IF HE’S elected as the sixth district alderman, one of Chase DeCarlo’s first orders of business would be restoring the Council on New Urbanism’s 2018 plan to retrofit the Savannah Mall area into a town square.
The plan, presented at the end of a four-day conference, was supported by Mayor Eddie DeLoach at the time.
“We’re talking about a Forsyth 2.0, another downtown area, a place where you can put apartment complexes—all that was laid out in the plans,” DeCarlo tells me as we sit at Tribble Park on a chilly Saturday morning. “That got sidelined. Why?”
In DeCarlo’s eyes, the plan would alleviate so many issues: it would thematically connect the Southside to downtown by continuing the Oglethorpe square plan, which would solve the current thinking of Southside as a totally different area. As residents get priced out of the historic district and move outwards, the town center would attract them and even excite them about living on the presumed outskirts of town.
It’s a lofty goal, but the plan would be crucial in reimagining District 6’s future.
“We can’t get the retrofit done without there being investment from businesses—that would mean rethinking the ordinances, rethinking all of the barriers that are put into businesses, making sure we can get the homeless situation under control in a competent and equitable way,” DeCarlo says.
As it stands, the Southside isn’t getting as much attention as other districts because it’s far removed from the SCAD and tourism bustle. The area is much more residential and sees less transience—people who live there usually plant roots there—and tourists usually don’t venture that far down.
But to DeCarlo, it’s not an us vs. them situation.
“You know, two things can always be true at once: you can develop the downtown area, you can have a growing and thriving tourist aspect, but the citizens of the city have to be able to afford to go out to eat, to afford their rent, and competition needs to be involved with that,” DeCarlo says. “Thinking of things we can do today if we could just get our heads out of our butts: this short-term rental component. If you can allow for Airbnbs on the Southside but having a specific amount of tax that would go towards the city, as opposed to just going towards the company.”
The retrofit plan would also require a fully staffed police force, which if elected DeCarlo would work quickly to do, but he acknowledges that that approach alone would not stop crime.
“This is a cultural issue, a city issue that needs to be addressed from the ground up,” he says, citing a statistic that says most crimes committed are by young boys between 11 and 21. “From the beginning of society, people that did not have access to resources or know where their next meals were coming from would commit violent crimes—there is a strong correlation to lack of resources with violent crime.”
One way DeCarlo would tend to that population is by bringing back and expanding the Summer 500 program, which provides kids 16 and up with paid summer employment.
“That was only 500 kids we did—maybe we should go up to 2,500 or 3,500 students that can get jobs learning trades,” he muses. “We can have soccer and football and basketball programs, and those are awesome, but that could be in addition to programs that the city would back, investing in the new generation that’s coming here.”
This is a cause close to DeCarlo’s heart: his brother committed a crime at 17 years old and spent 15 years in prison.
“How does he become a contributing member to society?” asks DeCarlo. “He doesn’t have any resources, no trades or skills—all he has is his family, and a lot of these kids when they get out don’t have that either.”
DeCarlo sees the need for high school students to learn trades because it gives them purpose. “And we need to as a society sexify that again,” he says. “You own your own business? That’s flippin’ awesome!”
A big sticking point for DeCarlo is what he sees as current Sixth District Alderman Kurtis Purtee’s failed promises for the Southside. He points out Purtee’s claims that he’s allocated $9 million for the Windsor Forest Golden Age Community Center, currently at Windsor Forest Elementary School, which is due to be rebuilt.
“In my opinion, which is just that, I think he tried to run so far away from Tony Thomas’ previous tenure that he didn’t want anything to do with that, and then hesitated on doing the beneficial things that were already implanted in place for the Southside,” he says. “You keep saying you’ve done this, you’ve done that. Well, you didn’t really do that—this was taxpayer and SPLOST dollars that were already allocated and haven’t been set in place.”
Tony Thomas, of course, is the controversial District 6 alderman who Purtee narrowly defeated in 2019 for the seat. (Thomas is now running for At-Large Post 1.)
“I have not met a business owner that said Tony failed them in his job as city alderman,” he says, “and I have not met a business owner that said Kurtis has picked up the phone and done something for me that I need.”
DeCarlo also mentions the agenda access policy: “We can’t ignore the fact that you need a majority of City Council in order to get things done. If the items on the agenda are not focused on the Southside, that’s really the problem,” he says.
He thinks the “bully pulpit” needs to be more utilized in advocating for the needs of the Sixth District, particularly in calling out aldermen who act differently in public and in private.
On the issue of homelessness, DeCarlo believes a competent and equitable approach is needed right away to minimize the harm that the current Council has done.
“Why aren’t we holding our City Council responsible for inviting that type of thing to go on as long as it did?” DeCarlo asks. “They didn’t bring the homeless people here, but they said, ‘We will provide you services, we won’t arrest you.’ Kurtis has said multiple times that homelessness is not a crime. It’s not true. I’m not vilifying the homeless, but there are three separate Georgia and Savannah laws that you’re breaking when you’re homeless: there’s trespassing, there’s leaving items of possession unattended, and there’s loitering.”
DeCarlo points out that many unhoused people face mental health struggles, and the failure to address those issues head-on have bene particularly compounded when thinking about homelessness.
“We haven’t addressed of any of the mental illness that is causing it. What we have done is provided them a safe space in order for them to consistently suffer,” he says.
So what would DeCarlo do? He wants to see laws set in place to make sure homeless people are safe and ease the restrictions to allow mentally ill individuals to enter shelters.
DeCarlo is young and passionate about the needs of District 6, and he’s hoping to flip this seat on November 7.
“I want to devote my time that I have in order to benefit the area that I’m going to raise my kids, in, and I want my neighbors to be happy and to feel safe,” he says. “I see the Southside as having the most latent potential out of every other district. It’s the first thing and the last thing you see when you enter the city—it should look awesome. It should be a place that people choose to live—and it’s the last affordable place to live.”
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