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City Council Approves Borrowing $45M for Savannah Arena Project

New Savannah arena rendering

To cover a shortfall in the city’s $165 million arena project, the Savannah City Council voted Thursday to approve the issuance of $45 million in bonds.

Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) revenue will cover the bulk of the cost for the planned arena, which is currently expected to break ground this fall and open in December 2021. That revenue will not cover the entirety of the plan’s $165 million price tag, however, as SPLOST dollars are projected to top out at $120 million for the project, leaving a $45 million shortfall.

In order to cover the shortfall, Savannah officials proposed issuing $45 million in bonds, to paid off over 30 years using proceeds from the city’s existing car rental tax. The proposal to issue the bonds went before the Savannah City Council on Thursday, receiving a vote of approval. More from

Auto rental tax is existing funding, already used for a variety of things around town, but a good chunk goes to help run the current Civic Center. At Thursday’s work session, City Manager Rob Hernandez pointed out that once the new arena is built, the city can’t have both the new arena and the Civic Center.

“I’ve been saying this for a while. As a community, we cannot afford a new arena plus the existing Civic Center,” Hernandez said. “The new arena will be designed to accommodate Broadway-type productions, so the types of events that are being held at the Johnny Mercer, I would argue that the majority of those events will be accommodated in the new arena.”

In the coming weeks, city leaders are expected to get recommendations on what to do with the Civic Center. Council has heard several options for the site, including restoring the old squares impacted by the Civic Center’s construction, going back to the Oglethorpe plan. Council also learned about the profess of the Canal District Development, where the new arena will sit, along with the status of road improvements. Gwinnett Street is set to be widened, but not before some property is acquired.

“The challenge that we have…the design is complete; we are ready to go, ready to put it out to bid. We currently don’t have all the property. Once we get the property, we will move forward,” said Heath Lloyd, Chief Infrastructure and Development Officer.

The new arena is being planned as an anchor of the Canal District development project west of downtown Savannah. It has been pitched as a more modern event space in comparison to Savannah’s aging Civic Center, as well as a key feature in a broader development project that could better connect the area surrounding the venue to downtown Savannah.

Rendering courtesy Perkins+Will.

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