North end 2 North Springs Center shopping center

The entire front of the North Springs Center shopping center, once anchored by a Big Lots store whose lettering outline is still visible on the façade, is now empty. This is the type of suburban blight Sandy Springs’ north end task force wants to address.

The city of Sandy Springs is hoping some architectural ingenuity will help revitalize its north end.

“The purpose of this project is to determine the economic feasibility of various redevelopment scenarios on (four) shopping centers on the north end, including housing, and to identify what flexibility, if any, is needed for the city’s existing codes or ordinances for those particular projects,” Economic Development Director Andrea Worthy said of the city’s plan to hire a consultant to create three design concepts for each shopping center.

At its meeting Dec. 3 at City Springs, the Sandy Springs City Council voted 6-0 to approve awarding a $307,260 contract to TSW, a Midtown-based architectural and design firm, for north end design services. The company will create three varied design concepts each for the Northridge, North River, North Springs Center and former Loehmann’s Plaza shopping centers.

“For each site we ask that they present three conceptual plans: one that will conform to existing city development codes, one that will test potentially development codes to a minor degree and one that would potentially be an out-of-box, unique proposal that could also require code changes but still meet some development concepts that could be presented in the Next Ten and small-area plans,” Worthy said, adding some or all of the concepts would include mixed-use development.

According to a document posted to the city’s website, the plan would require consultants to host at least two citywide, public open house meetings to get residents’ input, with the first at the project’s start and the second at the project’s end, with the preferred conceptual plans displayed at the latter. The consultants would also have to host one meeting at each of the properties to gain feedback on each area.

TSW was the winner among 13 companies that bid for the contract through a request-for-proposals process.

Mayor Rusty Paul said the design concepts are by no means the final word on how these shopping centers, which are good examples of suburban blight in the north end, would be redeveloped.

“First of all, there’s a misapprehension,” he said. ‘We’re not designing this for a specific developer. Even though we’ve chosen four random sites, (it’s) to show the community and the development community what could be done on these sites. This is just an example of what could be done. Secondly, what does the community want to see in those sites on the north end? These are illustrations, if you will, ultimately on what kind of development could be here, what it’s going to cost and ultimately make recommendations to us on what would help make an area currently struggling.”

Paul included north end redevelopment as part of one of his top three priorities in his reelection campaign in 2017, and the following year the city created a north end redevelopment task force to address what changes needed to be made in that area, which is one of the last parts of the city to be revitalized. He said the design concepts would also address adding affordable housing to that area, something a group called Sandy Springs Together, which was formed by former task force members David and Melanie Couchman, has said the city won’t have enough of in its redevelopment plans.

“Not only the creation of new affordable housing for middle-class families … but also the preservation of workforce housing in that area, as a requirement on that site,” Paul said. “… This is just a design plan for what could be done here. ... We talked to the property owners and they’re not unhappy we’re using them as examples. ... There’s going to be a huge focus on housing.”

In an interview after the meeting, he said the number of affordable housing units these design concepts will include has not been set yet, adding the costs of apartment complexes have gone up from $25,000 per unit before the Great Recession to $150,000 or more today, driving up rent prices.

District 1 Councilman John Paulson, whose district includes part of the north end, said, “One of the things that happens with north end redevelopment is the (shopping center) owners say, “What do you want?’ We say, ‘What can you do with your site?’ … If we can move forward and have more examples of what kind of development we can have in this part of the city, that would be great.”

According to the city document, the entire process of choosing the top design concept and building a new development based on it would take two to five years.

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