|By Adam Van Brimmer, Savannah Morning
News, Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 05, 2012--River Street's evolution over the half-century has been anything but subtle.
The next stage could be the most dramatic yet.
Plans for the redevelopment of the Georgia Power property on the east end of River Street call for 87-foot-tall buildings flanking the street's eastern entrance from General McIntosh Blvd and a seven-story hotel and four 30-foot-tall retail buildings along the riverfront.
The development will transform the long-quiet end of River Street located east of Morrell Park and the former Georgia Power regional headquarters into a bustling commercial corridor, albeit one the project's architect hopes will "fit" with development elsewhere on River Street and the Historic District.
"The most important thing to us is to create another place in Savannah where someday people will think, 'That's all part of Savannah. That fits,'" Pat Shay of Gunn Meyerhoff Shay Architects said. "I hope to show that overall the design will be as good as anything done in the central part of the Historic District."
The Savannah Historic District Board of Review will conduct the first of at least three evaluations of the plans during its monthly meeting Wednesday afternoon. The review process is usually confined to two sessions, but Shay submitted the height and mass section of the plans without including several required massing elements, including proposed window openings and balconies.
The approach is meant to allow board members to focus on the size and shape of the buildings. Shay is likely to ask for a continuance to the September or October meeting and submit the missing massing elements and possibly the changes recommended during Wednesday's meeting in the meantime.
The other part of the review process -- evaluation of the exterior design elements -- could also take place during the September meeting but would likely be done in October or later.
Once the plans gain approval, the sale of the property by Georgia Power to the developer, North Point Hospitality, would be finalized.
Plans for the project will be heavily scrutinized by the Historic Review Board. The group opposed a change to the Historic District height map that allowed the riverfront hotel and connecting parking garage to be built higher than the two-story height limit imposed elsewhere on River Street. The Savannah City Council, with the blessing of the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission board, amended the map anyway.
The development plans show North Point will build to seven stories on half of the 130-foot stretch of waterfront impacted by the height map change. The building stands three stories -- one of those being a rooftop pool area -- along the other 65 feet of riverfront.
The Historic Review Board still has a say in how the new buildings will look, even with the height map change. The visual compatibility of the structures to the existing buildings in the vicinity will be at the center of what is sure to be a lively debate.
Shay draws parallels to the Marriott, located directly east of the riverfront section of the project, the former Georgia Power region headquarters on the site and the warehouse-style retail buildings to the west in his submittal packet to the review board.
Another major visual compatibility issue to be addressed involves the setbacks of the riverfront hotel. Shay's plans call for the hotel to extend almost to the edge of the riverwalk. The north facade of the hotel juts out beyond that of the planned retail buildings, which will feature a grassed strip between the structure and the riverwalk.
The plans do include greenspace -- a grassed park plaza approximately the size of Franklin Square, located along Montgomery Street just west of City Market. A pedestrian connection from Bay Street to the riverfront, passing between the existing Georgia Power building and the proposed neighboring hotel, as well as two of the proposed retail buildings, is also included. The retail buildings will be connected via bridges like those seen along Factor's Walk.
As for public feedback on the project, the leader of one group that has reviewed the plans, Historic Savannah Foundation, expressed concerns with the impact the hotel/retail complex will have on the "feeling" of River Street for pedestrians. The foundation's CEO said the plans hint at a "swallowed up" environment.
"The River Street promenade encourages pausing and meandering at a comfortable pace," Carey said. "When you get down to that end, you start to realize the impact of more human and vehicular traffic and the size of the buildings and it's going to change your pulse rate. It's going to feel like leaving a pedestrian zone and entering into an intense development."
(c)2012 the Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.)
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