Atlanta developer Ben Carter is revealing more details of his plans for Broughton Street in downtown Savannah.
The proposal includes 150,000 square feet of restaurants and retail space and at least 80 apartments.
Carter says he’s preparing to purchase and redevelop about 25 properties. He says around 30 national retailers have expressed an interest in the development. A spokeswoman says Carter will provide more details about those retailers by this spring.
Carter is best known for mall developments, including the Mall of Georgia in the Atlanta area and the Outlet Mall of Georgia, near Savannah. He says his target market for Broughton Street is young professionals and college students interested in urban living and shopping.
“The influence of the largest historic district in America has attracted a creative class here that I find very inspiring,” he says.
Many of the buildings haven't been occupied for decades, making cleanup and renovation a challenge. But Carter says the pine floors, brick walls, high ceilings, and windows will produce attractive loft apartments.
Daniel Carey, President of the Historic Savannah Foundation, calls the proposal “provocative” but says it could spark a positive transformation of the downtown area.
In an email to GPB, he says any development plan should follow the letter and spirit of local ordinances and design guidelines. Carey also says it’s important to maintain a balance of national chains and local businesses.
That’s a concern shared by Scott Singeisen, an architecture professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
“It’s a very complex development question that we see repeated all across the United States,” Singeisen says. “When you have national chains that want to invest in a downtown, it’s hard not to see the rents...increase on those adjacent properties.”
Ruel Joyner is the president of the Savannah Downtown Business Association and the owner of an interior design business on Broughton. He says it’s exciting to see a major investor interested in Savannah, but points out that many of the sales have yet to be finalized. Joyner says the area has been a major hub for the city since the 1920s.
“That’s nothing new,” Joyner says. “As for Mr. Carter’s plans, we’re sitting back and waiting to see.” Joyner says he’d also like to see development of the city’s other major corridors, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd.
Mohsen Badran, President and CEO of Goodwill of the Coastal Empire, says he believes the development would create new jobs and reduce unemployment in Savannah. Goodwill, which has a long-term lease for its store on Broughton, trains disabled adults in retail skills.
“You can’t create more jobs without encouraging more businesses to start new or expand to our area,” Badran says.
Carter says he hopes a more vibrant downtown shopping district will also strengthen local businesses. He says he will fund the Broughton Street project with $10 million of his own, and work to get financing for the rest.
Contracts on most of those properties are still pending, but Carter says he hopes to have the deals wrapped up within the next few months. He says he expects to ask the City of Savannah for help with infrastructure improvements to support the development.