JTVS Project SMN Feature: Marina planned for former Williams Seafood property
More than a decade has passed since a fire destroyed one of Savannah’s iconic restaurants, Williams Seafood.
The property will finally see new life in 2020 as the site of a new marina.
Construction begins later this month on the Savannah Boathouse. The first full-service marina built in the Chatham County area in approximately 20 years, Savannah Boathouse is being developed by a local family.
“There’s a huge demand for dry and wet storage in Savannah,” managing partner Tom McCarthy said. “There hasn’t been a marina built here since (Bahia Bleu Marina) was built. There’s a super high demand for storage.”
The property encompasses nearly five acres, although about half of that area is marshland. The marina will feature a dry stack facility that will accommodate 108 boats; wash racks; parking lots; a marina office with retail store and event deck, which would be available to host parties or weddings; and in-water storage.
Local firm EMC Engineering Services has been tapped to design the marina, and McCarthy said he’s already gotten positive feedback from the community.
“As soon as we have a good timetable for completion, we’ll be taking reservations for storage,” he said.
Fulfilling a need
McCarthy said the Williams property had been on and off the market several times and in 2016 they made an offer on the property and secured a contract. After clearing some hurdles, they acquired the property in August 2018.
During the time they were working to acquire the property, the Savannah Boathouse team hired environmental scientist Mike DeMell of Environmental Services to conduct a needs assessment, which is a required study that is sent to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR reviews the report and makes a decision on whether there is a need and then determines whether to issue a permit for the project, McCarthy said.
According to the needs assessment, there are three public facilities in the surrounding vicinity that offer dry storage; Hogan’s Marina, Bahia Bleu Marina and Savannah Bend Marina. The report found that Chatham County has approximately 10,500 DNR-registered boats, not including federally documented vessels, and approximately 6,500 boats in the 16- to 25-foot category which are all potential storage customers with no current available space.
The study also documented overflow at public boat ramps such as Turner Creek off Johnny Mercer Boulevard, where trucks and trailers often line the road because the parking lot fills up quickly in the spring and summer months.
“If you go by any boat ramp on a given day on a weekend in the summer, there’s no place to park. There are a lot of a lot of people interested in using the water, and there’s limited access to the water with a couple of boat ramps. The marinas out here are at full capacity or between 95% and 100% full depending on what size boat you have,” McCarthy said of the growing demand.
When it comes to permits, the project had to obtain clearance not only from the DNR but also from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chatham County and the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office. Like any major project, the process is a lengthy one in order to make sure correct procedures are followed.
“For approximately a year and five months we went through hiring the engineering and environmental scientist, acquiring the permits,” McCarthy said of the process, which began in August 2018. ”… Now we’re pretty much at the point where we have everything we need and we’re ready to break ground.”
Site work is expected to start this month and the project will take 12 to 18 months to complete, McCarthy said.
“We will start moving dirt in January, but we can’t actually get anything done until we get the property leveled out. There’s a lot of steps,” he said.
Along with the 108 dry storage spaces, which will accommodate vessels up to 35 feet in length with various configurations for all sizes and shapes of vessels, the marina will also include 1,600 linear feet of in-water dock space.
The marina will feature on-site bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities for locals and transients. Being near the Intracoastal Waterway is also a plus, McCarthy said.
“We’ll have available storage for people traveling south for the winter or traveling north for the summer, and we’ll have fuel, pump outs, laundry, everything that comes along with docking your boat for a couple of weeks while you’re waiting to go south,” McCarthy said.
While McCarthy has never been involved in building a marina from the ground up, he isn’t a stranger to the marine industry.
He previously owned the Charleston franchise of Sea Tow and currently owns the Savannah and Richmond Hill Freedom Boat Club franchises, along with several boat slips at the Skull Creek Marina in Hilton Head Island. He previously owned the Hilton Head Island franchise of the Freedom Boat Club.
McCarthy said his family is excited to bring new life back to the former Williams property, which served the Savannah community for decades.
“Growing up in Savannah, we knew what Williams Seafood was. It was a community staple, and after it burned down it had been vacant for 14 years when we bought it, so we always passed by there and thought it might be a great location,” he said.
“We wanted to change that property from a vacant, dilapidated lot into something that can be a thriving community hub. I live in the community. We boat in the community. So we would like to be a part of the marine community.”