The city of Sandy Springs plans to partner with the Georgia Commission for the Holocaust to open an arts and culture center that will house the “Anne Frank and the World: 1929-1945” exhibit, plus other art or museum exhibitions and other facilities.
But its location, on about half an acre of City Springs complex land at the corner of Roswell Road and Mount Vernon Highway, may not be the right one, District 5 City Councilman Tibby DeJulio said.
He argued the fact that the city has vacant space elsewhere that could be used for this purpose and the cost (an up to $3.3 million rough estimate for a two-story building, paid for through $2.5 million in budgeted city funds and the commission’s $150,000 annual, 40-year lease, twice as many years the city originally proposed) make this option unfeasible.
“In the three years we’ve had City Hall open, we’ve had only one (art) exhibit there,” DeJulio said of the City Springs development. “Here we’re talking about an empty building we’ve owned and we want to build more space. … (The land is) probably worth $2 million. That’s what Chase Bank paid, $2 (million) or $2.1 million to build (a branch) across the street.
“Then a 40-year lease on this thing at $150,000. … What kind of business is this? I would never get into this situation with property I owned, and this is even more important because it’s city property. … This makes no sense from a business standpoint to the citizens of Sandy Springs.”
DeJulio and other city leaders discussed the issue at the council’s April 6 work session, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The City Springs site for the center, one of three options, would be about 14,600 square feet, with the commission occupying 6,600 for both the Frank exhibit and its offices and the city using the rest for other art or museum exhibitions.
DeJulio told City Manager Andrea Surratt he’s been asking her for the past month for a list of vacant spaces the city has and how large they are in each building it owns. She apologized for not furnishing the info yet.
DeJulio said Option 2, the city-owned former Heritage Sandy Springs office and events building the city has taken control of since Heritage closed last year due to the pandemic, is a better choice based on its size (15,000 square feet). But according to Surratt’s presentation document also posted to the city’s website, it would cost more (up to $4.37 million) to locate the center there, and even more for Option 3 (up to $7.56 million) to construct a new building next door where a BMW business was located.
Surratt said Option 1 is the city staff’s preferred site based on its proximity to the City Springs complex, including the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center and the City Green, and its built-in parking with a deck already underneath it.
Also, in September the council voted 6-0 to approve a resolution to allow for the construction and development of the center on the City Springs property. That vote also gave the commission, which had located its office and the Frank exhibit nearby at 5920 Roswell Road since 2009 and temporarily moved into the former Heritage building earlier this year, the go-ahead to start fundraising for the permanent move.
“I am out on a limb because the holocaust commission has gone out and raised what I told them to raise,” Mayor Rusty Paul said. “They’ve met their obligation. ... There was consensus that I should go forward” with that plan.
In July 2019, the Sandy Springs Public Facilities Authority, which is the council acting on behalf of the city’s venues, voted 5-1 to approve a resolution supporting the center plan, in partnership with the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, Visit Sandy Springs (the city’s tourism arm) and the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber.
The proposed new center was to house the exhibit plus the offices for Visit Sandy Springs, the chamber and the commission (which also includes its Friends group, a volunteer fundraising arm). But in the past year and a half, partly due to the pandemic, Visit Sandy Springs and the chamber have decided to locate their offices elsewhere, and the project has been scaled down some, city spokeswoman Sharon Kraun.
Shaun Albrechtson, executive director of the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, said the arts and culture center could host local, regional and national exhibits and other events to augment the programming the rest of City Springs hosts annually.
When asked by District 3 Councilman Chris Burnett if it could charge admission for some events to help offset costs, he said yes.
Surratt said District 2 Councilman Steve Soteres said the center could also include a rooftop bar to generate more revenue and provide a good view of the city, including the Veterans Park proposed for across Roswell Road.
Soteres said he would like to get, in addition to the information DeJulio requested, a pro forma, or document with minimum requirements, for the center project. With the council inviting public comment on the development at its next meeting April 20, most members who spoke at the April 4 work session, including District 4 Councilwoman Jody Reichel, said they need as much information as possible to answer residents’ questions in two weeks.
“(The pro forma) would help Jody and others who have a problem with the cost side of the project,” Soteres said. “It could answer a lot of questions.”