Savannah City Council passes resolution to remove MLK Jr. Arena, renovate Johnny Mercer Theatre at Civic Center site

First ever 'Savannah PM Government Open House' set for July 2; Weekly crime reports from Savannah, Chatham County Police

A vote that was years in the making turned out to be a lopsided one on Thursday, June 27 at Savannah City Council. The Savannah Civic Center contains the Johnny Mercer Theatre, MLK Jr. Arena, community meeting rooms, and ballroom. With three options (resolutions 1-3) before them, the council decided to demolish the arena entirely, while renovating the Theatre and other rooms.

It was a 7-1 vote of approval, with only Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier casting a dissenting vote. Alderwoman Alicia Blakely was out of town and not at the meeting.
In 2022, City Manager Jay Melder presented a conceptual plan for what to do with the Civic Center site to the City Council. That presentation came shortly after the grand opening of Enmarket Arena, located on Stiles Avenue.

“A public engagement process with five engagement events garnering nearly 500 comments (were held),” says the city’s website. Lanier argued in council chambers Thursday that the city’s claims of prioritizing public input on the matter were just for show.
click to enlarge Savannah City Council passes resolution to remove MLK Jr. Arena, renovate Johnny Mercer Theatre at Civic Center site (9)
[CITY OF SAVANNAH]
Bernetta Lanier
“A lot of people see the proceedings and they say well why are we doing all of this, (the City Council) is just going to do what they want to do anyways. They are just going to go along with what they already have presented,” said Lanier. “I keep hearing that, over and over again. Why are we coming to all of these meetings? Why are we convening all of these citizens, and getting them to spend this precious time that they'll never get back, if we are just going to go with what the City wanted and what was recommended in the beginning of this process years ago? That's what we're doing here today.”

“We've proven them right here today. It was just an act for us to appear as if we were going to make some adjustments.”

The resolution chosen, according to the Savannah Morning News, has a cost estimate of $90-$120 million. More details on the specific plans behind Resolution 3 were included in the meeting packet for June 27.
A portion of the language in Resolution 3 states that “Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Savannah, Georgia adopt this resolution and direct the City Manager to prepare and execute a plan, inclusive of robust community engagement and the required Council approval on annual or amended budgets, project financing, zoning, contracts and agreements…”
click to enlarge Savannah City Council passes resolution to remove MLK Jr. Arena, renovate Johnny Mercer Theatre at Civic Center site (7)
[CITY OF SAVANNAH]
Civic Center
Melder’s plan must comply with at least eight stipulations already approved by council. They are that the plan:
  • Proceeds with the removal of the arena and renovation of the theatre, ballroom, and community meeting rooms;
  • Achieves an equitable approach to redevelopment of the area;
  • Retains the name and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.;
  • Restores as much of the Oglethorpe Plan as feasible;
  • Prioritizes housing, including affordable and workforce housing;
  • Prohibits the development of new hotels and restricts the use of short-term vacation rentals;
  • Optimizes space for public and municipal use, as well as appropriate retail and commercial spaces; and
  • Achieves future parking needs.
“The City of Savannah is excited about the future development of the Civic Center site and looks forward to further engagement with the community,” says an updated section of the city’s website dedicated to the civic center. “Additional information about these next steps will be forthcoming. If you would like to share your comments on the future plans of the Savannah Civic Center, please submit your comments to [email protected].
click to enlarge Savannah City Council passes resolution to remove MLK Jr. Arena, renovate Johnny Mercer Theatre at Civic Center site (4)
[CITY OF SAVANNAH]
Jay Melder
Melder reminded council and Savannah residents that the June 27 decision vote was an important moment in the process, but it was far from the final one.

“This first decision is very important to get us to the next 150 (decisions) that will come about during all of the steps we'll need to take on the Civic Center redevelopment plan,” he said. “There really are dozens and dozens more steps and decisions that this council will have to make as we continue to build and execute this plan.”
SAVANNAH PM GOVERNMENT OPEN HOUSE
The City of Savannah invites all residents to join officials and staff at the first-ever “Savannah PM Open House in the Civic Center Ballroom on Tuesday, July 2 at 6 p.m. Mayor Van Johnson and Melder will give presentations preceding an open house event where representatives from various city departments will be available at booths.
click to enlarge Savannah City Council passes resolution to remove MLK Jr. Arena, renovate Johnny Mercer Theatre at Civic Center site (10)
[CITY OF SAVANNAH]
"Savannah PM City Government Open House" is set for July 2
Similar to the individual community meetings held by staff in each aldermanic district, the Savannah PM open house provides an opportunity for residents to directly engage with staff from the City of Savannah. Representatives from all seven service centers will be in attendance, including Management Services, Information and Public Affairs, Community Services, Water Resources, Government Operations, Planning & Economic Development, and Public Safety.

WHAT: Savannah PM open house
WHEN: Tuesday, July 2; 6pm
WHERE: Civic Center Ballroom (Second Floor), 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.


CRIME REPORTS
See below for the most recent weekly crime reports from the local police departments.
Savannah Police Department's weekly crime report for week ending June 22
[SPD]
The above report comes from the Savannah Police Department (SPD) for week ending June 22. Chatham County Police Department (CCPD) released its report (see below) for the week ending June 25.
Chatham County Police Department's weekly crime report for week ending June 25
[CCPD]

     

Travis Jaudon

Travis Jaudon is a reporter for Connect Savannah. He is a Savannah native and has been writing in Savannah since 2016. Reach him with feedback or story tips at 912-721-4358
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