman Palumbo defended the contract, saying "parking downtown is an ongoing issue, and it's extraordinarily expensive" for service industry workers.

With the price of the creation of a single garage space coming in at about $30,000, Palumbo said "we could only get roughly 20 spaces for the cost of this contract that services 54,000 people. It provides an effective service for residents and working people."

However, in the end City Council decided to continue month-to-month with Downtowner to give Council time over the next few weeks to meet with Chatham Area Transit in an attempt to gauge CAT's interest and ability to make a serious effort to take over the service. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

City outlines plans, details for St. Patrick's celebration

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 4:01 PM

The City of Savannah outlined the key points for the upcoming St. Patrick's Day celebration this morning, with a particular emphasis on keeping trash and litter in the squares to a minimum.

"You've seen the photos, we've lived throught it all. We can do better as a community," said the City's Susan Broker, referring to viral photos from last year's celebration in which Wright Square was nearly overrun with discarded styrofoam coolers and other detritus from the party.

"We are asking this year that people not bring styrofoam at all into the squares," she said.

Another issue, described by Broker as "trampling on greenscapes," she addressed by saying "we are asking people to please help us take care of these wonderful assets we have."

The timing of this year's celebrations will be unusual.

The "official" City of Savannah celebration will begin Friday, March 13 at 6 p.m., and end Sunday, March 15 at 6 p.m.

To legally drink from a to-go cup in the "festival zone," which comprises most all of the Historic District, you are urged to purchase a wristband at $10 per day. The revenue goes to cover cleanup costs.

"The wristband is like a $10 cover charge for the party," is how Savannah's Waterfront Director Julie Musselman describes it.

The actual St. Patrick's Day Parade itself, however, doesn't happen until Tuesday March 17, and thus will be outside of the official City of Savannah celebration period.

This means no wristband will be required for to-go cup usage.

City Parking and Mobility Services Director Sean Brandon had some useful advice for the entire celebration, especially on parade day itself.

"We encourage people to look at other forms of transportation (other than by car), particularly on Saturday and Tuesday," Brandon said.

All City garages will be open for use on St. Patrick's Day for a flat $20 per day rate. Since many people will have to work downtown on parade day, Brandon said if you usually have a reserved space, you must be in it by 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, otherwise it's first-come, first-served.

Brandon said for garages, this will be the first year of credit card-only transactions for the garage parking fee.

An official rideshare dropoff point will be in use on Indian Street as per usual, Brandon said. But the City will experiment with a second dropoff point just off Johnson Square.

The entire Chatham Area Transit (CAT) system will be fare-free all day Tuesday, and the usual CAT shuttles will be in operation, with a pickup/dropoff point downtown at Oglethorpe near Price.

Brandon says there will be "heavy enforcement" of parking offenders who park their vehicles in bike lanes and on sidewalks.

The usual "land rush" for coveted spaces in downtown squares along the parade route will once again begin no earlier than 6 a.m. Those caught setting up overnight will be asked to leave and re-enter at 6 a.m. or later. 

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