Insurance brokerage firm Seacrest Seven operates and owns 1001 Whitaker St.
Insurance brokerage firm Seacrest Seven operates and owns 1001 Whitaker St.

PROPERTY MATTERS: Multiple demolitions proposed near Forsyth Park to clear way for office complex

Updated June 20, 2023 at 2:43 p.m.

Eric Curl/June 15, 2023
1015 Whitaker St. was purchased by a subsidiary of Dulany Industries in 2020.

Once recommended for protected historic status, three buildings west of Savannah's Forsyth Park may be demolished to clear the way for an office complex.

The buildings located in the Victorian Historic District include two 20th-century office buildings along Whitaker Street near Park Avenue, in addition to a 19th-century building west of the intersection along West Park Avenue that currently houses the Campbell & Son Funeral Home.

The buildings' owners are teaming up to correct a "lapse in urban design judgment that occurred over 60 years ago," by clearing away buildings with no urban context or significant history that would not be permitted to be built today, according to a project description by Greenline Architecture’s Keith Howington. The project will create office space for local companies and their employees, alleviate area parking issues, correct the needed density for the blocks, and improve the vibrancy of the area, Howington said.

"If these buildings are allowed to stay, this area along Whitaker Street will continue to be an urban planning blunder, a missing tooth on the face of Forsyth Park," he said.

The three buildings were among 10 properties the Metropolitan Planning Commission recommended designating as contributing structures to the local historic district last year. Shortly after, Seacrest Seven submitted a petition to demolish one of the buildings at 1001 Whitaker St., where the insurance brokerage's office is located. The MPC opposed the demolition, arguing that the early 1960s-era building had historic significance worth preserving.

The applicant ended up requesting a deferral and the city manager withdrew the text amendment to add the 10 buildings as contributing resources. There was talk of the text amendment returning for consideration later in the year, but with an expectation that the proposal would cover buildings of ‘exceptional importance’ for the whole Victorian historic district rather than just what was considered the first phase of the update to the contributing properties’ map.

“We understand after additional reviews and many months later, these buildings are still considered ‘non-contributing’,” Howington’s project description states.

The plan also includes the demolition of a garage structure estimated to have been built in the 1970s at 115 West Waldburg St., along with a freestanding carport used by the funeral home, both of which were not recommended for contributing status by the MPC.

The proposed demolitions are scheduled to go before the Historic District Board of Review for consideration on June 28.

PROPOSED DEMOLITIONS

1001 Whitaker St.

The building, originally the IBM Eastern Region Office, was constructed in 1961 by Aeck and Associates, according to documentation submitted by the MPC as part of the effort to designate it a contributing structure. In the area of architecture, the building is significant at the local level as a good example of an early 1960s commercial office building and as an excellent example of the New Formalist style of modern architecture, according to the 2022 MPC staff report. Also significant for its characteristic use of modern materials, the building is among the relatively few iconic examples of New Formalism in Savannah, the staff report stated. The building is currently occupied by Seacrest Seven LLC, an insurance brokerage and consulting firm, which has owned the building since 2010, according to property records.

1015 Whitaker St.

The Art Deco style building was built in 1957 and was originally an office building for the Gulf States Life Insurance Company, according to documentation submitted by MPC staff as part of the text amendment proposal. More recently the building was known as the Hurn Museum of Contemporary Folk Art, which closed in 2006. The building has been owned by 1015 Whitaker LLC , a subsidiary of Dulany Industries, since 2020, according to property records. 

124 W. Park Avenue

The building dates back to 1885 according to documentation submitted by the MPC as part of the effort to add it as a contributing structure. Built as two identical individual residential structures, the structure was likely stitched together in the 1970s into one building with a central hallway formed in the cavity between the two previously separate buildings, according to Greenline’s petition. The building currently houses the Campbell & Sons funeral home and has been owned by Portfolio Holdings LLC since 2005, according to property records. 

FUTURE OFFICE COMPLEX

While the building owners are waiting for approval of the demolitions before developing the plans, the site is expected to include three or four multi-story buildings in the zone that allows four stories, along with an underground parking garage, said Brad Baugh, whose company, Portfolio Holdings LLC, owns the Park Avenue building that the funeral home operates out of. Seacrest Seven will continue to operate at the location in one of the new buildings, while Savannah-based Dulany Industries, which owns 1015 Whitaker St. will relocate its employees to the site as well, Baugh said.

Unlike most of the country, Baugh said there is a severe shortage of office space in Savannah, recently exacerbated by some of the city's larger office buildings, such as the Manger building, being converted into hotels.

"These folks want more office space and the only way to do that is raze the site and build a bigger building," he said.

Published June 20, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

     

Eric Curl

Connect Savannah Freelance Correspondent I Eric Curl is probably reading building permits, sales records and meeting agendas. He writes Property Matters to share what he finds. You can find the column, along with other stories, cartoons and quizzes about local matters at Savannahagenda.com.
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