HSF and the City Working Arm-in-Arm

February 7th, 2017

river-street Coincidence, kismet, harmonic convergence…call it what you will, but HSF and the City of Savannah are on a roll helping each other.  Since the new City Council was elected and the new city manager was hired, HSF has helped the City with several preservation-related projects.  More open lines of communication between the City and HSF are leading to new collaborations that are yielding—or have the potential to yield—significant improvements with respect to blight, tourism management, and truly embracing preservation as a primary tool in the City’s approach to tackling its urban challenges.  In other words, when the City seeks HSF’s input…we readily and constructively respond.  Likewise, when HSF reaches out to the City for insights…we follow their advice.  To be sure this has happened in the past, but not with the frequency and consistency that we currently enjoy.  As a result, each side (and the whole community) is benefiting.

And it’s not just about writing a check.  The help that HSF is providing comes in a variety of forms.  Sometimes it’s as simple as a few constructive comments about an undertaking (for example at the Metropolitan Planning Commission) that would benefit from an alternative viewpoint and good counsel.  Sometimes it’s advising on a legal remedy to correct a mistake with respect to new development.  But sometimes, yes, it is about committing significant financial resources (and helping attract more) to ensure that Savannah maintains its profile as one of America’s great cities—for both visiting and living.  It is this last point that we focus on in this piece…developing a new Tourism Management Plan for downtown.  Saving an endangered historic building on Meldrim Row, assessing the current conditions of Savannah’s historic City Hall, sponsoring training workshops for small developers, lighting monuments on Bull Street, and inventorying historic buildings in the Victorian District are important projects that HSF has and is doing with the City, but nothing is more pervasive or as widely experienced as hosting 13 million visitors each year.

HSF stipulates the benefits of those visitors, but we also acknowledge the challenges and toll such epic visitation can take—especially on the residents and historic resources that make Savannah unique.  After years of advocacy—even harping—the City is finally undertaking a comprehensive study to establish a plan to balance tourism industry interests with resident needs in the Landmark Historic District.  The intended result should be a strategy for addressing a handful of priority items where the City can preserve fragile historic resources, sustain the tourism industry, and respect the quality of life of downtown residents.  Questions like, how can we better get a grip on the carrying capacity of certain hot spots in downtown?; at what point does too much of something threaten the integrity or brand of the Landmark Historic District?; and what incentives (and dis-incentives) can the City adopt to protect residents while not undercutting one of the city’s principal industries and employers?; will be addressed.

Here is the Scope of Services

  • Identify five (5) priority items where the community needs to balance quality of life, tourism industry, and preservation.
  • Develop strategies and policies to address each of the priority items over the next three (3) to five (5) years.
  • Ensure a comprehensive implementation schedule including the creation of a work plan with specific goals, objectives, benchmarks, responsible parties, etc.
  • Provide best practices for tourism management which can be applied in Savannah and are legal approaches.
  • Identify future trends in tourism that will impact Savannah.
  • Present findings to Tourism Advisory Committee and then to City Council.

The process has already begun.  The consultants have been selected (The Experience Institute), and they are surveying and interviewing community leaders and stakeholders.  At least two public meetings will be held to capture more—live—community input.  In the end, a written report with recommendations and continued consultation with the Tourism Advisory Committee and City Council will be shared.

While not a magic wand, the Tourism Management Plan will provide a road map (and perhaps a regulatory framework) for the City to better envision and handle the growing tourism industry. No one wins if we inadvertently snuff out the primary reason why people choose to visit Savannah in the first place.  Properly implemented, Savannah can avoid mistakes made in places like Venice, Italy and the Vieux Carre in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Without such a plan, we can be sure that 13 million visitors, a billion-dollar tourism industry, and thousands of beleaguered downtown residents will clash while occupying the same precious square mile.  And that is why HSF is committed to helping the City—financially and programmatically—to working towards a solution through such a plan.  If the communication lines—and lines of cooperation—remain open, we’re confident we can succeed.