1. City budget burns with a Fire Fee
Savannah was blindsided this fall by the announcement right before City Council budget time that ... we’re apparently broke.
City Manager Rob Hernandez—brought in specifically to right what was widely thought to be a sinking ship—said there would be an estimated minimum $12 million shortfall.
Hernandez laid out a grim picture of finances devastated by the breakup of the SCMPD merger, extraneous real estate purchases, upcoming bond issue commitments, and other things limiting revenue collection.
The fact that the bad news came so late in the year, and required such a rush job to address, didn’t help matters.
Initially, Hernandez presented a budget for Fiscal Year 2018 that was déjà vu from last year, only worse. In 2016 he had initially proposed a 30 percent cut in the 2017 arts budget and the social services budget.
This year, Hernandez proposed a full 100 percent cut to the arts and social services budgets for 2018. The outrage rang from one end of town to the other.
The “solution?” An almost equally unpopular measure called the Fire Service Fee.
While the Fire Fee was sold as a way to make everyone equally responsible for a service everyone needs access to, in practice the Fee was seen as a gouge to low-income residents.
Undercutting the rationale was the fact that City property taxes will actually be lowered to mitigate its impact on homeowners—something sure to be appreciated but which also leaves one wondering, what’s the point of adding the fee to raise badly needed money if you’re also going to cut taxes?
It seems to many that the Fire Fee was oversold as a simple solution to a very complex problem—a problem which centers on spending money we don’t have.
Case in Point: Even during the most tense portions of the City Council’s deliberations on the budget shortfall, Mayor DeLoach wanted to add a previously unbudgeted line item costing the City nearly an extra $3 million.
The funds were to go to an early childhood education program in partnership with the Savannah-Chatham School Board. Only problem was, most of the School Board was completely unaware of the plan, as were most City Council members.
Besides its financial impact, the whole process has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth that will surely affect the next municipal election in some form or fashion. —Jim Morekis
- The infamous Blue Dodge during Irma
2. Hurricane Irma: No Matthew, but no joke either
The streets weren’t completely clear of Hurricane Matthew debris when Hurricane Irma started heading for Savannah.
The second major hurricane in our area in under a year (and they say global warming doesn’t exist), Irma was forecast to decimate the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. Early predictions saw Irma hitting Savannah as a Category 4 storm.
City officials were heavily criticized for waiting until nearly the last minute to order a mandatory evacuation for Matthew. As a likely result, Savannah residents took storm preparations into their own hands and watched Irma from thousands of miles away, resulting in a slow building panic.
The scary part of Irma was its size and the uncertainty as to where the eye would make landfall. It was the strongest hurricane observed in the Atlantic since 2005 with 185 mph maximum sustained winds.
During its approach, Irma routinely strengthened and weakened, leaving weather experts confused as to what path it would take. As Irma decimated Barbuda, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Anguilla, Chatham County residents feared the worst for our area.
The first area school to close was SCAD, which delayed the start of its fall quarter by a week and closed residence halls. While that decision was likely made to prevent international students from having to travel unsafely, it still caused a mild panic that led to SCCPSS closing schools before the mandatory evacuation order was eventually given on Sept. 7.
When the storm finally passed over Savannah on Monday, Sept. 11, it had weakened significantly from landfall.
Though it’s unarguably a good thing the damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been, residents still complained that the decision to evacuate was needlessly made, even after the disarray of Matthew.
As Connect editor Jim Morekis wrote after Irma, “You can only complain about government overreach so much when literally every ‘spaghetti model’ shows the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded headed directly for Savannah. You can only complain about media sensationalism so much when you see entire island nations literally wiped off the map due to a Category 5 storm forecast to come your way in a few days.”
The city’s response to Irma was timely, responsible and made under a lot of uncertainty. CEMA’s improved operations since Matthew helped save a lot of lives.
It just goes to show that hindsight is 20/20 and we’re all budding meteorologists with perfect vision. —Rachael Flora
3. Georgia Southern/Armstrong 'merger’: A hostile takeover?
In the first days of 2017, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia announced plans to consolidate Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University. In the final days of 2017, the Board passed the resolution to merge the two.
The shock wave among those most affected has yet to subside.
The year-long saga of the two popular universities was contentious and confusing. The announcement on Jan. 6 came as a surprise without input from either institution’s population. Armstrong students staged protests, but the vote to approve the resolution five days later made it clear that the Board had already made up its mind.
There was little information on the merger throughout the year, leaving Armstrong faculty and staff unsure about where they stood. One of the first recommendations approved by the consolidation committee was to dissolve all Armstrong sports teams, causing major unrest in the student body.
The Armstrong Pirates had collectively amassed 5 NCAA DII National Championships and 35 Peach Belt Conference titles in six years, as noted by Athletic Director Lisa Sweany at the time.
Details released in August revealed that the merger was more of an acquisition. Georgia Southern’s current president Jaimie L. Hebert will serve as president of the new institution, effective Jan. 1, 2018.
The new institution will consist of nine colleges spread over two campuses. The new academic program has been released with information on where specific programs will be offered.
While some programs are offered at only one campus, it appears that the majority of the programs are offered at both campuses. As reported in August, the health colleges will be in Savannah and the engineering college will be in Statesboro.
Georgia Southern is located in Statesboro, 52 miles from Armstrong’s campus, forcing some students to decide between commuting, moving, or transferring.
The first class under the “New Georgia Southern” will enter the school in fall 2018. Connect reported in September that each active Armstrong student is ensured a degree in their current track until spring 2020, but students now have four semesters to complete their programs.
Armstrong’s rich history in Savannah began with the founding of Armstrong Junior College in 1935. The institution moved to its present campus on the Southside in the late 1960s.
While the campus’ buildings will retain their historic names, the loss of Armstrong as an institution is a major blow to Savannah history. —Rachael Flora
4. SCMPD’s nasty divorce is final
The Savannah Police and the Chatham County Police were merged in 2005, forming the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department. Less than ten years later, discussions and disputes began over shared funding responsibilities, new precinct headquarters, and response times.
Beginning Feb. 1, 2018, there will once again be a Savannah Police Department and a Chatham County Police Department.
Citizens and politicians are always complaining about crime in Savannah, and how it should be the number one public policy priority. But at least since 2014, the Chatham County Commission and the Savannah City Council have been at mutually acrimonious loggerheads over the issue of a merged police department with jurisdiction over the entire county.
(There are several municipalities in Chatham County with their own police departments, such as Pooler and Tybee Island, etc.; these will be unaffected by the de-merger.)
The City accused the County of never communicating with them. The County accused the City of the same.
They disagreed on funding amounts, funding formulas, and funding responsibilities—after allegedly figuring all that out in order to merge the departments in the first place.
The individual bodies couldn’t figure out what they wanted even among themselves. Chatham County Chairman Al Scott and County Manager Lee Smith appear to have hired new Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley with zero input from County Commissioners and without a formal candidate search.
It all takes place amid the backdrop of the multigenerational cultural and political clash between the urbanized City of Savannah and the suburban unincorporated area of Chatham County.
Right now, both bodies are claiming this is what’s best for their respective constituencies. The City of Savannah claims this will enable the now close to fully-staffed City department to more adequately cover the area within City limits.
Chatham County says this will keep their tax money policing Chatham County, instead of going to subsidize police work in the higher-crime City.
However, the City’s current dire budget situation is spurred at least in part due to about $9 million in unbudgeted costs due to the collapse of the merger.
As for the County, it remains to be seen if a new, smaller department can keep up with the alarming increase in crime the unincorporated area is now seeing. —Jim Morekis
- The scene waiting on Buddy Carter to depart from the Armstrong Center.
5. Buddy Carter’s tumultuous Town Hall meeting
On February 21, hundreds of people packed Armstrong State University’s Armstrong Center for a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Buddy “Earl” Carter (R-Savannah), the first in the U.S. representative’s tour around Georgia’s District 1.
While Carter fielded questions about Social Security, campus rape, Russian influences in the 2016 Presidential election and whether he would demand to see Trump’s missing taxes, the majority of the meeting focused on the Republican Congress’ intention to “replace and repeal” the Affordable Care Act.
His Powerpoint presentation, which included a slide entitled “The Broken Promises of Obamacare,” was met with angry boos and insistence that he refer to the legislation by its proper name. The few Carter supporters in the room attempted to quiet down the crowd as Carter explained the key points of the new plan, citing leadership from Tom Price, the former Georgia congressman hired by the Trump administration to fill the role of Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Price resigned from the position in September after it was revealed that he spent over a million dollars in taxpayer money to travel on private jets.
What made Carter’s February town hall notable were the 300+ attendees who were not able to fit in the auditorium and staged a protest in the Armstrong Center lobby. The gathering was mostly peaceful except for a skirmish involving a local insurance agent who allegedly shouted a bigoted epithet at and pushed one of the protestors.
The volume of the crowd in the lobby was significant, however, and video clips from the scene could be glimpsed on national footage as news outlets covered a wave of congressional town hall protests around the country.
Carter staged a follow-up town hall in April, held at Bible Baptist Church on Skidaway Road. While well-attended, the scene was far less contentious, possibly due to required advance tickets and a beefed-up security presence.
Democrat and former Bernie Sanders delegate Lisa Ring is challenging incumbent Carter’s District 1 seat in the November 2018 election. —Jessica Leigh Lebos
- Photo by Orlando Montoya
- Tony Thomas at his censure meeting
Soprano Thomas censured by City Council
Anyone who thought Tony Thomas would sit meekly while being formally censured by the rest of City Council this past spring doesn’t know Tony Thomas.
Like a scene from a mob movie, the Sixth District Alderman basically ran the censure meeting himself like a boss, in one of the most remarkable bits of political theatre in Savannah in living memory.
After footage made the rounds of Thomas making a sexist, vulgar comment to a local woman TV reporter, calls grew for Mayor Eddie DeLoach and Council to do something to address it.
The latest Thomas-oriented controversy was on the heels of social media photos of the drunk alderman passed out in a chair in the DeSoto lobby on St. Patrick’s Day.
DeLoach made a brief video from Council chambers saying a move to formally censure Thomas was deemed the right thing and the only thing to do, given the totality of his actions.
Problem is: To censure a council member takes a unanimous vote of all present.
DeLoach began the special called meeting this past May with a prepared statement.
“I stood up for [Tony] at St. Patrick’s Day and asked everybody to go for one more chance,” the Mayor said. “But I also told him, Tony, this is your chance but if this happens again I have no other choice but to call you on it.”
Then it was Tony’s turn to defend himself. And in his mind, the best defense was a good offense.
Down the line, Thomas addressed nearly every member present, including the mayor, openly threatening each of them with exposing what he said were damaging secrets of their own.
Of Alderwoman Carol Bell, he alluded to a scholarship program she is involved with, strongly suggesting that it’s run in an unethical fashion.
He alleged that Aldermen Julian Miller and Brian Foster were also drunk with him on St. Patrick’s Day. (Miller responded, “You don’t even know how you got to the Hilton that day.”)
As for Mayor DeLoach, he said, “I want to challenge you publicly to submit to any alcohol or drug test that I will. This is a smokescreen for your own personal issues.”
But the show was just getting started.
Midway through the hearing, as if on cue, a late-arriving Alderman Van Johnson walked in and took his seat. Johnson immediately began questioning the terms of the censure hearing.
“The St. Patrick’s incident shouldn’t be in this resolution ... I don’t believe in kicking a man while he’s down,” said Johnson.
In disbelief, Mayor DeLoach attempted to debate Johnson about the hearing, saying it was “another attempt to cover up” for Thomas.
At which point, Thomas interrupted and intoned in a threatening voice: “You need to be very careful, Mr. Mayor.”
In the end, Johnson’s vote was needed for a unanimous tally, so he got the concessions he wanted.
Alderman John Hall summed up the feelings of many when he desperately pleaded aloud to no one in particular: “Why are we being put through all this?”
And finally the vote came to censure Thomas—in possibly the only censure meeting in history where the person being censured left with more power than when he came in. —Jim Morekis
7. Chief Lumpkin peaces out
Breaking news as we put this issue together is the shock announcement that Chief Joseph Lumpkin is resigning from Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Dept. to take a similar job in DeKalb County, Ga.
The timing of course is fortuitous—he will begin the new job four days before SCMPD itself ceases to exist, split into two departments.
“Chief Lumpkin leaves in place a department with two qualified Assistant Chiefs, and over 600 high quality officers,” said Mayor DeLoach on Lumpkin’s departure. I have spoken with the City Manager and we will be conducting a nationwide search to find the best candidate to be our next Chief,” said the Mayor.
Candidate searches cost money, of course, and that will add another line item to an already stressed City budget in the wake of the de-merger. —Jim Morekis
- The Talmadge Bridge
8. Talmadge Bridge over troubled water?
Amidst the national discussion around Confederate monuments, the Savannah City Council passed a resolution on September 28 calling for Georgia lawmakers to rename the Eugene Talmadge Bridge —which while not memorializing the Confederacy per se, nonetheless does glorify a particularly nasty era in Georgia history.
Built in 1953 over the Savannah River by the State Highway Board, the original Talmadge Bridge memorializes the former Democratic Georgia governor, best known for his white supremacist campaign platforms and advocacy of lynching African Americans.
The Georgia Assembly chose to carry on the name after a more modern truss replaced the first bridge in 1991. Currently overseen by the Georgia Dept. of Transportation, any change to the bridge name must be conducted at the state level.
Several attempts to rename the bridge have been put forth over the years, most recently by a Savannah-based activist group called Span the Gap. Founded by artist Lisa D. Watson in 2015 and currently headed by Savannah native and Harvard Law alum Ron Christopher, Span the Gap hosted a panel in conjunction with the Beach Institute on September 5.
Moderated by former mayor Otis Johnson and featuring a line-up of community activists and leaders, the panel was also attended by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannnah), chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, who announced that he would push the issue during the next legislative session, though he warned that it could be challenging to win support from other lawmakers.
Two years ago, Span the Gap sponsored an online petition that garnered thousands of responses in favor of removing Talmadge’s name from the bridge and replacing it with Tomochichi, the Yamacraw chief who aided General Oglethorpe in his efforts to settle Savannah.
In October, the Girl Scouts of America launched its own petition asking Gov. Nathan Deal to rename the bridge after Girl Scouts founder and Savannah native Juliette Gordon Low.
The City of Savannah resolution calls for renaming it simply “The Savannah Bridge.”
“We will drive over the iconic bridge that leads to our city that will no longer be named for a man that divided us, but for the city that we are all proud to call our home,” DeLoach said when he presented the proposal to the rest of the council in August.
The Georgia Assembly is expected to review and vote on the name change when it convenes again this spring. —Jessica Leigh Lebos
9. Gray area for Confederate Memorial in Forsyth Park
After a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.. became murderous, the push was renewed all over the country to remove Confederate-themed statuary from public spaces.
The last time the country saw such a movement was in the wake of the Emanuel AME church shooting in Charleston. But as with much social media-driven activism, that push mostly petered out, leaving Savannah unaffected.
With this year’s unrest, however, Savannah City Council very proactively took up the issue of the Confederate Memorial dominating Forsyth Park.
Actually one of the few openly Confederate-themed items in this mostly-colonial city, the monument is dedicated to Civil War dead, and also features two Confederate busts at its base.
Mayor Eddie DeLoach announced a task force to take up the issue of the monument, with a strong eye toward doing a better job of historic interpretation, rather than attempting to remove it entirely, which would set up a legal struggle with the state of Georgia, which currently has legislation limiting altering or moving monuments.
The move received strong City Council support, and was perhaps intended to be bolstered by a survey gathering public opinion on the matter.
However, the survey said: Don’t mess with the monument.
Almost twice as many respondents, both residents and non-residents (a nod to the tourism component?), said to leave it alone entirely.
The irony of the situation is that the Confederate Memorial is one of the few historic structures in this very historic town currently without signage or a plaque explaining its construction and provenance. It’s just sort of ... there.
By adding such interpretation, we would only be bringing the Memorial up to speed with most contributing structures in the downtown National Landmark Historic District. —Jim Morekis
10. Savannah foodie scene simmers
The local culinary scene always serves up a full plate, and there was no shortage of delicious drama this year for Savannah foodies.
In June, the closing of The Florence had a lot of folks crying into their napkins. Whether it was the midtown location or the pricey menu that did in the Italian-inspired eatery, not even the blessing of celebrity chef/co-owner Hugh Acheson could salvage the three-year venture.
But the restaurant show must go on: In August, Tony Seichrist of the Wyld Dock Bar announced he had bought out the lease from Acheson on the former ice factory on Victory Drive and is collaborating with Atlanta chef Landon Thompson on a “casual Mexican” concept for the downstairs space and a raw bar upstairs. Coyote is slated to open in early 2018.
Meanwhile, former Florence chef Kyle Jacovino has risen from the ashes with the 1540 Room, part of the Desoto hotel’s stunning refurbishment. Inspired equally by fresh bounty from local farms and his family’s Mediterranean roots, Chef Jacovino creates a dining adventure where paella and handmade pastas are served alongside just-pulled greens and heritage Southern rice.
South of Forsyth is getting spicy with all kinds of new business, including Bull Street Taco and the coffeeshop/art place Henny Penny, part of the Foxy Loxy culinary empire that also opened the plant-based oasis Fox and Fig on Troupe Square towards the end of the year.
On the west end of downtown, fine-palated boozehounds welcomed the opening of the gorgeously appointed Prohibition on MLK Blvd, and the geniuses of the Gaslight Group anchored a fine dining presence on the quieter side of Broughton Street with East End Provisions.
Restaurant power couple Ele and the Chef elevated grilled cheese to gourmet dimensions with Little Duck Diner on Ellis Square, while their upscale Ele became the family-friendly Current on Whitemarsh Island.
Lunchtime got a whole lot more exciting with Brian Torres’ and Sky Hoyt’s renewed culinary collaboration of Fork & Dagger near the Savannah Law School, and Chef James Levens serves up sammies late into the night at the Diplomat Luncheonette.
Food trucks enjoyed an ever-increasing following thanks to the implementation of last year’s ordinance, resulting in a steady weekend presence near Ellis Square and other pop-up locales. The Savannah Food Truck Festivals drew thousands of hungry Savannahians in search of Dark Shark Tacos, Big Bon Pizza and Chazito’s Cuisine.
The Grey and Chef Mashama Bailey continued to rack up accolades around the world and was named 2017 Restaurant of the Year by the prestigious Eater magazine.
Finally, after a several delays and a dead tree, the long-awaited Husk Savannah was scheduled to open soon after Christmas. Bon appétit to all! —Jessica Leigh Lebos
- Left to right: Dusty Church of Savannah Pride, Evonia Pollard of Transgender Empowerment Education, therapist and advocate Karen Abato and First City Network chair Michael Ploski at the new Savannah LGBT Center.
11. LGBT Center opens doors
After more than 30 years of planning and fundraising, Savannah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community opened a safe space of its own this summer.
Located on the bustling Bull Street corridor south of Forsyth Park, the LGBT Center features spacious classrooms, an art gallery and a mental health clinic as well as office space for various organizations: Savannah Pride, Stand Out Youth, the Georgia AIDS Coalition and Transgender Empowerment Education each have a designated presence to grow their membership and offer services to the estimated 10,000-15,000 local LGBTQ citizens.
Run by volunteers, the center operates under the “mothership” of the First City Network, Georgia’ oldest LGBT organization. FCN began in the 1980s as an activist group raising awareness about AIDS and has grown into one of Savannah’s most formidable business and political influences, collecting over $75,000 for the long-awaited center.
Adding to the fundraising efforts were multiple benefit shows by local musicians and the performers of House of Gunt, Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque and the Club One Cabaret.
Hundreds of residents, business people and local dignitaries—gay and straight— showed up to the ribbon-cutting on July 13, including former mayor Edna Jackson and Alderman Van Johnson. The party flowed from inside, where Peter Roberts of Location Gallery showcased work from LGBTQ artists, to the parking lot, where folks rejoiced under rainbow flags to live music from the Christy Allen Band and beer from Service Brewing.
“We see it as a place for the community and also a resource for gay tourists,” explains FCN chair Michael Ploski, who took over the helm this year from longtime advocate Billy Wooten.
“This is where they can come and get information about what’s here in Savannah. It’s been a long time coming.” —Jessica Leigh Lebos
12. Mayhem in City Market
Even by the standards of a crime-weary city, the fatalities in City Market over the fourth of July celebration were shocking.
A crowd was raked by gunfire from a vehicle allegedly driven by 17-year-old Jerry Chambers, who had gotten off an armed robbery charge just a year prior.
In the car with him were Gabriel Magulias, 20, and Spencer Stuckey, 17.
While no one was killed by gunfire, several were hit by bullets. The deaths came later.
The vehicle with the three young men led police on a high-speed chase first to the west, then back east on Bay Street.
Just a few yards from the site of the original shooting, the vehicle collided with a lightpost, killing Magulias and Stuckey.
Also dead was a pedestrian, Scott Waldrup, who was walking on Bay Street with Mashama Bailey, executive chef at The Grey. Waldrup was struck by the vehicle before it crashed, and according to eyewitnesses helped push people out of the way before he himself was hit.
He was 30 years old.
At the wake held for Waldrup, The Grey owner Johno Morisano said:
“What is going on here, it’s not a black or white issue. It’s not a gay or straight issue. It’s a Savannah issue Political and cultural loyalties don’t matter when people are dying. We can no longer stick our heads in the ground or accept the paralysis because of social, racial and class divides.”
Despite the horror of the incident—and despite the fact that the lone survivor of the vehicle, Chambers, faces three murder counts—SCMPD and Chatham County DA Meg Heap refused to include the three fatalities in the yearly homicide tally in the jurisdiction.
In our own running tally, listed each week on the Blotter page, we have opted to include the three fatalities—which is why our own tally is higher than the “official” homicide count.
Given the scale of the incident and the extreme impact it had on the community, it just doesn’t seem to pass the smell test not to include them. —Jim Morekis
- Volunteers at WRUU soon after they went on the air for the first time.
13. WRUU tunes us in, turns us on
2017 is the year that the community took back the FM radio waves.
In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission passed the Local Community Radio Act, which allowed groups—including nonprofits, schools, Native American tribes, and more—to create low-power FM radio stations. Nestled between Top 40 rotations, digital DJs, aggressive advertising, and schmaltzy syndication, low-power FM stations offer a refreshingly human, truly local element to the radio.
With the ability to make hyper-local content, discuss city and state issues in-depth, and play the kind of tunes you’ll never hear on Clear Channel stations, Savannah was the perfect town to tune into the trend.
Interested parties and individuals communed. The Unitarian Universalist Church led the way and completed the application by the October 2013 deadline, which included an in-depth proposal and a $3,500 engineering study.
After four years of fundraising, awareness-raising, brainstorming, and volunteer recruitment, WRUU: Savannah Soundings had an online trial run, streaming on its website in fall 2015.
By 2017, locals could finally turn their dial and tune into thoughtful discussions, intriguing interviews, and a host of unique music from far and wide.
The “local radio with global soul” set up shop in a studio within the Unitarian Universalist Church. On the very square where “Jingle Bells” was written, a group of volunteers flips the “ON AIR” light daily and broadcasts into local homes, businesses, and vehicles.
These days, WRUU offers a diverse array of programming at all hours of the day. On The Box, Greg Hornak and John McNulty explore the world of electronic and experimental music and center the LGBTQ and DIY communities. Savannah Rising features Laura Shadley and Chelsea Haddad celebrating the history and cultures of indigenous peoples of the North American continent.
On One Human Nation, Sandy Battise offers an honest and open discussion on race and racism in the United States. Wayne Waters’ Savannah Lexicon focuses on local politics and social and cultural issues, talking with city leaders, artists, writers, and more.
In addition to the range of local shows, nationally-syndicated programs like Democracy Now! are also a key element of WRUU.
Whether it’s outsider country, reggae music, or psychobilly, there’s always something new an unexpected to hear on the show’s spectrum of programming.
None of it could happen without listener support, so drop a donation in their PayPal and tune in on your next commute. —Anna Chandler
14. Panic! At the Lucas
On Thursday, April 13, the news started to circulate. The entire staff of The Lucas Theatre had been fired out of the blue, coming to work that morning just like normal to find that they were jobless.
The decision came from the board of the nonprofit that runs the historic theatre, which is its own 501(c)(3) organization. The board of directors featured a working majority presence from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
In a statement, SCAD said, “The Lucas Theatre Board has made the decision to mitigate financial losses and eliminate five positions. SCAD will continue to assist with regular financial contributions and operational support to help sustain The Lucas, which will remain a 501(c)(3), providing programming for the community and SCAD students.”
SCAD has been involved with the theatre since its 1986 restoration through a partnership with the City of Savannah, a variety of fundraisers, and county taxpayers. The venue opened in December 2001, following a big donation from “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” star Kevin Spacey. In 2002, the theatre was named an “affiliate” of SCAD.
As word of the firings spread, the community lashed back. As a primary venue for the Savannah Music Festival, the now-named Key Change Cabaret series, a variety of concerts, performances from the Savannah Philharmonic, and unique shows like the hyper-local “Life is a Carnival: A Tribute to The Band,” the gem of a theatre offered unique concerts and events in a gorgeous historic setting.
Its popular film series was a date night destination and family tradition for many.
Since SCAD has taken over programming, the Theatre has hosted a variety of programming, including a concert from Lee Ann Womack and Patty Griffin and a fundraiser for the Psychotronic Film Society.
The latter provided hope that The Lucas could still be a place that values community efforts and the local oddities that make Savannah Savannah.
Going into 2018, 1964: The Tribute, a Beatles band, returns to The Lucas, while films like “Metropolis,” a 4K restoration of “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Patton,” and the Harry Potter series will be screened. There has also been an uptick in Broadway and National Theatre Live screenings (look for Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Hamlet” in May).
Attendees may have to walk through college-appointed metal detectors now, but as Savannah continues to change, locals can still enjoy the soul of The Lucas. —Anna Chandler
15. We love the smell of new music venues in the morning
Savannah’s musical repertoire expanded with the addition of several new venues in 2017.
The year kicked off with the final touches being put on The Stage on Bay, a new venue booking eclectic concerts in West Savannah. On February 2, City Council voted 8-1 to deny an alcoholic beverage license to the new venue.
The establishment was slated to open its doors the following day with a performance from the Marshall Tucker Band. Later, the Council reversed its original stance in order to dodge a $6 million lawsuit from The Stage’s CEO.
The mess may have benefited the venue in the end—as the news circulated, locals got excited that a new venue would be booking touring national talent in Savannah, and the doors finally opened with a successful concert weekend on March 17.
Since opening, the venue has hosted legacy acts like The Wailers, local performance troupe The Stardust Pixxies, rock gods Living Colour, neo-swingers Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, country faves Lonestar, and many more. In 2018, fans can look forward to performances from the Lowcountry’s own Hannah Wicklund and The Steppin Stones, the legendary Blue Oyster Cult, Mike & The Mechanics, Blues Traveler, and more.
Jazz fans rejoiced when the highly-anticipated Good Times Jazz Bar & Restaurant opened on Broughton Street, serving up delicious Southern fare from Chef Joe Randall with live jazz music onstage every night. Though the city boasts a plethora of talented jazz performers and a rich history of the genre, it has been years since Savannah had a dedicated jazz venue.
Now, attendees can catch local jazz icons like Teddy Adams and Howard Paul, visiting artists, and unique combos at Good Times. Fans even enjoyed a residency from gypsy jazz favorites Velvet Caravan upon the venue’s opening.
2018 also holds the promise of new venues. The Trustees Garden, an exciting project that’s long been in the works, opens this year, hoping to “create a very popular gathering place where people can mingle daily with artisans, philosophers, scientists, writers, researchers and people from different disciplines and walks of life.”
The venue will be on full display at Savannah Music Festival, welcoming favorites like Jason Isbell and Tedeschi Trucks Band to the brand-new stages. —Anna Chandler
16. All-Ages shows: Unicorn found
2017 is the year that highly-anticipated changes finally came to the Savannah alcohol ordinance.
Since 2006, folks under the age of 21 were not allowed entry into concerts in alcohol-serving venues. In other cities, where attendees get carded and receive a wristband or hand stamp to signify their underage status, Savannah was cut and dry, prohibiting a huge percentage of its population from enjoying Savannah’s eclectic music scene.
In 2015, city officials proposed revising the alcohol ordinance so that adults 18 and up be allowed to enter drinking establishments with live entertainment.
Over the course of two years, the ordinance was revised to include the creation of a live entertainment venue license allowing 18 to 20-year-olds access to musical events and live performances in bars.
Additionally, the ordinance allowed people of all ages to attend “event venues,” like The Lucas Theatre and The Stage on Bay, that also happen to serve alcohol during their events.
On January 1, 2017, venues were able to apply for a license allowing 18 to 20-year-olds to enter the establishment when there is live music being played, excluding DJs and karaoke.
While some venues prefer to keep their establishments 21-and-up and carried on as usual, several set out to adopt the new license and welcome a new generation of clientele into the music scene.
The majority of The Wormhole’s ticketed concerts are now 18 and up (the Starland venue specifies on their website), allowing locals to catch shows from a wide variety of musical guests and comedians.
Barrelhouse South often hosts free shows in their 21-and-up space, but when bigger acts like Perpetual Groove or Zach Deputy roll through, online ticket sales kick into place and 18 to 20-year-olds are welcome.
After a year with the new licenses, there’s already been a cultural shift in the music scene, with Savannah’s generous college student population finally being able to enjoy live entertainment. —Anna Chandler
- Photo by Megan Jones
- JinHi Soucy Rand
17. Muse: Mission Accomplished
While Savannah celebrated the opening of new venues, one close to our hearts closed in early 2017.
Muse Arts Warehouse, the labor of love —both spiritually and physically—of JinHi Soucy Rand and her husband Mark Rand, closed its doors after seven years of theatre, music, art, spoken word, cultural celebration, and really good vibes.
In her typical fashion, Soucy Rand sought and found the higher ground in the closing, which came as a result of the lease not being renewed in favor of converting the historic rail depot into high-end residential.
“We’re all still here, we’re all still producing,” JinHi told Connect back in February. “I hope people will continue to support the companies they knew here and follow them to their new spots around the city ... We accomplished our mission.”
One of the groups that had to find residencies elsewhere was The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble, now performing on the Savannah State campus.
Collective Face Artistic Director David I.L. Poole told Connect:
“What made this Muse soar was the vision and drive of JinHi Soucy Rand and Mark Rand. Without these two Willy Wonkas, this factory of wonders would not have been,” said Poole. —Jim Morekis
In Memoriam: Rest in Peace
Gregg Allman: One of the South’s favorite sons, Gregg Allman left behind an immortal musical legacy when he passed. The founding member of The Allman Brothers slipped away at home in Richmond Hill on May 27 after a battle with liver cancer. He was 69 years old. Three months later, his final album, Southern Blood, which Allman recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL with producer Don Was, was released to critical acclaim.
Victoria Scalisi: When Savannah’s godmother of metal passed on August 2, the stories came pouring in from around the world. From her time in influential crust band DAMAD to her signature aggressive vocal style to her big heart and vibrant spirit, Scalisi’s memory will long be celebrated.
Billy Lee: The founder of McDonough’s and Billy’s Place passed away December 21 after years of creating an iconic nightlife spot downtown. A Savannah High and Armstrong graduate, Lee served in the Korean War and owned multiple restaurants and bars over the years, opening his beloved pub in 1985.
Francis Allen: The fairy godfather of Starfish Community Garden, The Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Slideluck, Stopover, the Unchained Tour and myriad other community and cultural efforts, the Statesboro native spread love, cheer and consciousness wherever he went.
Bobi Perry: The longtime art advocate, collector and cheerleader was a red-lipsticked fixture at First Friday Art Marches, gallery openings and community events, always with a flower on her lapel and red wine in hand.