Unique partnership with Live Oak Landing developer W.H.Gross Construction may become model for other communities.
(SAVANNAH, GA) After three years of planning and development, a unique project is revitalizing areas of Eastside Savannah, with a goal of transforming one of the most neglected areas of the city into a desirable neighborhood with 100% occupancy.
Healthy Savannah has been awarded a $50,000 grant made possible by tax credits from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to increase housing, education, healthy food and community wellness resource access in the area surrounding a new senior community, Live Oak Landing, in conjunction with the East Savannah Health + Wellness Community Transformation Plan.
Live Oak Landing is at the heart of the Wheaton Street (East Savannah) transformation initiative, but it is also part of a much larger tapestry of projects that are knit together through the vision, voices, collaboration and funding of a complicated network of public, private and nonprofit organizations.
The grant is a significant milestone of a partnership formed in 2017 between Healthy Savannah and Live Oak Landing’s developer, W.H. Gross Construction. The affordable housing development for seniors repurposed an old junkyard on Wheaton St. and opened the first phase of 70 apartments in December. Because of the DCA tax credits, the company committed $50,000 to the Transformation Plan. Those funds were awarded in January.
Now ticking into the fourth year of the five-year plan, the neighborhood transformation is well underway. Phase I of the senior community, located next to the newly constructed A.B. Williams Elementary School, is fully occupied and Phase II is under construction, with 850 applicants on the waiting list.
Moreover, the public-private partnership is supporting a larger effort of transforming health, wellness, living conditions and safe streets. It may also become a model for similar programs across the state of Georgia.
“Healthy Savannah is one of the biggest and best conduits I know of,” said William (Bill) Gross, owner and president of the construction firm. “As the quarterback for this project, along with over 200 community partners, Healthy Savannah has been able to weave the efforts of the City of Savannah, Chatham County and nonprofits into a braid of connectivity throughout the community.”
“We are pleased to be able to help people come together to support existing and emerging opportunities focused on health and wellness for East Savannah,” said Paula Kreissler, Healthy Savannah’s executive director. “Our mission in driving this particular revitalization initiative has been to ensure the success and sustainability of the housing, education, and community wellness components.”
Healthy Savannah is also leveraging funding for improvements to this area from its five-year, $3.4 million Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant, awarded to Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018.
Some of the projects funded by the REACH grant which touch along the Wheaton Street corridor in East Savannah include Tide to Town, a system of nearly 30 miles of protected walking and bicycling trails throughout Savannah; the Corner Store Program, which ensures fresh produce is available in the small convenience stores in neighborhoods where residents may not have access to larger, traditional grocery stores; and Farm Truck 912, a mobile farmers’ market that offers deep discounts on fresh produce purchases to SNAP recipients.
“The grant’s objective is to reduce health inequities experienced by residents from marginalized communities in low-wealth neighborhoods across Savannah and Chatham County by increasing the availability of high-quality nutrition; increasing physical activity by creating greater access to safe places to walk, run, bike and play,” said Kreissler. “It is also fostering stronger connections between people and the healthcare providers who serve them.”
The goal for East Savannah’s revitalization is similar to other projects Healthy Savannah supports, all based on the premise that communities can thrive if they are engaged and included. But Kreissler says the East Savannah plan calls on a specific network of partners and funding to address defined pathways to economic opportunities, quality schools and early learning, quality healthcare, healthy foods, sustainable affordable housing, easily accessed public transportation, quality recreation and open spaces with safe and environmentally clean neighborhoods.
“These pathways of opportunity have been created through programs such as the City of Savannah’s Community Gardens Initiative, community centers, Forsyth Farmers’ Market and Farm Truck 912, the Tiny Homes Project, the Canyon Ranch Institute, and Wheaton Street improvements like The Savannah Bicycle Campaign’s New Standard Cycles program,” said Kreissler.
The developer is banking on Live Oak Landing serving as the model for more to come.
“Live Oak Landing was the first project that DCA challenged us to be more than suppliers,” said Gross. “There were only a few communities that had this opportunity. The DCA has a high expectation of developer involvement in the property to make the transformation by assisting communities with addressing critical problems and challenges in the neighborhood around their development.”
Citing that this particular model of community transformation created by Healthy Savannah is working so well, Gross is committed to creating similar transitional communities throughout and beyond coastal Georgia. He is already planning a redevelopment of an old elementary school in Statesboro into senior apartments and is currently awaiting news of the potential award of DCA tax credits for that project.
“My hope is that Healthy Savannah will continue working with us as a coach for these projects in other communities,” he added. “With their guidance, we can help turn blighted areas across our state into neighborhoods of health and wellness and hope.”
For more information about the East Savannah Health + Wellness Community Transformation Plan, visit https://healthysavannah.org/east-savannah-community-transformation-plan/
ABOUT THE YMCA OF COASTAL GEORGIA/HEALTHY SAVANNAH GRANT FOR RACIAL AND ETHNIC APPROACHES TO COMMUNITY HEALTH: In September 2018, Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia were awarded a five-year, $3.4 million grant called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health. This funding, awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been deployed by the Savannah/Chatham County project team to reduce health inequities experienced by Black residents in low-wealth neighborhoods. The local project is called Healthy Opportunities Powering Equity, or HOPE. Its aim is to increase the availability of high-quality nutrition, increase physical activity by creating greater access to safe places to walk, run, bike and play, and foster stronger connections between people and the healthcare providers who serve them. Working with more than 200 community partners and organizations, the team’s work elevates the health and wellness of our community through policy, systems, and environmental change.
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