Mayor Johnson gives update on Savannah Arena, second round of CARES Act funding

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Mayor Van Johnson held his weekly press conference on Tuesday at the Savannah Arena site on Stiles Avenue.

The project is now beginning vertical construction that will include 3,100 tons of structural steel, 70,000 square feet of brick facade, and 120,000 square feet of roofing.

Johnson said since breaking ground last September, crews made up of 55 people have worked 35,000 hours. By the end of next year, the mayor says 225 to 250 workers will be needed.

“This is a transformative project that will invigorate this local community and bridge the invisible gap that has existed for years between the west side and the downtown core,” Johnson said.

The mayor added, “Ultimately, Savannah will be better because of this project.”

The mayor then addressed some recent frustrations from small business owners over the first round of CARES Act funding. Many people expressed concern that most of the grant money the city received went to downtown Savannah businesses and not enough minority-owned businesses.

Johnson said the goal is to put Savannahians first, put Savannah businesses first, and help those who need it the most.

He explained more about the grantee selection process and said that when the awardees were identified and the demographics and locations of businesses were identified, they were, “not as diverse as we expected them to be.” Johnson said he and the entire city council were disappointed.

“I’m glad that we were able to help 42 local businesses,” Johnson said.

He then added, “But I think we’ve all agreed from the very beginning that the assistance was not as diverse or as inclusive as we envisioned that it would be.”

The mayor said now, there is an opportunity to change policies and relationships. He says the city is owning up to the fact that funding was not distributed as expected.

Applications opened Tuesday morning for the second round of CARES funding, and Johnson said this time, distribution will be more intentional. Grants will no longer be on a first come, first served basis. To be eligible for a grant, businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be located in the City of Savannah city limits
  • Must be in existence and operational as of Jan. 1, 2020
  • Must have 10 or fewer employees
  • Must have experienced loss of income or hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Must not have received a CARES grant from the City of Savannah already

Johnson then said funds have been set aside for the following target populations:

  • Minority businesses that are at least 51% owned and controlled by minorities
  • Businesses within neighborhood revitalization areas
  • Businesses with five or fewer employees
  • All other businesses

“I believe that with the new funding, the categories specified, and without the initial time constraints of the first round, that we can reach 50% or about $800,000 of these funds going to minority grantees,” Johnson said.

The mayor said the maximum grant amount is proposed at $20,000, which means the City can serve at least 80 local businesses.

Mayor Johnson then gave an update on local COVID-19 cases. In Chatham County, positive cases are trending down, as is the number of cases per 100,000 people.

Johnson said at the end of August, the daily new confirmed case average was 114. At the end of July, the average was 207.

The mayor said the Coastal Health District has attributed the local mask ordinance to the downward trends.

“I’m glad to see Savannahians wearing masks,” Johnson said. “We can not give up.”

The mayor encouraged the public to continue wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands, especially during Labor Day weekend.

The mayor wrapped up his prepared remarks by again reminding Savannahians to complete the 2020 Census.

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