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Editor's Note: The Great Downtown Disconnect 

I’VE FOUND that the usual left vs. right paradigm is rarely useful in actually achieving anything other than mutual discord and disappointment.

It seems like reducing things to political sides is pretty much a guarantee that whatever problem you say you’re trying to solve is going to remain unsolved.

One of the more intriguing, yet rarely discussed, Venn Diagram overlaps between left and right, i.e. between the power of the state and the power of capital, happens with what are usually called “public/private partnerships.”

In an age of increasing austerity, public/private partnerships are all the rage. And indeed they provide some salient advantages which are difficult for either the state or for capital to achieve independently.

The chief public/private partnership in our area, of course, is the Port of Savannah, a robust mutual alliance of the power and money of the state with the power and money of multinational corporations.

Currently, the downtown area is awash in plenty of other examples of what one could loosely define as public/private partnerships. (Alderman Tony Thomas, who despite his mania for controversy often makes very lucid comments at Council meetings, pointed out recently that there is a billion dollars worth of investment currently in progress in Savannah.)

The Plant Riverside project on West River Street was made possible through a combination of special state tax incentives and City of Savannah incentives in the form of a bond issue to build an attached parking garage.

Nearby are plans for a massive infrastructure investment in the so-called “Canal District,” a catch-all term for the development anchored by the as-yet-unbegun Westside Arena, an ambitious taxpayer-funded project which will account for almost the entire current round of SPLOST revenue.

Just in and of itself, the Westside Arena alone will cost the rough equivalent of the entire discretionary annual budget of the whole City of Savannah.

While the Arena/Canal District is envisioned as mostly a government investment, the hope is that the tide of ancillary development will somehow raise all boats in this impoverished area of Chatham County.

On the other side of town, City Council has made a huge gamble — for the second time — on the future of the Savannah River Landing area and surrounding parcels.

Taxpayers will underwrite the gamble to the tune of $54 million, mostly for garages and landscaping.

While there is more corporate skin in the game on the Eastside than on the Westside, that investment seems to be more focused on upscale housing and lodging options, neither of which seem particularly targeted to actual residents.

When you combine this with the epidemic of short-term vacation rentals, we see the trend towards a sprawling tourism/entertainment district which will, if trends continue, in the near future be almost devoid of year-round residents.

The funny thing is, I almost never hear citizens say that what they want most is more public investment downtown.

I hear people say they want crime to be better addressed everywhere.

I hear people say they want better schools throughout the district.

I hear people say they want a lot less corruption in local government.

I hear people say they want more and better transportation options throughout Chatham County.

I hear people say they want more jobs that pay higher than minimum wage.

What I almost never hear anyone say is that they want more public/private partnerships to build more hotels and condos.

The usual argument in favor of these big projects is that they will eventually generate more tax revenue than the original taxpayer investment.

But the problem is that we seem to be chasing our tail. The more revenue generated, the more revenue there is to plow back into large-scale projects in the tourist/entertainment district instead of where the overwhelming, vast majority of City of Savannah residents actually live.

As with the tired left vs. right paradigm itself, until this cycle is broken, little of import to residents is likely to change.

cs
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About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

Bio:
A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for 15 years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

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Connect Today 10.17.2017

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