Arena contract debate leads to contentious post-election meeting; Gamble Building approved for sale

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The first Savannah City Council meeting since this week's election was marked with open dissent and tension, mostly over the award of another Arena contract.

Saying "I don't think this Council should vote on anything at all" until the new Council is seated in January, Alderwoman Estella Shabazz objected to the award of another phase of the Arena management contract to OVG.

Alderman John Hall, who was defeated on Tuesday, replied that "Our term of office didn't end on Nov. 5."

Mayoral candidate Alderman Van Johnson, who faces Mayor Eddie DeLoach in a Dec. 3 runoff, also asked why the vote couldn't be delayed.

Shabazz requested that the official vote go to the electronic board for full visibility, but then delayed her vote to have more time to discuss.



DeLoach said it was time to vote, and when Shabazz refused, he banged the gavel down several times.

Initially he said it was to adjourn the entire meeting, but that was then changed to a five-minute recess.

After the recess, Johnson — who originally voted Yes only in order to have the prerogative to ask to reconsider the vote — changed his vote to No, and the measure passed.

The other major discussion was over the sale of the Thomas Gamble Building next to City Hall, declared surplus in 2017. A condo development plan by the Foram Group fell through.

A Texas-based company formed for this project, Gamble Partners, wants the City Council to approve negotiating a proposed $7.5 million deal for the building, to be a "guesthouse complex" with some retail.



The local realtor heading the highest money bid, but second-highest ranking bid, Richard "Dickie" Mopper, spoke to Council at length about the inadequacies and perceived unfairness of the current Request for Proposal process with regards to City real estate. The process relies on a matrix of things other than just the bid price.

Mopper's client bid $100,000 more than Gamble Partners, but lost.

"I think your point system is absolutely nuts," Mopper said, pointing out that nearly every entity involved in his bid was local, in contrast to the high-ranking bid.

Alderwoman Shabazz said, "I am in total agreement" with Mopper, "because I strongly advocate local. We have got to.... have priority for those persons who work, live, pay taxes, in our local community."

In addition, Mopper said his client found out they lost the bid by reading the Savannah Morning News.

"I had to call my client and say I just read the front page of the Savannah Morning News, and that the mayor and alderman were going to vote to approve somebody else's proposal and he didn't know anything about it. That's insane."

Alderman Julian Miller, who didn't run for reelection, said, "I'm fearful we're resting on our laurels about how far we've come and not doing more to see what we can do to work better with people. What Mr. Mopper asked for is no more than a common courtesy."

The sale was approved, with the typical dissenting trio of Van Johnson, Estella Shabazz, and Tony Thomas disapproving.

With the new Council taking office in 2020, they are likely to find themselves in a new governing majority — including Johnson if he prevails in the Dec. 3 runoff with DeLoach.
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