By Joe Earle
The property was supposed to go to the dogs.
Vines and bamboo covered the 27 acres on the edge of Bull Sluice Lake. Nobody thought much about the land in an out-of-the-way spot at the end of beat-up Morgan Falls Road. City officials figured it would be a good place for residents to exercise their pets.
But once city officials had the underbrush cleared away and saw the view from this riverfront hillside, everything changed. Below them, the Chattahoochee River rolled lazily by in a halo of trees. Few homes showed their roofs or windows through the leaves, so this quiet spot in the center of the city somehow felt isolated, removed from everyday fuss. City Manager John McDonough later would call the setting “fantastic.”
City officials decided this riverfront hillside should be a place for people, not dogs. They scratched their plan to use the land for a dog park. Instead, Morgan Falls Overlook Park was born.
On July 28, city officials formally opened the $3.4 million park, the first Sandy Springs city park that was conceived, built and paid for by the city.
The opening of the new city park at Morgan Falls was one of the major stories in Sandy Springs in 2010.
This year, the fifth of the young city’s existence, some plans – such as the ones to build a riverfront park – reached their conclusion.
Other proposals remained in or moved just beyond the talking stages. Still others turned into construction projects that created traffic jams, but will bring profound changes in the future.
The city adds a new celebration
Sandy Springs city officials quickly took advantage of the city’s new park. On Nov. 11, Morgan Falls Overlook Park hosted the city’s first Veterans Day Celebration. Several hundred people attended the ceremony, which brought active soldiers from the Georgia National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade to join in honoring local vets. Four guardsmen were honored for their service in Afghanistan.
Residents attack proposed “opportunity zone”
In April, city officials proposed creating an “Opportunity Zone” to allow businesses in an area along Roswell Road south of I-285 to apply for certain kinds of tax breaks if they created new jobs. But the plan met a buzz saw of determined opponents who objected loudly to the plan because it would have designated parts of the city in or near their neighborhoods as blighted or as “slums.” City officials agreed the language was unfortunate and decided to reduce the area of the zone before approving it.
The Main Street Alliance forms
A group of property owners in downtown Sandy Springs formed a new group intended to develop a common vision for the city’s commercial center. Mimms Enterprises CEO Lonnie Mimms Jr., who helped pull the group together, said the organization hoped to make the area more than a speed bump on the commute from homes in Cobb County to jobs in the medical district nicknamed Pill Hill. “How do you take it back from commuter traffic?” Mimms asked. “There obviously is no easy answer, or it would have been done.” On Sept. 7, the organization, which included developers such as Kirk Demetrops and Jan Saperstein, presented its plan to the city officials. Mayor Eva Galambos hailed the presentation as “the beginning of a new world.”
2010 becomes a year for building bridges
Officials turned their attentions to building or rebuilding bridges all around Sandy Springs in hopes that traffic would be better someday. Work began on the $17 million “half-diamond” interchange where Hammond Drive crosses Ga. 400 – an interchange given that odd name because of the way it looks from above. When completed, the Hammond bridge will be nine lanes wide and the “half diamond” interchange will allow drivers heading south on Ga. 400 to exit to Hammond and drivers on Hammond to move to Ga. 400 headed north. Other bridge construction projects grabbed headlines, too. Sandy Springs city officials announced plans to widen the Roswell Road bridge across I-285 in 2011. They also talked with Roswell officials about adding pedestrian and bike lanes to the Roswell Road bridge over the Chattahoochee River. And in March, a bridge on Peachtree-Dunwoody Road damaged during the September 2009 floods finally reopened.
ChatComm takes calls, but does it have the financial answer?
ChatComm, the 911 call center created by the cities of Sandy Springs and Johns Creek, completed its first year of operation on Aug. 31. The center answered 198,408 calls and dispatched emergency responders to 110,230 incidents. But the two cities had to call up more than $1.2 million in subsidies to ChatComm in 2010 and expect about another $1.4 million in 2011, so they hoped other cities – notably Dunwoody – would sign up for the service.
Overlooked no more
The city of Sandy Springs opened its first city-planned-and-built park, Morgan Falls Overlook Park, in July on some high ground along the Chattahoochee that had beren little used in recent years.. The $3.4 million park offered hiking trails, a playground with a jungle gym, an open air pavilion for large gatherings and preserved an 1840s chimney as a reminder of the city’s origins.
St. Joseph’s Hospital looks for a business partner
St. Joseph’s Hospital – metro Atlanta’s oldest hospital — spent much of the year trying to remake itself. In April, St. Joe’s and Piedmont Healthcare started talks aimed at creating a joint operating company that would take over some of their overlapping businesses. It didn’t work out. Soon St. Joseph’s was talking to the Emory system as another potential partner. Those discussions also ended with no agreement. So St. Joseph’s began looking for a company to work out a different sort of agreement, such as acquisition or merger, Interim CEO Paul Johnson said. “St. Joseph’s is not on the ‘auction block,’” Johnson said. “Instead, this is a positive attempt to better position the health system for the changes coming in the local and national healthcare environment.”
Work starts on a linear park
City officials broke ground last spring on a planned linear park along Abernathy Road. Construction is to stretch over several years. Once completed, the $15 million linear park will cover nearly 25 acres stretched from Brandon Mill to Roswell roads.