To the editor:
When we began to seriously plan for our City Hall in downtown Sandy Springs, we heard quite a bit of lobbying from the arts community that we should also include a performing arts center. So we came up with the idea that an empty City Council chamber 13 out of every 14 nights makes no sense, and that there had to be some way to combine theater space with City Council seating space.
We figured if we can get two venues under one roof and over one foundation, we might be more likely to afford the inclusion of the performing arts center.
Two years later, and past the first set of consultants, we have a recommendation for a performing arts center to include meeting facilities that would cost approximately $38 to $42 million.
This is for a facility that seats from 750 to 1000 patrons, and would accommodate the sets that must be raised above the stage and vastly complicate the construction process. The architects advised me that the space for the sets and the open space for the theater seating without obstructing columns could not support office floors above these features. So, yes, we can build a council chamber and theater space that is all one space, but we cannot put the offices of the city on top of that.
This probably means that the taxpayers would still save some dollars by combining functions, but not nearly as much as had originally been hoped for.
The magnitude of the projected cost calls into question some of the recommendations by the consultants.
They recommend, for example, that the facility seat 750 to 1000 patrons. I compare that to the Roswell venue, which seats 600.
Roswell has a longstanding theater group and is a community that values the arts and has been fully involved in that direction for decades. If they do not fill a 600 seat venue (I have never experienced it full at many events I have attended there), the ambitions for Sandy Springs may be too large.
We are being compared to Gwinnett County’s facility. The population of Gwinnett County is 860,000 compared to approximately 100,000 for Sandy Springs.
Perhaps the most astounding aspect of the recommended Performing Arts Center is that it should include a 15,000-square-foot ballroom or banquet space to accommodate 750 guests, which could also be split into two junior ballrooms of 7,500 square feet.
Apparently in the discussions for the performing arts center, some stakeholders injected this idea and justified the need for it on the basis of all the corporate interests in Sandy Springs. In my opinion, such meeting space is up to the private sector. For example, a 50-story office tower on the current zoning agenda should be asked to address this need of the corporate sector.
The inclusion of the meeting space comes too close for comfort in my estimate to a convention center. Many a financially strapped local government has regretted the day it ventured into the convention center business.
The city of Sandy Springs has already met the need for more modest meeting space with our beautiful Heritage Hall. We accommodated the Indian community there in a recent year when we welcomed the Ambassador from India to Sandy Springs. The facility has a full service kitchen which is also on the list of the Performing Arts Center report.
The most important question that the taxpayers of Sandy Springs need to address, via their elected officials, is whether the current tax millage can cover the city center development, city hall, and the performing arts center.
The city manager has estimated the total cost of the municipal complex with its green, all the public works improvements that must be done and the cost of the buildings and parking at somewhere between $169 and $!97 million. Can we afford that? Only with detailed financial projections should the decision be made regarding the Performing Arts Center.
Eva Galambos was the first mayor of the city of Sandy Springs.
To the editor:
Remember why we voted to become a city?
Everyone I heard talk about it answered basically the same way: to enhance our fire, police and EMS services, safeguard our relatively quiet area, and have control over expenditures to avoid unnecessary taxpayer obligations.
We felt Fulton County wasn’t doing these things adequately or providing service commensurate with the tax dollars we contributed. We wanted our tax dollars spent for our basic needs: safety services, parks, storm water protection, bridge/road maintenance, traffic control, facilitate bike/pedestrian accessibility.
Nowhere in the discussion did I hear: bring more traffic to the area, compete with neighboring communities for regional/national theater productions/audience, buy up long established small businesses to build a city center with performing arts at a cost projected in excess of $196 million.
Yet the latter is what is happening. Unless there is a groundswell of citizens saying, “Whoa, we didn’t sign on for this. This wasn’t our vision and it isn’t what we want,” we will get a big change to the landscape of the city we had hoped to protect.