City Talk column: Restored trust lots could host range of uses – Business – Savannah Morning News

In Sunday’s column, I talked about the Urban Land Institute’s suggestion that we restore the lost streets but not the lanes when the Savannah Civic Center is demolished, perhaps as soon as 2022.

But downtown stakeholders and city officials will likely seize the opportunity to restore as much of Gen. James Oglethorpe’s town plan as possible — streets, lanes, squares, everything.

And then we will have to make some major decisions about the trust lots on Orleans and Elbert squares.

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The trust lots or blocks, which are the parcels immediately east and west of the squares, were primarily reserved for civic uses, including houses of worship and government buildings.

But the trust lots host an array of uses, including single-family homes, multi-family buildings, offices, parking lots, a theater, an inn, house museums, restaurants and retail.

So we have precedent for almost any type of development on the restored trust lots on Orleans and Elbert squares, and there won’t be any shortage of ideas once the public conversation gets rolling.

We should certainly consider residential development similar in scale to The Lafayette condos on Lafayette Square for one or more of the four restored trust lots.

Years ago, a preservationist and developer with keen interest in the Civic Center site suggested to me that we should replicate William Jay’s Bulloch-Habersham House on one of the Orleans Square trust lots for use as a decorative arts museum. The city demolished that mansion a century ago.

The ULI’s final report makes a provocative suggestion that one of the restored trust lots on Elbert Square be used to honor the “public space ethos” of the original plan.

“The lot could be privately operated but still serve as a neighborhood amenity — a ‘third place’ with flexible, creative uses that go beyond the beauty of the restored square itself,” says the ULI panel in their final report.

“The envisioned civic space does not need to be a grand edifice, but rather a communal space that serves modern Savannah’s needs, notably nearby residents, to support a more livable neighborhood.”

The ULI suggests a variety of models for us to consider for this new public space, including the Commerce Street Night Market in Dallas, Grove Arcade in Asheville, Fetch Dog Park in Atlanta and Rose City Food Park in Portland.

I especially like the concept of the Truck Yard, a Dallas beer garden that hosts live music and food trucks.

The ULI report outlines a clear timetable for the redevelopment of the civic center site. If we are going to stick to that timetable, we need to make decisions about uses, density, lanes and height limits over the next year, so I hope city officials will quickly outline the process for the general public.

And I hope Savannahians respond with open minds and creative ideas.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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