SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The city is exploring options for the fate of the Savannah Civic Center all while addressing their need for office space.

During Thursday’s Savannah City Council meeting, members opted to move forward with a plan to renovate the Thomas Gamble Building, demolish the Civic Center’s Martin Luther King Jr. Arena and preserve the Johnny Mercer Theatre.

Thursday’s decision wasn’t an official vote on the plan, rather it gave City Manager Jay Melder the opportunity to further flesh out the details — budgeting and public comment included.

The council heard from architect Christian Sottile, who recommended retaining and restoring the historic Gamble Building. With the convenient proximity to Savannah City Hall, he said the building could house 40,000 square feet of office space.

Sottile also proposed demolishing the Martin Luther King Jr. Arena, which he said is “in pretty bad shape.” And with the new Savannah Enmarket Arena, he argued the Civic Center’s arena is no longer profitable, nor does it serve a unique function in the city.

Enmarket Arena rendering provided by City of Savannah

On the other hand, Sottile argued the Johnny Mercer Theatre is worth preserving.

“This building actually provides a use that is not duplicated anywhere else. This 2,500 seat theater does not exist anywhere else in our community,” he told the council.

Sottile also proposed building new office space between the Johnny Mercer Theatre and Oglethorpe Street, either three or six stories tall, with options for leasing out floors for commercial and/or office space.

via Sottile & Sottile

While the majority of council was on board with Sottile’s ideas, many also wanted to explore options for housing and parking in the area. Others didn’t feel it was appropriate to move forward without hearing from the public first.

“We will suffer for the paralysis of analysis,” Johnson said Tuesday. “That’s part of what happened with the arena, why it took 20 years to build it, because we were analyzing it for 20 years.”

The mayor was clear about his vision for the Civic Center, saying its arena “needs to go,” though “the Mercer Theatre is worth saving.”

“In maintaining the Mercer, we also maintain, I believe, a tactical advantage in our local theater, performing arts and gathering community,” the mayor continued.

Johnson did acknowledge the Lucas Theatre for the Arts and Trustees Theater as options for residents and visitors but noted that they aren’t owned by the city.

“If we remove the Johnny Mercer Theatre, then we have the 400-seat Cultural Arts Center, and then we have the 9,500 [Enmarket Arena],” he added, “There will be no middle.”

The mayor explained that there is a 5-foot air wall between the Johnny Mercer Theatre and the rest of the Civic Center which would aid in the renovation process.

“With a little bit of love, a whole lot of public and private and philanthropic contributions, we can bring the Johnny Mercer Theater into its new age for additional years of splendor.”