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14-story Johnson Square office tower proposal

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Citing a lack of parking options, businessman Greg Parker abandons plan for a 14-story Johnson Square office tower

Greg Parker's towering ambitions for the corner of Bull and Bryan streets have been lowered significantly.

Parker, who owns the building that most recently housed Piccadilly's downtown cafeteria, had hoped to raze the current structure and build a 14-floor office tower with underground parking facilities on one of the few sites within the Historic District OK'd for multi-story growth.

Instead, Parker said, he's renovating the existing, two-story building.

The first floor will be leased to Regions Financial Corp., an Alabama-based holding company, for Regions Bank's first Savannah branch. The second floor will add nearly 11,000 square feet of prime office space to the heart of the city's downtown.

So, what toppled Parker's tower plans?

"In a word - parking," said Parker, who also owns a chain of area gas station convenience stores.

"The most we could get was 72 spaces in a three-level underground garage - and that's just not enough."

Add to that a price tag of some $45,000 per space, and the project's feasibility quickly diminished, he said.

Although he's not concerned about finding office tenants for what he calls "the premier corner in downtown," his reluctant decision to downsize should raise a red flag with city planners, Parker said.

"I think the city needs to be very thoughtful about how they handle parking issues downtown," he said.

Parker pointed to the growing number of businesses moving out into the suburbs, even as downtown Savannah experiences a renaissance of shopping and dining options.

"From an urban planning standpoint, business offices constitute the lifeblood of a thriving downtown community," he said. "And, according to my estimates, more than 1,000 office workers are leaving downtown."

He cited Savannah Foods, which last year moved employees from Johnson Square to the company's Port Wentworth facility; Savannah-based jeweler Friedman's Inc., which moved its downtown workers to new headquarters on the westside; and the Savannah Morning News, which will leave its Bay Street home of 150-plus years for Chatham Parkway later this year.

"It's so easy for companies to look to the westside, where parking and crime aren't problems," he said. "We need to take care that Savannah's Historic District doesn't turn into another Williamsburg - all tourist attraction. That doesn't create a vibrant downtown."

Esther Shaver says she couldn't agree more.

"Parking is our No. 1 problem," said Shaver, owner of E.Shaver Bookseller on Madison Square and a downtown resident.

"I think the city's doing the best it can - they're limited in that you can't tear anything down to build a new garage.

"They're working on the Liberty Street garage and that will help, but if we lose the City Market garage, it won't help much."

But Sean Brandon, management services coordinator for the City of Savannah, said his office has no immediate plans to eliminate City Market parking when it takes over the garage's lease at the end of the year.

"We won't do anything with respect to tearing down the garage until we have a plan in place for relocating those slots," he said. "Downtown can't sustain losing 500 parking spaces."

The city's 900-space Liberty Street garage, at the corner of Liberty and Montgomery streets, is on schedule and should be completed sometime in the second or third quarter of next year, Brandon said. And the city is currently looking for land on the eastside of downtown for another garage.

Once the Liberty Street facility is finished, Brandon said, the city will begin running a free shuttle from the garage to Johnson Square.

"That's clearly the biggest problem area downtown with respect to parking," said Assistant City Manager Chris Morrill. "We're hoping that, once it's up and running, the free shuttle will help alleviate that."

Free is the operative word in the success Portland, Ore., has had in solving its downtown parking crunch, said Deborah Wakefield, director of communications for the Portland Visitors Association.

In addition to light rail and bus systems, Portland began operating a system of streetcars, known as neighborhood connectors, in July 2001.

"But the key is what we call 'Fareless Square' - a 330-block area that encompasses all of downtown," she said.

Transit is free everywhere in that zone.

"You can hop a bus, a train or streetcar and travel within Fareless Square without having to pay a fare," Wakefield said. "As a result, most people don't bring their cars downtown at all."

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One solution might be to put in a park and ride. Tourists that are in town for the day might be more inclined to use this it if it were convenient enough for them.

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How about solving this problem, in the long run, by constructing a downtown or inner city streetcar line, with large park & ride parking lots or garages on the fringes of the historic district.

I don't know how deep the site is, but maybe they could have considered making the parking garage a little larger, by making the back portion of the first floor and floors 2 & 3 extra parking levels. Street front retail could still be added along main sidewalks.

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Although, one problem with that is that some of the streets are pretty narrow. I took a look and the waterfront may be too congested for a streetcar system. Other areas would be good.

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[Note: threads merged]

i heard about a 14 story tower proposed in downtown savannah (nothing to do with the river landing project) i think i heard it was gonna be next to johnson square or something. its called the pulaski tower.

anyone know anything?

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Parker proposed a 14-story tower on Johnson square, but gave up on the project in 2004 because of a lack of parking. It would have been a good-looking building, designed to fit into Savannah's historic downtown.

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Parker proposed a 14-story tower on Johnson square, but gave up on the project in 2004 because of a lack of parking. It would have been a good-looking building, designed to fit into Savannah's historic downtown.

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^^ That would really be great news if that tower project resurfaced. I had a rendering of it at one time. If I can find it, I'll post it here. SavannahGa probably has it if he still comes around.

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^^ That would really be great news if that tower project resurfaced. I had a rendering of it at one time. If I can find it, I'll post it here. SavannahGa probably has it if he still comes around.

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^ I finally found a rendering of the tower that Greg Parker was going to build. It's the one on the left. Too bad, it really would have been a fine addition to downtown.

full_parker.jpg

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