Savannah Now

James and Liz Carlson have invested $400,000 to purchase a former car dealership on Laurel Street in Springfield and turn it into a climate-controlled event space that can seat 300 people or host 430 people for a standing event.

The Local on Laurel has only been open a couple of weeks but it already has more than 20 events scheduled, including the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet in June and Effingham Hospital’s 50-year gala in September.

Jim Carlson, 33, a member of the chamber’s board of directors, said he’s fielding three to five calls a day from people inquiring about renting the venue.

The building, which was constructed in 1920, has high ceilings, brick walls and large arched windows as well as a large glass rollup door that previously was used to bring cars into the building when it was a dealership.

Over the years the building also housed an appliance store, Western Auto and, most recently, baseball and softball academy. The building is across the street from the county’s Administrative Complex.

It has a 4,300-square-foot ballroom, 27 crystal chandeliers, large catering kitchen and four ADA-compliant restrooms.

It can be rented by the hour or the day and can be divided to host large or small events. It can host everything from simple events to high-end galas.

The building also houses Carlson’s Premier Events, the couple’s six-year-old event planning business, which employs about 18 people and handles about 260 events in the Savannah area each year.

Carlson said he also plans to begin renovations this summer on a 6,000-square-foot warehouse by the Snack Barrel, which will house Joann’s Florist, a gift shop and café or coffee shop. Carlson bought the florist 10 years ago.

The Carlsons had planned to be the master tenants in the former Walt’s Furniture store building, also on Laurel Street, but those plans are on hold now, he said.

The city owns the former furniture store and had planned for the Carlsons to be the master tenants, bringing their event planning business and florist and overseeing renting the rest of the building to a restaurant and other small businesses.

Erin Phillips, Springfield’s community development director, said plans and financing are still being worked on for Walt’s and the city hopes the Carlsons will be involved as a development partner or tenant.

She said the renovation of the Local on Laurel is a valuable addition to Springfield. “It’s a beautiful renovation of the building and a much-needed use in the community,” she said.

Carlson said his wife Liz came up with the name “The Local on Laurel,” stemming from their love of Springfield, where they live, and desire to encourage people to shop and do business locally.

“Springfield has so much potential,” he said. “We see the potential already. We want people to have that same feeling as 30 to 40 years ago when you’d go to Springfield to see movies, hang out.”

He said the Local on Laurel is attracting people from outside the city, much like the historic Mars Theatre, which was renovated and reopened to the public five years ago.

Carlson said he expects to be involved in the renovation of Walt’s in one way or another. “If we don’t do it, we’ll find a tenant,” he said. “It affects us all.”

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