Ellis Square Regeneration
Location: Savannah, GA. Block, Street, and Building
SITE: 1.2 acre parking structure on location of former historic square in 11.2 acre city ward
Program: A public investment in restoring a valuable historic green space that is leveraged to attract private growth and reconnect a prized Savannah neighborhood
Ellis Square was one of the original four squares laid out in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe in Savannah’s visionary City Plan. As the city expanded, it served as an open marketplace and the heart of the surrounding Decker Ward. However, with urban renewal in the twentieth century, city leaders began to chip away at Savannah’s historic public squares and spaces. In 1935, adjacent squares were paved over to make way for an early highway through the center of the city. In 1953, the marketplace at Ellis Square itself was demolished and replaced with a parking structure, eviscerating the ward and disrupting its established patterns of urban activity.
As part of a collaborative effort with intensive community involvement, this project restored Ellis Square as a public space and brought new activities and investment into the Decker Ward. The central parking structure and other surrounding garages were removed and replaced with an underground facility that allowed for the construction of a new park in the square, spurring private development on adjacent former parking lots.
The restoration of Ellis Square included the most comprehensive public process in the city’s history. It involved over 20 public meetings and a three-day public design charrette informed by thorough research into the history of the neighborhood’s built fabric and culture. Juror Jason McLennan was impressed with this thoughtful and sensitive approach to “one of the most important planned cities in America.”
In studying Ellis Square’s historic conditions, the project team contrasted the role of the old public market with the twentieth-century parking garage. The market had served both as a destination and as a permeable connection between adjacent uses and neighborhoods. In contrast, the parking garage was only a utilitarian destination, and was impermeable and unpleasant for those seeking to move across the ward.
The replacement park hence restores the historic continuity between the two key public spaces of street and square while acknowledging their intricate connection to adjoining private property. The square’s design actively engages the streets that converge on the site, and provides for amenities such as fountains that complement the more traditional uses found at other Savannah squares.
The project’s key contribution was to provide a basis for a long-term revival and evolution of this historic urban neighborhood. Rather than dictate a large-scale repurposing through a single developer, the plan builds from the thesis of Savannah’s original visionary plan, which sought to foster a vital private realm through the generous and thoughtful planning of public space. The $34 million public investment in redeveloping Ellis Square has already attracted the creation of 50 new private homes, 35,000 square feet of retail space, 80,000 square feet of office space, and 150 new hotel rooms.
The lasting influence of Savannah’s 1733 City Plan demonstrates the value that can be created through long-term planning and investment. The Ellis Square redevelopment similarly seeks to not only replace an eyesore for current residents, but also spark a process of reinvestment and restoration that will enhance Savannah for many years to come.
Transect Zone(s): T4 general.
Project or Plan's Scale: Block
Land area (in acres): 1
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Project team designers: Sottile & Sottile
Project team developers: N/A
Previous site status: Redevelopment
Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: 2008 - 2010