Like several other Sandy Springs residents, Glenn Wasser said he believes the city’s plan 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, is wrong.
While respecting the Holocaust and its impact on the world, he and other residents said similar exhibits are already in place at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Midtown and Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw.
“All successful business and services have one thing in common: they solve a problem for their customers,” Wasser said. “… Spending money on an Anne Frank exhibit doesn’t solve a problem. It only creates a proverbial white elephant and takes away taxpayer money that could certainly be more effectively dispersed.”
He was one of 20 residents who spoke about the issue at the Sandy Springs City Council’s April 20 meeting at City Springs. Their comments came two weeks after the council discussed the proposal at its April 6 work session, where District 5 City Councilman Tibby DeJulio said the city’s plan for the center “makes no sense from a business standpoint to the citizens of Sandy Springs.”
Also, District 4 Councilwoman Jody Reichel said in her April 20 email newsletter that while she supports the commission’s mission, she believes the center should not be funded by taxpayer dollars. After the meeting, Reichel wrote in a text that she hopes the commission “will listen to the public comments and partner with the Breman or KSU to make a first-class exhibit.” She added she’s received about 50 emails from residents opposed to the center project.
The commission had located its office and the Frank exhibit nearby at 5920 Roswell Road since 2009 and temporarily moved into the former Heritage Sandy Springs building earlier this year.
According to the city’s proposal for the center, it could be housed on one of three locations: on about half an acre of City Springs complex land at the corner of Roswell Road and Mount Vernon Highway, in the city-owned former Heritage office and events building the city has taken control of since Heritage closed last year due to the pandemic or in a new building next door on property that previously housed a BMW business.
City Manager Andrea Surratt said the city staff prefers the City Springs structure option because of its proximity to the City Springs complex, its low cost ($3.3 million) and its built-in parking with a deck already underneath it. The Heritage location would cost up to $4.37 million, and the BMW site building would be up to $7.56 million. But some argue the City Springs site is inappropriate because it was designed to house a restaurant.
The center would be 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, so residents have taken issue with not only its location but also its cost, including the lease deal.
Of the 20 residents who spoke at the meeting, 17 said they’re against a publicly funded center and three are in favor of it. Also, there were three residents who said they support the Heritage location, one who favors the City Springs site and none who backs the BMW property.
One center proponent, Jan Reynolds, said, “I’m very excited about the cultural center. I feel like the best location would be the Heritage location. It would be a great experience to walk from City Springs down to this area. It would also expand the footprint for City Springs by one whole block.”
Despite residents’ opposition, the center plan may move forward in some form. 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 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.
Reichel said “there were extenuating circumstances” when the council voted to approve the resolution.