Who Is Bringing Broughton Street Back?
Savannah cannot be defined by a single road. You stroll down Bull Street to see some of the city’s nicest squares and historic homes. You stumble down Bay and onto River Street on Friday nights. Each of Savannah’s main boulevards has a unique identifier, but if you want to shop, you go to Broughton Street.
Time for a Change
One of Savannah’s most scenic and active drags is also the major focus of Atlanta-based commercial real-estate firm Ben Carter Enterprises. CEO Quito Anderson is in charge of executing Ben Carter’s vision for an extensive project known as the Broughton Street Collection, a series of newly developed stores, restaurants, residences, and offices along Broughton’s profitable properties.
Anderson’s job is to identify prospective tenants and uses for each property. He also works closely with Ben Carter’s local partners Hansen Architects and Walter Carson Construction as well as Tampa-based Coleman and Company. “Their expertise in historical renovations and design and knowledge of the community has truly helped make this project a success,” Anderson said in a recent interview.
“I’m regularly in Savannah, meeting with local politicians, members of the business community and other Savannahians,” Anderson said. “My goal is to listen to their concerns and recommendations, answer questions and merge our vision for the street with the hometown desire to revitalize the Broughton corridor. Without their help and the help of our local team members, such as Beth Vantosh, our special retail rep and acquisitions broker, we would not have been able to pull off this project.”
Back in the summer of 2013, Anderson and his team conducted thorough research on demographics and tourism in Savannah. The numbers spoke for themselves. “Savannah is a unique hub of locals whose families have been here for decades, SCAD students, young job-seekers, tourists and retirees coming to experience the historic charm and luxuries of the modern South,” Anderson said. “After studying the demographics and tourism industry, we curated a creative merchandise mix of both community-oriented and destination retail.”
Those involved in the Broughton Street Collection envisioned a roster of affordable fashion and fashion forward retailers, entertainment and interactive experiences, and unique local services such as Dancing Dogs Yoga Studio next to Civvies New & Recycled Clothing. “Leveraging our strong and time-tested relationships in the retail industry, we sought best-in-class national, regional and local retailers that would resonate with the local market,” Anderson said.
Winning Over the Skeptics
Anderson believes the Savannah community was initially wary of the development. “We were the new folks in town, and Savannah is protective of its unique culture and city, and rightfully so,” Anderson said. “But, we enlisted the very best in historic preservation and design, with an eye to restore these magnificent buildings to their former glory and in keeping with what the city of Savannah expected. It took the restoration of several building facades and the opening of new retailers, before we won over some of the early doubters.”
With the Broughton Street Collection now over 50% open, both locals and visitors are excited about Ben Carter’s project and the revived energy it supplies to the businesses there.
“They see the benefit of having a dedicated retail corridor in Downtown Savannah where locals and visitors alike can shop, eat, work and play,” Anderson said of the recent reactions he has received. “We have taken great care to curate a mix of community and destination retailers. The foot traffic on Broughton Street has picked up so much so that we’ve enlisted off duty officers to help maintain a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.”
According to Anderson, space is available for approximately ten additional retailers and a couple more restaurants along Broughton. He and his team expect to announce the openings of a few upscale men’s retailers very soon.
“Retailers, restaurants and service providers will fill our lower levels,” Anderson said. “Currently, we are about 75 percent leased and of that, 50 percent open for business. Many of which are first in market retailers with unique and historic storefront and interiors, making shopping more than just purchasing goods, but rather an experience of what Broughton used to be in the early 1900s.”
Living in Style
The upper floors of Broughton’s buildings are expected to be converted from once-abandoned space into residential lofts and offices. Anderson describes the upper floor mix as approximately 80 percent urban loft apartments and 20 percent creative working space.
“Phase 1 of our residential project (20 units) was completed in September 2015 and 100 percent leased at delivery,” Anderson explained. “Phase II construction is underway, and we expect the 28 additional units to be move-in ready at the end of May. Phase III will be ready in Spring 2017, and bring an additional 20 units to Broughton Street. Our loft residential units offer a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. The creative, loft office space is currently 50 percent leased and currently undergoing renovations and updates.”
A Thriving City Center
At the completion of his work, Anderson hopes that Broughton St., like many Main Street USA’s in their heyday, will return to a similar state of bustling business, “with thriving merchants and locals living and working in the same area, creating a walkable and thriving city center, that attracts visitors to enjoy not just the architecture of Savannah, but the unique life it has to offer.”
For Anderson, the most challenging part of this undertaking was, not surprisingly, winning community support for Ben Carter’s project in its infancy. “When we first announced our plans, a few folks met us with a defensive posture,” Anderson said. “Over time, we have built strong community relationships, bridging the concerns of those folks and tying their goals into our project.”
On the positive end, watching the community gradually embrace the changes up and down Broughton’s storefronts and peeling back the layers of its buildings’ history has been the most enjoyable and rewarding component part for Anderson.
“Now when I walk down the street, I feel like I have gone back in time when Broughton was a place where all of the South would come to meet, shop and work,” Anderson said. “Now with residents and office workers constantly moving through the buildings and new storefronts and shoppers filling the streets, there is an undeniable energy and vitality coursing through the downtown corridor and Broughton Street is returning as Downtown Savannah’s iconic retail thoroughfare.”
Anderson sees the Broughton Street Collection as part of a national trend impacting cities with a new class of consumers trading in big backyards and three-car garages for authentic, urban, downtown experiences. “They care about sustainability and walkability, and they are interested in the history and local culture of the city,” Anderson said. “They want to live, work, and play in vibrant, walkable urban cores. Savannah offers this sought-after quality of life and retailers recognize it as an advantage to opening new locations on Broughton Street.”
Additionally, with the Savannah Harbor Deepening Expansion, new businesses and overall population growth, Savannah’s retail market was previously underserved and lagging. “Yes, there were regional malls and retailers dotting the downtown corridor, but there was not an intentional concentration of retailers on one street,” Anderson noted. “Our retailers were attracted to the lack of competition and impressive demographics and tourism. And, with the recent store openings, Broughton Street has truly re-emerged as a shopping destination for both locals and tourists to enjoy.”
For more on the plans for the Broughton Street Corridor and the history and transformation of downtown, pick up the June/July issue of South magazine.