Savannah’s version of Atlanta BeltLine advances with new funding

Stop us when this sounds familiar: A multi-use trail system designed to loop old neighborhoods back together, while attracting new private investment and making city dwellers not just safer but healthier. Oh, and a fresh source of tax funding to help bring it all to fruition.

Likened by project leaders to a nascent (but potentially longer) version of the Atlanta BeltLine, Savannah’s Tide to Town Urban Trail System has high hopes for the new year, following spurts of construction progress and the recent passage of an increased hotel-motel tax to help build out the vision.

A collaborative effort between the City of Savannah and serval local and government organizations, Tide to Town’s core route calls for 30 miles of protected walking and biking pathways—spanning from the Hostess City’s tourist-magnet downtown to its waterways and marshes—in one of Georgia’s most dangerous places for vehicle crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists, according to project officials.  

The first three-mile segment of the Tide to Town network, the Truman Linear Park Trail, opened in 2020. Tide to Town.org

The grand plan calls for stitching together 62 diverse neighborhoods across the city. Along the way will be 30 local schools, three major hospitals, and four colleges and universities. Eventually the protected trails could be extended beyond city limits, with one branching to Tybee Island, according to the Tide to Town masterplan.  

The system’s first 3.1-mile segment, the Truman Linear Park Trail, opened in late 2020. And the future appears to be bright. 

The Georgia General Assembly in March passed a 2 percent bump in taxes on hotel stays within Savannah city limits to fund improvements to the trail system, Rousakis Plaza on River Street, and a historic Waterworks building in West Savannah.

According to the Savannah Morning News, that measure allowed the city to award the Tide to Town project $10 million in July with no additional burden to taxpayers. (In a similar vein, the BeltLine’s current flurry of new construction is being funded in part by a Special Service District tax paid by commercial property owners near the 22-mile loop that was implemented in 2021.)

Savannah’s WTOC 11 news reported last week the financial bump is expected to continue paying dividends in 2024 as Tide to Town boosters aim to connect it to 75 percent of Savannah’s neighborhoods. No timeline for completing the system has been determined, however.

Tide to Town.org

One aspect working in Tide to Town’s favor is the plan to build it along existing public rights-of-way on canals and streets—a means to significantly reduce costs.

Project heads point to multi-use trail success stories in other Georgia cities—Athens, Columbus, and Carrolton specifically—and say “reliable data” show that paved trail systems spur long-term economic development and provide communities with a four-to-one return on investment.

Here’s a big-picture Tide to Town overview:

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