By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.net

Twenty-two CityWalk merchants and Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos met Nov. 11 with a three-person team from ReMax Commercial real estate — the apparent new management team for the shopping center — and the word from many who attended was optimism and a spirit of cooperation.

Both the mayor and a sampling of the merchants indicated they saw progress in discussions about getting better signage for the shops on Hammond Drive and Sandy Springs Circle, as well as directional signs within the center; improving lighting; and even marketing the center to the public.

CityWalk’s owner reportedly hired the ReMax team of Dave Thomas, Stephen Thomas and Shamey Chern to be the new management and marketing team for the center. But Stephen Thomas told the Sandy Springs Reporter on Nov. 18, “There remain a few details to be worked out with the former manager of CityWalk and the owner.”

Asked whether he was referring to Dan Koh, who over the past year was referred to both as the manager and owner of CityWalk, Thomas said, “We cannot discuss CityWalk with the media at this time.”

Some CityWalk merchants were unhappy with a story in the Oct. 31-Nov. 13 issue of the Reporter that focused on a letter signed by 13 shop owners regarding issues they wanted addressed and seeking a meeting to work on long-term solutions at the shopping center.

Many of the concerns in the Oct. 13 letter, sent to the center’s owner/manager and Galambos, were similar to those voiced by some merchants in an article in the April 6-19, 2007, edition of the Reporter.

One of those merchants, Julie Routenberg, who owns the Potpourri women’s apparel store on Boutique Row at CityWalk, said customers expressed concerns that the article presented a picture of a shopping center in decay.

Routenberg, who signed the Oct. 13 letter, said there are “some very positive things about the shopping center.”

She said it was apparent at the Nov. 11 meeting that the new management team, the mayor and the merchants “are desperately trying to do a good job and have good ideas.”

For instance, Galam­bos said the city will work with the merchants and center management toward getting store signage on the major Kroger pylons at the center’s entrances and getting directional signage to the various stores within the center.

Galambos said she understands the signage problems stores along Hammond Drive have. She said potential shoppers can pass the stores without noticing the present signage, which is flat against the front of the building. She said signs that project perpendicularly from the building “can be very attractive” and would better identify the merchants to passers-by.

The mayor said the city will help where it can to ensure CityWalk remains a primary destination shopping center. She said she was pleased with the discussions at the Nov. 11 meeting.

A follow-up meeting is scheduled for Dec. 2 with the merchants, the management team and possibly the mayor.

Routenberg said she left the Nov. 11 meeting optimistic that the new management team is interested in the merchants’ concerns and is motivated to fix the major problems.

Routenberg cited Fishmonger restaurant moving into CityWalk as a major positive development. She said the center needs more good restaurants to draw people. Other merchants have suggested that having a national chain store other than Kroger in the center would draw more shoppers to the smaller specialty stores.

Another positive Routenberg cited was that the merchants now have an address the public can recognize: 230 Hammond Drive. Previously, Sandy Springs Place was the address for all stores in the center. Since the Postal Service recognizes the old and new addresses, the merchants do not have to reprint all of their business and promotional materials.

She said her store at CityWalk does better business that her Buckhead store, which is in a strip center at 3718 Roswell Road. Her store in Sandy Springs has “less competition,” she said, and draws “people who don’t want to go to the (Perimeter) mall.”

She said the Sandy Springs store benefits more from repeat customers, while the Buckhead store relies more on new customers.

But there remain many vacant storefronts at CityWalk, and more likely will be vacated as leases come up for renewal.

Patty Pennington, the owner of Belle Choses in the westernmost building at CityWalk, said two neighbors in her building — Southern Embroidery and the jewelry store — will not renew their leases, adding to the vacancies. Pennington did not say what she will do when her lease expires, but she said she has found much cheaper rental rates in some other shopping centers.

Warren Gary Gay Decorations, which moved from Buckhead to CityWalk when it opened, will return to Buckhead when the lease comes up, Gay said. He doesn’t blame the center for his lack of business in Sandy Springs, but he said Sandy Springs homeowners are not his clientele.

Carla Civita, who owns Imagym Play and Fitness Club and was behind the Oct. 13 letter, declined to discuss the Nov. 11 meeting or talk further about conditions at CityWalk.