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Decades Of Economic and Real Estate Development Analysis

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Carver Commons Opens: Latest Redevelopment for Savannah’s MLK

Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 April 2011 13:16 Written by From Staff Reports Friday, 25 February 2011 13:28

NEWS - Commercial Real Estate

 

By Catherine Rendón  

March 28, 2011 - Less than a mile south of Bay Street and five blocks west of the Victorian District’s Forsyth Park is the new home of Food Lion Supermarket. For the last 16 years a variety of individuals, including a number of city managers like Frank Wise, Henry Moore, Israel Small, and others like SDRA Chairman, Tony Cooper, have tried to attract a grocery chain to the area. Robert E. James, President of Carver State Bank, an active participant in this project said, "There has always been a desire to see economic development on this corridor."

James’s participation in this project was key to Food Lion’s success. This is not only because he sold the land on the corner of Gwinnett Street and MLK Boulevard to the developers, but also because as a longstanding member of the business community here, James offers reassurance for long-awaited positive change. Carver State Bank purchased this property for $36,500.00 in 1971 and opened its bank on the corner in 1974. More recently, the bank has been using one of St. Philip’s buildings for its offices since Food Lion’s groundbreaking in July 2010 but is moving into the new Food Lion building as a tenant at the end of March 2011 when both Carver State Bank and Food Lion Supermarket will have a grand opening.

This project would not have been possible without a third partner in the community and that is St. Philip A.M.E. Church that has stood in the same spot for 100 years. The Rev. Dr. John Foster, pastor of St. Philip’s, says that to many this project seemed like a pipe dream. St. Philip’s A.M.E. provided not only extra space needed for the parking lot but also the weight of a respected local church in the community with a history dating back to 1865. St. Philip’s 600-strong congregation consists of African-American professionals, teachers, lawyers, and counts James among its regular congregants. It is a "silk stocking church" with many members from the cultural elite of the African-American community. St. Philip also addresses some of the issues of the poverty that surrounds their church and feeds 430 persons every fourth Saturday.

Foster feels that much of the memory of the old West Broad Street is akin to nostalgic musings of a former girl or boyfriend one selects the good bits and forgets the bad. Foster feels that Food Lion’s presence in the neighborhood "will provide a catalyst for change and adds a further link in the chain of economic development and social renewal." Foster was also complimentary of the role played by the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority (SDRA), who have its headquarters half a block away from his church.

Food Lion Director of Operations Billy Harcum and Dwayne Tutt of Food Lion’s Real Estate Department, have been closely involved with this project. Food Lion has four stores in the Savannah area and opened two new branches over the last two years mainly in Southbridge and the other at Skidaway Road and DeRenne. Harcum considers this their latest offering to be in Savannah’s historic district and its most urban location in the area to date. Forty-six new jobs have been created and the new store will offer a variety of services ranging from a deli, bakery, Red Box DVD kiosk, lottery, Western Union and Coinstar.

 

Gunn, Meyerhoff and Shaye, a local architectural firm chosen for the Food Lion project had links with the community since it designed the second Carver State Bank branch on Skidaway Road a few years ago. It was chosen to design Carver Commons in view of future urban renewal plans and because of its track record and use of local historical details in other city projects.

Patrick Shaye, a principal at Gunn, Meyerhoff, Shaye, explained how much of the plan of the Food Lion was already pre-designed given the store’s corporate philosophy. Nonetheless, Dwayne Tutt, the Food Lion representative who oversees over 500 Food Lions in the Southeast, understood that the presence of his store on MLK Boulevard was also an attempt to resurrect a sense of pride in the city and this neighborhood. To this end, Shaye’s architectural firm did some historical research and looked for visual cues which would celebrate some of West Broad’s former landmarks. This is how the architects incorporated a large arch in the center of the supermarket’s façade in tribute to the Star Theatre, one of two movie theatres that catered to the African-American public before desegregation.

The building material too, in this case, bricks, tries to look as closely as possible to the traditional Savannah Grey brick which characterize the city’s historic district. The ones used in the supermarket are actually from North Carolina but are the closest in look and feel to Savannah’s traditional brick. There is a subtle variation in the hue of the bricks to differentiate the supermarket from the bank that are housed in the same building as well as a change in the roofline (one is slightly different in height) in order to also mark a difference in both businesses. Old photographs of the neighborhood have also been blown up for the side windows of the supermarket facing the Kayton-Frazier homes in order to give a sense of place to this new Food Lion in the community. R.P.M. Associates from Greenville, S.C., are in charge of construction.

Shaye intentionally designed Carver State Bank’s entrance on the diagonal, facing MLK Boulevard, as a tribute to the traditional entrances of some of Savannah’s older institutions. It was important for James to continue to have a façade onto the main thoroughfare since his belief in the neighborhood is such that his bank’s presence and that of St. Philip’s offer a beacon of hope and well-being to the local community.

"More than any other bank, Carver Bank prides itself on its personal customer relationships," James told the SBJ. To this end, it feels that it will not only continue to maintain important ties and community clients, but it also hopes to attract new customers. Carver State Bank offers "second chance" banking which allows those who have few options of having a bank account, actually benefit from one. Furthermore, although the bank uses technology and online banking for its younger customers, it recognizes that many of its clientele require individual service to walk them through some of the intricacies of banking.

Many in the neighborhood are anticipating the opening of the Food Lion. Choose’s No. 5, a market which was called Chu’s 20 years’ ago, will face competition as it will no longer be the sole purveyor of food in the neighborhood. Clarence Jackson, a frequent shopper there, remembers how 50 years ago this same spot housed the Super Duper Market. Local businessman Richard Shinhoster, of The Diaspora Marketplace, feels that Carver Commons is just what is needed to put an anchor of stability and possibility into the neighborhood.

K. King, a Syrian-American merchant who works next door to Chooses’s No. 5 at "Beauty and Beyond" thinks the competition will be good for the neighborhood. "It is good to have choice" he told the SBJ. Hong-Kong born, David Siu, of the Chinese take-away restaurant, "The Great Wall," and who has been at the same location for 26 years, hopes that Carver Commons will attract more business to the quarter. Siu, however, feels that the MLK corridor is still too fast and a little too far from the downtown to attract a broader base of customers. Anna Smith, who works at "Beauty and Beyond" hopes that the new Food Lion will provide new jobs and opportunities for the neighborhood.

"On the whole, it remains a win-win situation for everyone," James explained. This is the first time a Food Lion has partnered with a religious institution, a church, in order to establish itself in a neighborhood, Pastor Foster told the SBJ. Foster also noted that it will be the first time that a local church will have an ATM on its premises. This is because part of the space needed to accommodate the Food Lion’s parking lot is on church property. Now instead of a grass lot, the church will enjoy a paved, well-lit parking lot.

At present MLK Boulevard is looking more spruced up than it has in some time, although some of the Kayton-Frazier homes are presently boarded up. The various churches and fast food restaurants on this principal artery leading to Bay Street maintain a constant flow of foot and automobile traffic passing through the neighborhood on a regular basis. Smart pockets, like the BBQ restaurant, "Blowin Smoke" on MLK Boulevard and Minis Street, and the SDRA offices, have added attractive destinations to the city in what to date has been an uneven and uncertain marketplace.

There are rumors and hopes that this part of the city will be the next area to be re-gentrified. There has even been talk of trolleys making their way down MLK Boulevard. Empty lots have been bought by private citizens like Dr. Walter O. Evans, whose collection of African-American Art will be housed further up M.L.K. Boulevard in the new SCAD Museum at Turner Boulevard. Plans for a commercial corridor down to 52nd Street have been discussed, although Carver Commons is the first evidence of investment in this quarter.

Many hope that the arrival of Food Lion will add a much needed injection of capital and hope to the future growth and well-being of this corridor. Finally, the presence and investment in this new supermarket by society stalwarts like James and Foster adds an important seal of credibility to the whole enterprise. "There is something "magical" about new development," says James, and by keeping Carver State Bank facing MLK Boulevard, there is a hope of long-term transformation for the neighborhood and for the future. The hope is that other stable retailers will appear and help build the community back and that families will eat better and become more prosperous.