For some, it’s Ryan Gosling. For others, it’s hot shoes. Me, I fantasize about real estate.
And though I find walking through a breezy Jones Street flat or a Back River Tybee mansion titillating, it’s Savannah’s giant industrial spaces that really get me going. Forget fifty shades of gray; I’ll take the uniform opacity of poured concrete.
Like any romantic reverie, it’s all about the suggestion of what could be. The fabulous potential of the empty Starland Dairy is enough to cause a deep blush, but by far the sexiest commercial real estate fantasy in Savannah right now is the soon–to–be vacated Meddin Studios a few miles out on Louisville Road.
I’ve been inside Meddin on several occasions (most recently while not being cast as an extra in CBGB,) but it was something else to see through real estate groupie eyes. Keller Williams agent Beth Vantosh gave me a tour of the former–meatpacking–plant–turned–media powerhouse during an open house last Thursday, and oh, lawdy: The steel girders! The glassed–in offices! The cavernous soundstage! It was all I could do to hide the drool.
At $2.8 million, it might end me up in a straightjacket if I inquired about a 30–year mortgage. But daydreaming doesn’t cost a dime: As a mix of real estate agents and creative professionals discussed zoning codes, I sashayed through the meat locker doors, imagining Meddin Studios as my own personal palace.
Sidestepping a photoshoot in progress with Jabberpics’ Josh Branstetter and stylist/designer Brooke Atwood, I drew out invisible lines for a massive marble bathtub in the middle of the large soundstage. The small theater would only show endless loops of Betty Boop cartoons and Dr. Who, and I deemed what is now the Room of 3000 Tripods as a closet just for shoes. (Yes, I have a weakness for those, too.)
Others had more practical ideas.
Doug Wilson, a software programmer with local game developer Black Fractal Productions and occasional jumperstilter (maybe you glimpsed him bounding through Meddin during 2010’s Taste festival) envisioned the ginormous rooms as a “hackerspace,” an egalitarian community clubhouse where “people could come create and invent.”
Vantosh thinks the property is close enough to downtown to be a fine fit for a school or headquarters for a techy business. She’s had several bites on the listing, though she’d also love to see it morph into a collective for Savannah’s entrepreneurial artisans.
“It could really work if we could get 15 or 20 creatives in here,” she said, circling through the lobby. “This is such a special space.”
That sentiment is echoed by Meddin’s creative director Nick Gant, who seems remarkably unfazed by his company’s imminent expansion to the former CitiTrends warehouse on Fahm Street. Gant and business partner Jon Foster have captured millions of Georgia’s $1.8 billion film and TV dollars with CBGB and the recently–wrapped Killing Winston Jones and they’re bound to lure even bigger, badder productions to Savannah with their fancy new digs. (At 123,000 square feet, the new Meddin will be larger than an airport terminal and some South American villages.)
While the original spot is a no–brainer for a media start–up or SCAD’s film department, Gant insists that its manufacturing roots and production potential shouldn’t be overlooked. As a poster boy for economic development (President Obama said as much when he visited Meddin in 2009), it’s no surprise that Gant, in spite of a sartorial proclivity for film crew T–shirts and jeans, has a soft spot — and a sharp eye — for the burgeoning local fashion scene.
Noting that globally–recognized local designers like Atwood and April Johnston operate out of cramped home studios, he pictures sewing tables overflowing with fabric and interns running with scissors (figuratively, of course.) It would be a perfect storm of high–end branding, local manufacturing jobs and a way to prevent the brain drain that happens after SCAD graduation every semester.
“Personally, I’d like to see this become a full fashion facility, a place for all the pieces to come together,” Gant mused.
“That’s the way to grow that industry here.”
Woozy with the brilliant notion of Savannah’s fabulous fashion superstars under the same exposed beam ceiling, I left my Meddin mansion for Trunk 13 boutique, where Johnston was debuting her Coeur de Goudron collection.
Johnston’s Mangled Courtesan line might be an expertly constructed study in the edgy elegance of all black, all the time, but Johnston herself was warm and chatty, exuding enthusiasm for Gant’s idea of a fashion collective. Rather than the competitive stress she experienced as a contestant on Project Runway, she’s far more interested in the cooperative nature of establishing a sustainable fashion industry in Savannah.
“I guess I could have gone to New York or L.A., but I wanted to stay,” Johnston told me as local fashionistas admired her leather corsets and dresses. “I would love for the city to be more open to what we’re trying to do here.”
Part of her work ethic is a commitment to feeding the local economic loop, and outsourcing to Johnston means kicking down work to local bead artist Leslie Miller and buying her fabric from Fabrika.
“It’s important to me to integrate what I’m doing with the SCAD community and local businesses,” she said.
Hosted by Trunk 13 owner Lindsey Le Master and Autumn VanGunten of You’re Welcome Savannah, the launch party was a testament to the collaborative vibe of Savannah’s closely–knit fashion family. Videobloggers Shena Verrett and Marquis Spann air–kissed with photographer Doug Ordway; Fabrika owners Emily McLaughlin and Ashleigh Spurlock kibbitzed with Johnston’s fellow Project Runway alum Mitchell Hall.
The idea of all these creative creatures together in the exquisite space on Louisville Road is not only the sexiest thing I’ve heard since someone proposed a dance club in the old Sears building, it’s an economic boom waiting to happen.
I’ll even make room for them in the shoe closet.