John F. Schaffner
The planned purchase by the city of Sandy Springs of the 8-acre former Target site at Johnson Ferry Road and Sandy Springs Circle is expected to be on the City Council’s Nov. 18 agenda.
First that evening will be a brief public hearing related to the $8 million purchase for the proposed City Hall site. A vote will follow.
The city announced in early July it had authorized negotiating the contract on the Target site for the future City Hall complex. Council members said they had received support from residents for that site because of its proximity to the Heritage Sandy Springs complex two blocks away.
Everything has been quiet since July as the city did its due diligence on the deal.
There have been no public hearings related to the purchase, although none may be required by law since it is not a zoning matter. Nov. 18 will be the first chance for many residents to offer their views on the location and purchase of the property.
But there may be some questions, concerns and confusion about the purchase among residents — and maybe among some in city government as well.
For instance, one person last week said he was not sure residents fully understood they are not purchasing a City Hall for $8 million, but simply an 8-acre tract that is part of a much larger shopping center tract. The 8-acre site contains the former Target store, but that building is not usable by the city (it shares a wall with the Goodwill store) and will have to be torn down.
The city has discussed consolidating its scattered operations (city government offices, police facilities and municipal court), but that is not likely on only 8 acres.
(Maybe the city is planning to obtain the adjacent Goodwill Store and its parking area, but there has been no word on that, and the price the out-of-state owner has put on the property is reportedly higher than the city would consider. Of course, I guess the city could take that site using its powers of eminent domain.)
Just about everybody agrees the city does not have the money to build a City Hall complex on the site in the near future. The cost figure reportedly bouncing around city government is $60 million to $75 million. How long would it take to put aside that type of money?
I guess the council could float a bond issue and put the city in debt for 20 to 30 years.
Maybe it could work out a public/private partnership with a developer, in which the city owned the land, but the developer owned the buildings and charged rent for them.
Or the city could just put aside part of the $15 million it has available each year to spend on capital projects. But that money also has to go toward resurfacing streets and a host of other ongoing needs. So how many years would it take to set aside $60 million to $75 million that way?
The other legitimate question that can be asked: How much in tax and fee revenues will the city lose annually while the property sits dormant and then becomes a city government space?
As a Target store, the site generated property taxes and sales taxes, as well as business license fees. Considering the store’s sales volume and the size and location of the property, those revenues likely were significant, and, thus, the loss of them could be significant for the city.
Then, finally, there is the question of whether this is the right location for a City Hall complex. Apparently the mayor and several members of the City Council believe it is, and they are heavily supported by the folk from Heritage Sandy Springs, who have been active and influential in the city for many years.
Is this location to become the new city center for Sandy Springs? Should the City Hall complex be the focus of the city center? It this well enough served by public transportation for those who need to make their way to the complex for business or for court?
My big question is this: Are there still too many unanswered questions — at least from the residents’ perspective — to answer in a short public hearing period on Nov. 18, before the council makes a commitment through a vote?
Is this the openness in city government Sandy Springs residents expected when they voted to incorporate and elected their representatives?
Speaking of city center
More than a year has passed at CityWalk, and the retail shop owners are still trying to get the same problems solved, with several new items added to the list.
Thirteen of those shop owners recently sent a letter to the shopping center’s manager and owner and copied Mayor Eva Galambos, seeking a resolution to problems at the center.
There has been change the past year and a half. There is a new owner of CityWalk, but the new owner has done nothing to deal with the complaints of the shop owners. One of the biggest complaints over the years has been the lack of store signage on the main bordering thoroughfares. This has not changed. Shop owners and center management blame the city for not allowing the signage.
The biggest change at what was to be Sandy Springs’ premier city center shopping spot is that retail businesses keep failing and leaving the center. The center has a large percentage of empty retail spaces.
I am not an advocate of governments bailing out businesses or even providing tax incentives. However, I do feel the mayor and others at City Hall might find a way to act as an intermediary between the shop owners and CityWalk management to attempt to ensure that this retail epicenter does not end up being a retail ghost town.