'Something besides fast food'? Port Wentworth takes steps to attract more businesses

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

The City of Port Wentworth has begun laying the groundwork for more commercial services such as restaurants and retail -- resources that residents say are sorely lacking in the industry-heavy municipality.

City council unanimously approved a three-year contract with commercial development consultants Nextsite during Tuesday night's council meeting. Mayor Gary Norton and council member Glenn Jones were not present due to scheduling conflicts. Council member Mark Stephens participated virtually.

City Manager Steve Davis said the council is still adjusting to the new meeting schedule which calls for an additional council meeting every second Tuesday of every odd numbered month.

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

According to Davis, Nextsite has a good track record of attracting commercial development to surrounding municipalities. The company provides market analysis for cities and connects the appropriate commercial resources that they identify throughout markets across the U.S.

"They're very empirically data driven ... they can help figure out what's happening and why people aren't staying here," said Davis.

Davis also mentioned that contracting with Nextsite would be less expensive than hiring an economic development director to join the city staff. Nextsite's services will cost about $15,000 per year.

The company will work collaboratively with the city's chamber of commerce, which renewed its contract with Port Wentworth earlier this year after an 18-month hiatus. The tourism and marketing branch of the city works directly with local businesses. Nextsite would enhance those efforts at drawing both visitors and residents to the city.

"They go hand in hand," said Davis.

During the council meeting, the city manager also mentioned reviving Port Wentworth's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) which hasn't been active for years. A DDA's goal is to revitalize and redevelop a city's central business districts.

Port Wentworth's DDA coverage area encompasses the entire city limits, which is unlike other downtown development authorities that usually only covers a portion of the city, said Davis.

Answering residents' complaints

Residents have routinely complained about the lack of commercial businesses in Port Wentworth and how they have to travel to neighboring municipalities for basic services such as car repair, doctors appointments and sit-down restaurants.

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Port Wentworth resident Trevor Ferguson spoke up during the public comment period to urge the city to bring in more of those resources and amenities.

"Please put something down here that we have to go to Pooler to get right now," said Ferguson, "If I want to take my mom or fiancée out to dinner, I can't even get it in Port Wentworth."

According to District 1 council member Gabby Nelson, Port Wentworth only has a few restaurants that aren't fast food chains.

"We need to bring in something besides fast food, gas stations and warehouses," said Nelson, "There's nothing that you can truly nourish your family off of."

Nelson also pointed out the lack of medical services in the city. The closest urgent care facilities are in Rincon and Pooler. Increasing traffic has made it harder to reach those locales over the years as well.

"We have 13,000 people and not one urgent care center," said Nelson.

The council member oversees the northern portion of the city that has seen explosive population growth over the last decade. Nelson said she's excited that the city has gotten the ball rolling on bringing in amenities residents have been wanting for years.

"I'm excited and grateful that someone is looking to get these businesses out here," said Nelson.

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at nguan@gannett.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: 'Something besides fast food'? Port Wentworth takes steps to attract more businesses