Continuing with my plan to write out my thesis paper for my nighttime projection show in a series of blog posts, as well as my plan to approach the project from the point of view of working with different clients, this post will take a deeper look at Broughton Street and real estate developer Ben Carter.
Broughton Street is a wide Savannah boulevard (wide by Savannah’s standards anyway) with lots of businesses and restaurants. On the whole the area looks pretty good, but there are clearly parts of it that haven’t aged so well, being a mix of new development and old school “hey how did that place not go out of business in the 50s” shops.
Enter Ben Carter, an Atlanta real estate developer fresh off the recent economic downturn looking to make a personal and financial turnaround. Mr Carter and his investment partner, Acadia Real Estate Trust, are trying to kick some life into the street, having already plowed over $70 million into the 37 properties they own, and are projected to spend over $100 million by the time they are through. However, they have run into trouble in the form of Savannah’s conservationists.
From the Wall Street Journal [full article]:
[Ben Carter] has promised to restore the architectural grandeur of many of the buildings, and help continue Broughton Street’s transformation into a major center of shopping, dining and tourism.
But Mr. Carter is bumping heads with preservationists who haven’t been pleased with his plans. The tension illustrates the kinds of controversies that can crop up when people have different views of what preservation means.
Now Mr. Carter is running into friction with his plan for $6.5 million in upgrades to Broughton Street’s lighting, sidewalks and amenities. Some preservationists have expressed concern that upgrades would make too much of the street look the same.
“Parts of Broughton Street hail from very different times in our history and it’s important to preserve the architectural history of the different eras,” says Joe Steffen, a Savannah lawyer who once served as the chairman of the city’s Historic District Board of Review. “There’s a Disney way of preserving that makes everything look exactly the same.”
Yikes. Good news and bad news. First the bad news. That one quote, the one at the very end, could potentially undo any hope of my involvement with the revitalized district, or with any part of Savannah for that matter. Not only does it speak to the difficulty in working with the city, but it also shows the general disdain towards Disney among preservationists. When Disney does history, it is rarely historically accurate. Historians tend to see Disney as sugary sweet sameness, and any association could be potentially disastrous.
But there is good news in there as well. The conservationists are not at all happy with the physical changes being made to their buildings, however both Savannah and Mr. Carter need this street to be a mega hit and a destination in its own right. If physical changes are too much, perhaps digital is the way to go.
Why change anything at all though? What is the motivation to move forward with something extra on top of the updated retail area? For Mr. Carter, his motivation to see this business venture succeed is obvious. He has shelled out a pile of money and he would like to get a larger one back. For Savannah, the motivation is a little more complicated.
Currently the city is attempting to become a port of call for cruise ships, a huge move for a town that thrives on tourism, and even though it is a coastal city, ships would still need to make their way up river. Should Savannah open its port to cruisers, most of these visitors will stay where they disembark on River Street, where there is a little history and a lot of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. Very few guests will venture out into the city itself on their own. In order to spread those tourist dollars around, Savannah needs a hook, something to make people say, “Oh yeah, I heard about that! I have got to go see that!” Broughton Street could very well be that hook, but it is hard to do that when the whole thing is an aging, jumbled mess in the name of historically accurate, or worse, another abandoned business venture. A nightly projection show could transform the street digitally without losing the history physically, or, better yet, the possibility of luring tourists might help pave the way for the city to loosen some of the restrictions it has placed on Mr. Carter.
So this is the jumping off point for my concept. How do we get people in from the cruise ships, the trolley tours and the ghost walks and give them something unique that they can’t find anywhere else in downtown Savannah?
Considering the historic nature of the area, I could develop a show similar to my “medium” concept for SCAD, where the historic buildings change to reflect the way they looked throughout the ages. But knowing Mr. Carter’s particular form of investment in the area, he is looking forward into the district’s future, not backwards into its past. Broughton Street needs to be a vibrant part of this sleepy city. It needs to be a place where new things are happening all the time, and for that to be the case, you need foot traffic. Lots of it.
If you remember, I had put together a goofy Halloween show for Broughton Street as part of a class project (which is what got me thinking about using the area for my thesis in the first place). After seeing that post, GrumpyFan, a longtime reader of this blog, had this to say:
First, think about your audience. Who are you aiming for? Will your idea appeal to them? Does it appeal to you? Would you go to see it more than once? I get that this is horror and meant to be scary, but could it turn people away? Might it have a negative impact?
Thinking of your time at Disney, would this or something similar work there? One of the things they do so well is building attractions that have mass appeal, for kids, adults and even seniors. Can you apply these principles in your design?
Disney does a campy/fun kind of Halloween and it has broad appeal, but then Universal goes for a more scary, in-your face Halloween that is strictly adult-oriented. Based on the video, it almost looks like you’re going for the Disney-style, but based on the text/backstory, it sounds more like the style Universal might do.
In the comments section of that post, I assured GrumpyFan that I didn’t intend to use that show specifically, but that his points were well taken. Had I considered my audience? Sorta…kinda…maybe? Savannah is a funky town, and even funkier on Halloween, so a funky one night show didn’t seem like too big of a stretch. But for a year-round experience, any kind of show would need to have both repeatability and a much more broad appeal.
This location, and the specific goals for its future, requires a bit more care, potentially calling for a more immersive experience. So again, I will apply the “small, medium and large” parameters to my concept.
The first possibility I have considered for Broughton Street, one that is in essence “small” but really pushing into a bit more of a complex range, would be finding a way to have the buildings light up in connection with street-wide music, or essentially having the buildings dance all night. This could be as simple as a pulsating general light, or it could be something quite involved. Depending on the atmosphere and time of year, it could feel festive, serene or even trippy.
For a different class project, my teammates and I needed to develop three Las Vegas casino concepts. One idea we had was a place called “Adrenaline,” an over the top, X-games times 1000 experience that was fast, loud and completely seizure-inducing. One of the features of the structure’s exterior (shown in the concept art below) were lights that pulsed up and down to the throbbing beat of the music.
While that concept involved a steady thump thump thumping house music, the atmosphere on Broughton Street would not have to be that for the idea to work. In fact, the target audience is quite different, so it may even be better if it wasn’t attempting to have a club vibe, especially with all the actual nightclubs just one or two streets over. This would be more of a continuous lightshow that would last all night, creating a continual atmosphere that wraps guests up in the experience, perhaps similar to Freemont Street in Las Vegas. It isn’t so much a story as it is an immersive mood that encourages guests to stay in the area and keeps them coming back each time they visit.
This concept is “small” because, like my small SCAD concept, it doesn’t involve any story work. What it does involve, however, is software that will allow the lights to react to the music. This kind of software exists, just think of iTunes visualizer or every club ever, but I know absolutely nothing about it. Oh, and music! Music is a huge component. I’m thinking less original music and more popular music that plays throughout the night. However, this concept would involve blanketing the street in speakers to ensure the music can be heard from one end to the other. This would also necessitate gettinging someone actively creating playlists, as well as getting past any legal issues associated with using music publicly. The net effect, however, would make the street feel as though it is dancing to the music, making the whole experience more immersive.
More immersive still is my medium concept, one that integrates social media into the street, making visitors a part of the surrounding architecture itself.
Borrowing yet again from another class, as part of a group project, we were asked to develop an experience for people who had come to watch an outdoor showing of the movie Frozen in Savannah’s Forsyth Park. We ended up doing a blow up bowling game we called “Fast Lane,” but one of the ideas that I had pitched that came pretty close to happening was something that would let people see their pictures on the screen before the movie began. One simple idea had people at the event posting pictures of themselves on Instagram and tagging it with something like #FrozenForsyth. We would watch for these photos to go by and show them on the screen. This idea evolved into a visual scavenger hunt that could take place all night right up until the showing of the film. Since we had a large screen at our disposal, we could flash a clue about what the guests would have to find, and once they figured out the clue, they would take a photo of it, post it, and the winner would see his or her photo show up on the screen or possibly win some sort of prize.
This same idea could work on Broughton Street. Guests walking up and down the street would be encouraged to jump on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine or whatever social network we could most easily work with, and post something about their adventures that night. Pictures from a great meal, tweets about a new top, or a quickie video of the night out with friends could flash across the buildings, making it feel like the whole street exists just for you. Of course, the scavenger hunt idea could be implemented here as well, particularly if it encouraged people to keep moving up and down the street, bringing them to shops and restaurants they may not have otherwise seen.
Like the “small” concept, this one requires a heavy amount of R&D. I would need some sort of software that processes all of the information coming in and that dynamically displays it all for guests to see (also software that knows how to censor, because Internet). Either that or have a dude…that sits…night after night. Nope. This is a “medium” because it does require some sort of organization to the messages, images and videos being displayed. It would have to be a novel way to interact with the information that we see on our phones all the time. The novelty of simply seeing your tweet showing up on the side of a building wears off pretty fast, eventually getting to the point where the only people participating are pre-teen boys trying to figure out how to get some variation of the word “boobs” past the censors. It’s getting past that novelty factor and doing something truly unique that is the key to taking an experience like this from gimmick to unforgettable.
The last concept, one that I consider large, is more in keeping with what people typically think of when thinking about a projection show — a true show at a set time in a set location with story and music.
Rather than offering a single show, this area needs constant change and constant updating to encourage repeatability. Knowing this, my large concept would involve a rotating series of shows that would change over the course of the year, depending on the season. Much like my Halloween Show, at a set time at night, the street would begin to encourage guests to move to a central location on Broughton Street for a story-driven experience. Some variations would be based on narrative while others would flow with a more flexible story structure, but there would be a traditional structure. Again, the time of year would dictate the show. You could have shows for the holidays, like Christmas or St. Patrick’s day (but not Halloween, because that’s just crazy), as well as general Spring and Summer shows with familiar themes such as the feeling of life that flows through Savannah.
This one is “large” simply because it involves the most design work from me. I would need to do full storyboards, color scripts, key art, music and animation, and not just for one show but for many. This is the part of this project that interests me the most, not the actual production of the show but building out the concept, but in this case I would need to do that several times over. It would certainly be a challenge, but the end result could be a year-round must-see attraction that would easily pull tourists in night after night.
As I said in an earlier post, the likelihood of working with Mr. Carter would be a real toss up. Adding an element of entertainment to encourage repeat visits would mean a healthy profit. However, going into something like this would be a huge leap in a direction that the client likely never considered. Since Mr. Carter has been having so much trouble with the city of Savannah, this may reek of one more fight that he would rather not wage.
Leaving the insides of Savannah where I have been talking about shows that take place across multiple buildings, we will go right out to the edge and look at a single location — the Westin at River Street.