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Residential Real Estate

Businesses Anticipating Progress in West DeRenne Development

SBJ Staff

12/07/2009 - Property owners and business people on the stretch of DeRenne Avenue west of Abercorn Street are encouraged that the city may at long last remove much of the uncertainty that has paralyzed commercial planning for a decade.

The prospect of losing right of way or business to a DeRenne road reconstruction has made commercial investment a risky proposition at best. With a study and citizen assessment of traffic alternatives and commercial and residential options coming to a close, the uncertainty has been diminished.

That’s a significant milestone that marks genuine progress, says DeRenne business owner Chris Blaine, leader of the newly formed business group DeRenne Avenue Business Association and owner of Barnett Education Supplies.
“We’re on the brink of putting our foot on the moon,” predicted Blaine, who has had his store for years and waited out the stops and starts that marked the master planning process for DeRenne.

He sees new commercial investment in DeRenne coming from near and far, drawn by huge traffic counts along a road that connects to major highways such as Truman Parkway, Abercorn Street, Veterans Parkway and interstates 516 and 16. “Anyone who is going to come to Savannah to invest in a business, that is where they are going to come,” Blaine said.

“The engine is cranked,” he added, referring to the conclusion of the initial phase of Project DeRenne, a multi-step process that involves in-depth study and citizen assessment of options for improving transportation in the DeRenne corridor and enhancing commercial and residential areas.

“I see the plan as the final solution,” he said.

Unlike Blaine, Curtis Lewis III does not expect much to change, at least in the foreseeable future. He owns the land on DeRenne sandwiched between White Bluff Road and Abercorn Street, including the Globe Shopping Plaza.

Lewis is pleased to see the initial phase of Project DeRenne nearing a close. But he hardly shares the Project DeRenne vision of the Globe area being transformed into what planning consultants have dubbed “Midtown Village,” a pedestrian-oriented shopping complex that would surround a passive park and become a “walk-to” retail destination for people from nearby neighborhoods.

Planners envision intensive retail that would include a movie theater and a junior anchor store such as a Barnes & Noble bookstore. 

Way too rosy, said Lewis in an interview last week involving the Project DeRenne vision.

“Everybody is entitled to their own opinion,” he said.

He said the Globe Plaza and the property around it will eventually need to be redeveloped. “I don’t feel like we have to do anything anytime soon,” he said.

“I’ve heard lots of consultants talk about nice things that can be done,” he added.

The biggest obstacle to redevelopment of the aging Globe Plaza lies in meeting current city codes for entrances and exits, parking, drainage and stormwater retention, according to Lewis.

Blaine, who a few months ago spearheaded creation of the DeRenne Avenue Business Association, said support from city leaders will be key to any revival of the commercial corridor.

He said he sees potential for the corridor west of Abercorn to gain a federal Enterprise Zone designation that would qualify it for grants and redevelopment tax credits to property owners and other incentives.  But he said he is unsure he can count of city backing.

City land-use policy, he said, has been colored by an over-riding fear of encroachment of commercial uses into residential neighborhoods.

That fear alone could make it difficult to gain City Council and Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Planning Commission approval for applying for the Enterprise Zone tag, he said.

The economic value of commercial activity is not fully appreciated by Savannah’s elected leaders, Blaine claimed. “It takes 12 homes to earn the dollars” that can be gained by a single commercial parcel. “We’ve got to get this point sent straight down to the City Council.”

One point the City Council will get from the Project DeRenne summary report is that further indecision and inaction will have undesirable consequences.

The stretch of DeRenne from Abercorn west to White Bluff is deteriorating and falling well below its potential, said Rob Hume, manager of Project DeRenne and traffic engineer for consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates.

Abercorn to White Bluff on both sides of DeRenne “has a tremendous amount of vacancy,” Hume said.

Empty storefronts are likely to remain, he said, until transformation of DeRenne is accomplished.

That’s not just his opinion, he stressed. The number one sentiment from business people and building owners all along DeRenne’s commercial stretches, he said, “was that ‘we can’t just do nothing.’”

What he mostly hears, he said, “is that ‘10 years of uncertainty is killing us.’”

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