By Rusty Paul

Rusty Paul

We told you so! That’s the obvious and human response to those critics who, over 35 years of opposition, argued that the city of Sandy Springs wouldn’t work or would be duplicative government.

I’d offer them a tour, showing off the more than 50 miles of resurfaced streets, the clean new sidewalks popping up across the community, the stunning view of Bull Sluice from the new Morgan Falls Overlook Park, the emerging Abernathy Greenway, the plans for upgrading Hammond Park and finishing up at Lost Corners, our next world-class opportunity. Those would never have happened without the city.

More importantly, I’d introduce them to the people I see at church, in stores, outside the post office and other places who, after five years, are still so amazingly enthused about what’s happening here.

However, we have so much more to accomplish to waste time on “I told you so’s.”

Yet, after a five-year start that has astounded even our most ardent advocates, what’s next? First, we must continue upgrading an infrastructure that weathered 35 years of neglect. The city is managing that problem reasonably well.

Second, while the current economic climate has obviously slowed our effort, we must redevelop and reshape “downtown Sandy Springs.” That’s a more difficult challenge.

We’re one of the most affluent communities in the country, with a per capita income rivaling Manhattan, Beverly Hills or San Francisco. Downtown Sandy Springs resembles none of those (nor do we want it to).

Yet, to achieve a redevelopment that serves our community rather than blights it, we must also redefine Sandy Springs in the minds of retailers and others who thrive in a downtown setting. While some properties have been spruced up, many existing buildings can’t support the kind of retail that attracts in significant numbers either Sandy Springs shoppers or those from outside the city.

To foster redevelopment, we must persuade property owners that investing in new facilities will generate higher rents from higher-end tenants and that Sandy Springs residents will support those tenants.

Meanwhile, many retailers are leery of the Sandy Springs market. For example, we have a reputation among the region’s restaurateurs for not supporting fine dining establishments. They say we’ll go to Buckhead or Dunwoody for dinner, but rarely frequent similar establishments here. As a result, they categorize us as a neighborhood restaurant market, bypassing us when they expand.

Ditto for other higher-end retailers. They say we’ll shop at Perimeter, Lenox or Phipps, but not here.

That makes little sense.

Do we have a chicken-and-egg dilemma? We don’t shop here because we can’t buy many things we want, yet retailers won’t come here because they regularly see us going elsewhere to buy them.

To hatch the egg, we must get both retailers and residents to rethink their perception of downtown Sandy Springs if we really want to take our community to the next level. We need a downtown that makes us proud – that we will frequent – and that will attract those businesses we want here.

It will take us all to create it.

Rusty Paul was a member of the first Sandy Springs City Council. He also has served in the state Senate. He now works with the Arnall, Golden and Gregory law firm.