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After Streets of Buckhead Flop, Carter Sets Sights on Savannah

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[Atlanta developer Ben Carter aims to restore the charms of three dozen Broughton Street buildings. 1944 photograph courtesy Georgia Historical Society.]

Now that the rolling openings at Buckhead Atlanta are under way, and the Recession-plagued debacle that was "Streets of Buckhead" is firmly in the rearview mirror, Atlanta development extraordinaire Ben Carter has ventured to Savannah to launch his comeback, and he's not treading lightly. Carter has embarked on a $100 million renovation project that aims to return no less than three dozen buildings on Broughton Street to their former historic glory. He's teamed with Savannah-based Hansen Architects to tackle the project's next and most visible stage: restoring the aged facades of a once-bustling retail corridor, set a few blocks away from River Street in residential Savannah. "Our combined efforts will transform these neglected storefronts on Broughton Street into the rich, beautiful, historic structures they once were," Carter, founder of Ben Carter Enterprises, said in a press release this week. Added one of the architects: "These restorations are correcting the mistakes of the past."

Officials say the overall project, once completed, will include 30 new local, regional and international retailers, eight buildings for restaurants and up to 40 loft apartments. Carter is also in talks with three boutique hotels.

Highlights of the facade restorations include removing ugly concrete and stucco that has hidden historic features on some buildings for the past 50 years. "The new business coming to Broughton Street will provide great energy and a variety of experiences," Carter said.

Last month, the AJC reported that the revived Broughton Street could host a grand opening as soon March, though new stores like J. Crew have begun popping up already. Carter has endured some pushback from shopkeepers worried he'd try to strong-arm them and strip the street of its historical charms, razing the buildings like he did in the Buckhead Village. Carter maintains that this project is night-day from the Buckhead venture.

One skeptical commenter on a Savannah Morning News story about Carter's ambitions had this to say: "I don't believe I have ever seen a downtown come back. No one wants to go thru the hassle when there are plenty of malls (available) with easy access and plenty of parking along with some sort of security. Every time I've seen an effort to revive downtown it starts off with a bang and very fast returns the antique/junk store type of area that ... most local people are not interested in."

Somebody slap that guy.

· Ben Carter's comeback starts on the coast [AJC; subscriber]