State News

February 15, 2014

Developer reveals plans for downtown Savannah

Mall developer Ben Carter has revealed additional details on his $72 million plan to return Broughton Street to its heyday as a shopping and dining mecca.

Carter, who said he has 21 properties under contract between Montgomery and Drayton streets, confirmed retailers J. Crew and Palm Avenue will be among his first batch of new tenants.

His plan, he said, could create 800 retail and restaurant jobs and add more than 100 new downtown residents through the building of 80 loft-style apartments in the upper floors of his properties. Carter said he wants to acquire about 25 properties total.

“This is not a downtown revitalization project -- your downtown is vital,” said Carter, “it just needs some amenities that we think we can build on to make it a better lifestyle for everybody.”

Carter spoke at a press conference at 201 W. Broughton St., the old Clipper Trading building, where he has signed a master lease with owner Michael Brown. Retailer J. Crew will occupy that space, while Palm Avenue will go in 223 W. Broughton, next to The Walking Company.

Carter displayed several concept poster boards, giving the public an idea of what the stores, apartments and upgraded streetscape could look like. His properties will total about 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

A foam board left in the window afterward displayed retailers that Carter hopes will soon join the Broughton corridor, including H&M, L’Occitane, Sunglass Hut, Vinyard Vines, Louis Vuitton, Coach, Lululemon and Sephora.

He said the residential component will target the creative class, namely young professionals interested in downtown renovated studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.

According to broker Lori Judge of Judge Realty, most of Carter’s properties are entire buildings and the future J. Crew space is the only master lease agreement. Carter said he hopes to close on a series of buildings by the end of the month, with several more closing in April and later this summer.

“We’ll start our renovation efforts and apartment and retail efforts as we close,” said Carter.

The developer reiterated that he wants to boost occupancy and enhance the customer base, not drive local shops out.

“A lot of our sellers are people that own the retail businesses they’re in and have decided to take cash and maybe relocate or take cash and retire,” said Carter, adding that several acquisitions were empty.

Alderman Van Johnson, who also addressed the crowd at Tuesday’s press conference, said Carter’s investment was an opportunity to reclaim spaces that have sat vacant for quite some time.

“This is a game changer,” said Johnson. “(It’s) certainly an opportunity for us to be able to put retail in here and to use Ben’s contacts and his creativity and his connections to be able to infuse more vitality into a corridor that’s already very, very vibrant.”

Carter is working with local firm Hanson Architects as he begins renovations. He also plans to build a new building in the empty lot at 230 W. Broughton, next to McDonald’s, for an unspecified national retailer.

Carter said he wants to work with the city to improve the streetscape, including shortening crosswalks and putting in planters.

“We’re hopeful we can do street art, we’re hopeful we can do wall art, we’re hopeful we can do things on the sidewalk,” said Carter.

The developer’s team met with city staff, who had already been in discussions on Broughton’s beautification, and came up with conceptual renderings that give the street a more uniform look.

City spokesman Bret Bell said the developer’s basic concepts, such as the addition of more public space and improving the treescape, are compatible with the city’s vision for Broughton.

There’s no timeline yet for streetscape improvements, Bell said, noting there is still a lot of planning to be done before any upgrades are made.

The press conference attracted a sizable crowd, including city officials, elected leaders, interested members of the public and several Broughton Street business owners, such as Shaun Mirch of the New York Boutique.

Mirch said he was feeling more positive after seeing and hearing about some of the plans.

“I think it’s good for the city long term. I think it will be much better than it is now,” said Mirch. “But we just don’t want him to buy the property and turn around for investment and not do anything.”

Although Carter had previously alluded to King Street in Charleston as an inspiration for his vision, he said he wanted Broughton to stand on its own.

“I hope you will walk this vision with us,” said Carter. “Let’s not think about King Street. Let’s think about what we can be.”

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