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The Ripple Effect – A Rapid Expansion of Savannah’s Historic Downtown

Drayton Towers on Liberty Street in Savannah, Georgia. Drayton Towers on Liberty Street in Savannah, Georgia. Granite Bar & Restaurant on Liberty Street in Savannah, Georgia. Coastal Empire on Liberty Street in Savannah, Georgia. Photography by Carson Sanders

In a recent article in the Savannah Morning News, Liberty Street was highlighted as a renewed area of commerce and development due to the recent and well documented changes on Broughton Street. 

Using our very own Lori Judge and Casey Howard as the expertise for what’s happening in and around the changes on Broughton, they were able to articulate why this revitalization is happening and what this means for businesses downtown. Here’s their full take on what has been dubbed The Ripple Effect – A Rapid Expansion of Savannah’s Historic Downtown

It isn’t  breaking news that there have been many changes to the face of Savannah’s Broughton Street district within the past year due to the influx of incoming national retailers taking up space in the corridor with several more planned in the next year. Because of these changes, naturally, many of the local businesses once housed on Broughton have relocated to surrounding Downtown areas.

“As a result of lease rate increases that have come to pass since the re-development of Broughton, businesses are spreading their downtown spectrum to find affordable property,” says Lori Judge of Judge Realty.  Judge brokered over $35 million of acquisitions with the new development of Broughton street, allowing Acadia Realty and Ben Carter Enterprises to start marketing and leasing to national brands.

The effect of this development has spurred redevelopment “pockets” all over Historic Downtown Savannah making a very progressive impact on our city. Downtown is seeing restaurants, offices, and retail shops relocate to many of the surrounding streets and the revitalization of secondary retail corridors that are increasing in foot traffic causing the expansion of the Downtown area.  Districts that are seeing this restorative advancement include: MLK Boulevard, Savannah Riverfront and even  as far as One Victory Drive. One of these mini-districts that has seen the most growth in the past year is Liberty Street.

Prior to the economic downturn, Liberty street was being positioned to become the apex of tourism and local life. Drayton Towers, for example, was built on the premise that it would act as a beacon for the modern retail and residential life.  In 2013, after having been repossessed by Darby Bank a few years prior, 99 of the original 188 apartments of Drayton Towers,  were purchased by the development firm, Flank. They began working to restore infrastructure and once again offer apartments for rent. With the combination of stability and expansion, the ripple effect continues to breed new developments like this.

“When you compare the pricing of many Broughton street ground level retail spaces at $40-$75 per square foot with pricing for Liberty street at $18-$29 per square foot, it’s difficult for many business owners that don’t absolutely require frontage on Broughton to justify the cost differential – the Liberty street corridor is becoming a very attractive alternative to these businesses”, said Casey Howard, VP of Asset Management/Leasing for Judge Commercial, a commercial real estate firm specializing in both commercial lease and sale transactions.

Over the last year and a half, new businesses have been setting up shop throughout this mini- district including Pan Am Dental, Savannah Coffee Roaster’s, Satchel, Roots Up Gallery, BT Byrd’s Cookie Company, The Beer Growler, and more. The most recent moves have been made by Lynch Architects moving into the old Soda Pop Shop leased by Lori Judge of Judge realty and the new Granite restaurant leased by Jason Nielubowicz, also with Judge Realty. The highly anticipated Smith Brothers, a full-service grocery store and long- time Savannah favorite since 1924, is set to open in early 2015 at the east end of Liberty.

Jim Hitch, the owner of Pan Am Dental at 541 E. Liberty street, has been one of the outspoken leaders investing capital dollars to improve/update these buildings along Liberty to propel this renewal.

“Over the course of just over a month we’ve been at our new location, Liberty has developed a lot. I personally invested in the building at 541 and completely renovated the building and adjacent parking lot, but we’ve also seen development across the street with new town homes. Add in the Smith Brothers Grocery store under construction right next door, we already see the rapid advancement of this side of Liberty.”

Local developer, Beacon Builders, is currently building seven, three-story luxury townhomes with carriage houses at 544 E. Liberty Street, the east end of Liberty.  This project recently cleared a major hurdle with Savannah’s Historic District Board of Review.

The downtown community will continue to observe where other  development “pockets” take place as a part of the recent ripple effect and relish the growth with optimistic anticipation.

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