We have had the pleasure of working with Jim Turner over the years to help make some of Savannah’s best historic places. He helped us establish our reputation for creative adaptive reuse, and always made us look good doing so. As he began the process of retirement several years ago, he kept us at the top of his list to be informed. When David Olliff retired from our employment last Fall, Jim helped organize a party for David, because they had worked together on various projects for over 35 years!
The recent news that J.T. Turner Construction is closing its doors came as a real shock. Not because we hadn’t heard about the stress of the Great Recession on their finances; Jim had shared that with us. The shock was that the last of Savannah’s great historic preservation builders is gone, and they aren’t making those any more. We feel sorry for Jim and Tripp and Mark Fitzpatrick and all of the folks at J.T. Turner, but we feel even sorrier for the subcontractors and vendors that were part of their family. Those subcontractors and vendors are the backbone of our local preservation and construction industry. They will be much more vulnerable now, especially to the bigger companies from outside Savannah that can afford to “buy work” in a recovering construction market.
We understand this, because we are getting squeezed by unscrupulous outside competition, too. Although we are fortunate to be healthy financially at this time, we must now compete with the large international firms that can buy work in the local design market, often with the help of our local governments.
As quality design and construction become more and more thought of as commodities, rather than natural resources, the loss of one of our city’s leading lights is a bad omen for Savannah. We are experiencing unprecedented growth and development, but we are in danger of losing our identity if we are not more careful to patronize our own. The giant corporations that can design and build the way that giant banks (and local governments) find easy to fund don’t really care about Savannah. They think our World Heritage city is just another commodity, too. If we lose our identity, they will not miss any sleep.
As we say farewell to J.T. Turner Construction, we also make this pledge: we are going to keep making more Savannah, and preserving what we have left, for as long as we can. We owe it to Jim Turner, to those subcontractors and tradesmen, and to you. All we ask is that the next time you think about using some big out-of-town corporation (with a one-desk office here) instead of a fully committed local firm, you also think about what you might be losing forever…
Patrick Shay, LEED AP, AIA