Calls to action: Waters corridor, retrofitting Southside suburbia, and the Tomochichi Annex

IF YOU are a regular reader of this column, you have most likely noticed previous mention of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). Well, you are about to start seeing a lot more mentions.

This week and next (March 2-5), we begin lead-up activities to the CNU’s 26th annual Congress (yes, I know that’s redundant, but it is what it is), being held right here in Savannah May 16-19.

Promotional materials state that: “Savannah exemplifies great urbanism and design. Almost three hundred years of civic and architectural excellence have created a city where attention to detail and tradition are built into every block.”

Well, as we residents know, not every block. We know they mean downtown, and the downtown-adjacent neighborhoods.

Other areas of Savannah – they could use some help. And some help they will get.

Each year, a series of “Legacy Projects” are conducted months in advance of the main event. Crack teams of local and visiting professionals take a look at problem areas and offer their solutions.

These are intense, charrette-based workshops that might cost up to $150k if the pros were not donating their time and effort. Instead, the host cities just pay $15k to help cover CNU’s expenses.

And the polished results of these Legacy Projects will be presented to the attendees of the Congress as well, so these pros will be on their A-game.

The pre-CNU Legacy Project areas are:

1. Eastside

I’ve often heard it said by real estate watchers that the Waters corridor, especially in the vicinity of its crossing with Henry and Anderson, is “the next Starland.” Depending on your perspective, this could sound like an aspiration or a threat. Whichever, it is due to the fact that these watchers recognize “good bones” in the urban fabric and properties that a lot of value could be added to.

If you’ve been following my Gentrification Series (love it or hate it) you should drop in on these workshops and presentations, no matter where you live. The designers will be looking to apply strategies and tactics from existing Purpose Built Communities (see the website) to the Eastside neighborhood and Waters corridor, but that doesn’t mean the recommendations can’t apply elsewhere as well.

This Legacy Project will look to help residents direct how the value is added, and not just to individual properties, but to the community as a whole. Attention will be given to the retention and creation of housing, broadening services supporting community wellness, and the creation of an economic development district.

2. Southside

This workshop will basically be looking for ways to create a “second downtown” of compact, walkable, mixed-use urban fabric somewhere in the vicinity of GSU-Armstrong and the Savannah Mall.

There’s certainly enough dead space to work with, between oceans of parking lots and empty retail.

For real-world examples of where this has been done before, largely from dead malls, Google “Retrofitting Suburbia” (using the quotes) and then hit the “images” tab. The book of that name was co-authored by a former professor of mine at Georgia Tech, Ellen Dunham-Jones, and is full of juicy case studies with great visuals.

It’s exciting what could be done out there with all the available space, and I can’t wait to see what this workshop comes up with.

Southsiders and Georgetowners, get to these sessions and tell the designers how you’d do downtown better than downtown.

3. Brunswick

And Savannah isn’t keeping all the CNU-love to itself. Our neighbor to the south along the Georgia coast, Brunswick, will host a team looking to revitalize the Norwich Street corridor. Norwich was apparently “once the bustling main commercial corridor” according to the press release.

The Details

Eastside: W.W. Law Center (909 E. Bolton St.)

March 2 – “Listening Day” – 9am to 5pm

3-day, all-day open workshop, March 3-5, 9am to 5pm

Community presentation, March 5, 6pm


3-days of public workshops from 6-8pm, March 2-4, Crusader Center, 81 Coffee Bluff Villa Road

Community presentation, March 5, 6pm-8pm, GSU-Armstrong, University Hall, Room 158

Brunswick – Same dates, but various locations. See City of Brunswick website for details.

Kevin Klinkenberg of the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority (SDRA), one of the two local professionals most responsible for bringing the CNU to Savannah (along with Eric Brown of Brown Design Studio) says this about the opportunity:

“The Legacy Projects are intended to bring world-class design and planning expertise to local issues that otherwise wouldn’t receive that kind of service. It’s CNU’s way of giving back to the local host community, by helping to confront difficult issues and give inspiration for how to solve them.”

Here’s what I have to say:

“If you care about improving Savannah’s built environment, put your cynicism about government-sponsored plans and outside consultants on hold. Get your ass to these public sessions. If you don’t, you’re a fool, and I will personally hound you the next time you publicly complain (Facebook or real life) about Savannah not having any good plans for the future.”

click to enlarge Calls to action: Waters corridor, retrofitting Southside suburbia, and the Tomochichi Annex
Courtesy Barnard Architects
The proposed new Federal courthouse annex would put a surface parking lot on an original trust lot, right on Telfair Square, for only about two dozen parking spaces.

And another thing:

4. The Tomochichi Federal Courthouse Annex

Do you think the Bathroom Buildings are bad? You know, those hideous federal buildings on Oglethorpe Avenue and Telfair Square?

Of course you do. Well, the situation could actually get worse.

The Federal Government has decided to test my personal maxim of “Anything is better than a surface parking lot.”

Their plan is to knock down both of the smaller Tiled Monstrosities, put the new Annex on the south trust lot, and leave the north trust lot open, as surface parking.

Yes, a new surface parking lot, downtown, on top of a trust lot, on Telfair Square. Yes, the square with the museums.

For a whopping 23 parking spaces, surrounded by a fence. Yes, a fence that will also close off that section of West President Street from public use.

Local architect Scott Barnard is leading the charge to improve this plan, and will be speaking about it at the next Massie Heritage Center lecture (March 7, 7pm, please RSVP).

click to enlarge Calls to action: Waters corridor, retrofitting Southside suburbia, and the Tomochichi Annex
Courtesy Barnard Architects
Scott Barnard proposes to keep the building on the north lot, and rent space to new tenants. Also shown: an Annex styled to resemble the courthouse.

Mr. Barnard suggests that at the very least, the north Lavatory Edifice should be allowed to remain, with office space rented out to new non-governmental tenants.

God help me, I agree. It’s still better than a parking lot. My maxim holds, even for Class-WC office space.

Also, it would be wonderful if the massing and style of the new Annex echoed that of the existing and sublime Tomochichi Courthouse building.

Please contact these people about it:

Audrey Entorf: [email protected]

General Services Administration (GSA)Regional Preservation and Fine Arts Office, 77 Forsyth Street SW, Atlanta, GA 30303, 404-433-8490   

Congressman Buddy Carter c/o Hunter Hall: [email protected] 6602 Abercorn Street, Suite 105B, Savannah, GA  31401, 912-856-4095    

Senator Johnny Isakson

c/o Andrew Blascovich: [email protected] Box 9142, Savannah, GA  31412, 912-237-4580    

Isakson’s man Andrew says their office gets lots of monotonous input about such issues, so get creative. Maybe record yourself singing Joni Mitchell lyrics. You know the ones.