Sun., April 4, 2010 9:54pm (EDT)

McDonald's Sparks Opposition in Savannah
By Orlando Montoya
Updated: 4 years ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
The vacant and boarded-up building at Jefferson and Broughton Streets in Savannah has been a lingering eyesore on a commercial corridor that has seen much revitalization since the 1990's.  Putting a McDonald's there has sparked opposition in a city with a history of bitter fights over the aesthetics of downtown development.  (photo Orlando Montoya)
The vacant and boarded-up building at Jefferson and Broughton Streets in Savannah has been a lingering eyesore on a commercial corridor that has seen much revitalization since the 1990's. Putting a McDonald's there has sparked opposition in a city with a history of bitter fights over the aesthetics of downtown development. (photo Orlando Montoya)
Historic Savannah could get its first McDonald's.

The idea has sparked opposition in the Colonial capital, which is world-renowned for its town plan, moss-draped live oaks and Antebellum homes.

The litany of complaints against McDonald's includes bad architecture, bad food, the corporitization of a historic area and the possibility of trash.

The restaurant would be located in a vacant historic building that McDonald's would renovate.

Local restrateur Matthew Roher started a "No McDonald's" Facebook page that quickly gained more than a thousand fans.

"McDonald's is McDonald's, no matter what kind of mask they put on it," Roher says. "And I think that it sends the wrong message. I think that we have to take a stand."

Historic Savannah already has restaurant chains, such as Outback and Subway. Green consultant Maria Castro, however, feels McDonald's goes too far.

"I think one of the things that's really beautiful about Savannah is the diversity and the variety of local businesses that are here," says Castro. "It gives Savannah its character and I think a McDonald's on Broughton Street takes that away."

Preservationists are more circumspect.

Daniel Carey of the Historic Savannah Foundation is reserving his judgement until he sees revised plans.

But he stresses that the renovation of a long-boarded-up building could benefit the city's largest-in-the-nation National Historic Landmark District, a federal designation for areas of historic value.

"We're encouraged when vacant buildings can be brought back to life," Carey says. "The adaptive use of this vacant, historic building, which is a rated and a contributing building to the National Historic Landmark District, is a positive."

The opposition doesn't come as a surprise in a city with a history of bitter fights over the aesthetics of downtown development.

Some of the more recent high-profile cases, which are televised, have involved a bus station, a museum, a WWII monument and a multi-story residence.

The city's Historic Review Board will vote on the McDonald's matter on April 14th.

The panel will rule on rather narrow questions involving signage and a planned walk-up window on a public sidewalk.