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Cultural Arts Center

Is the City making progress on the Cultural Arts Center?

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The City has the funding plan in place, and has recently completed the the design phase of a plan to build a new center for the arts in Savannah. This facility will replace the inadequate leased space that houses our Cultural Affairs Department at Whitaker and Henry streets. It will include state-of-the-art classroom, studio, gallery and performance space.

On Sept. 9, 2015, the Historic District Board of Review gave final design approval for the new center (see images above and below), to be built on a long-vacant lot at at Oglethorpe Avenue and Montgomery Street -- a key gateway into Savannah with wonderful proximity to Savannah's other major art facilities, such as the Jepson Center for the Arts, the SCAD Museum of Art, and the Johnny Mercer Theater at the Savannah Civic Center. The development will also partially restore Elbert Square, one of Savannah's "lost" squares on Montgomery Street.

This will be a place where working artists can interact and share with each other, and where students of all ages -- from young children to retired seniors -- can engage in the visual and performance arts. It will not be just a place where local people can see good art, hear good music and enjoy good performances. It will be a place where they can be engaged in creating art too. (read all that the Department of Cultural Affairs currently offers at

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How is it Being Funded?
Funding for this project comes primarily from the Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax. Voters approved $3 million to get property acquisition and conceptual work under way during the 2003-2008 SPLOST 4 referendum, and $13.4 million during the 2008-2014 SPLOST 5 referendum (for lots more about SPLOST, go to  

When the recession hit, Council had to make some tough choices about SPLOST amid significantly reduced sales tax revenue projections. In 2010, they decided to make major reductions to several large projects with significant funding gaps, and fully fund a few projects that were nearly there in order to get them built without borrowing money or using rapidly diminishing general fund dollars. The Coffee Bluff Marina was one project that was fully funded. Another was the Bull Street Fire Station. A third was the Cultural Arts Center, whose budget was increased by $4 million, bringing its total allocation to $20.4 million.

How is it Being Built?
This is the first time the City has utilized a method called construction manager at risk (CMAR). Under CMAR, the construction manager is brought in much sooner than normal, during the design phase. The goal is for the architect and the construction manager to work together early on to drive down costs and reduce the number of unknowns that so often arise in a large capital project. (City Manager Stephanie Cutter wrote a thorough
letter to the editor earlier this year explaining the project budget and the selection of the design architect).

Following the Sept. 9 Review Board approval, the project now moves into the detailed design and specifications development that will be presented to the project team in December. 

On September 15, City sewer conveyance crews and contractors began the process of relocating sanitary sewer around the building site in anticipation of construction. Staff is also working with Georgia Power to relocate overhead electrical lines. 

What's this I hear about the project being over-budget?
We mentioned that $20.4 million in SPLOST funding was budgeted for the project. Earlier this year, after the conceptual design and initial programming plan was developed, the design architect and construction manager at risk estimated the total cost of construction at $24.5 million, leaving a deficit of about $4.1 million. 

In June 2015, City Manager Stephanie Cutter presented a funding plan for bridging that gap.The plan included using:

  • $1.5 million in revenue from the sale of two pieces of City property no longer needed for the project
  • $790,000 in available Capital Improvement Program funds designated for downtown streetscape work for streetscape work associated with the Arts Center
  • $600,000 of the $9 million available in SPLOST 6 neighborhood improvement funding.
  • $1.2 million in funds remaining from a 1995 Downtown Savannah Authority bond issuance.

That closes the projected gap in its entirety. View the City Council Workshop where this plan was discussed here. Fast forward to Minute 57 of the Workshop. 

Current estimates are for construction to begin in February 2016, with completion scheduled for the summer of 2017.

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