Editor’s note: City officials have scheduled a meeting and public hearing on the city center project, including the performing arts center, for
6 p.m. Aug. 27 at City Hall.

Mark Griffith admits his survey on Sandy Springs’ proposed performing arts center isn’t scientific. But he does want Sandy Springs City Council to know his findings reflect the opinions of at least a portion of city residents.

Responding to neighbors’ concerns that a proposed arts center as part of the future city center could be too expensive and obtrusive for Sandy Springs, Griffith extended a Survey Monkey poll to residents in his and 13 nearby neighborhoods in close proximity to the future site, he said.

He received 96 responses in a short period of time, he said. Most opposed the largest of the three options consultants proposed to the city.

“A large performing arts center with meeting space is not something the community will utilize more than a couple of times a year,” he said.

He said that the survey showed that community gathering places, green space, shops and restaurants were most important to those taking the survey, while housing, performing arts and meeting spaces were the least important.

Of those saying that a performing arts center is important for Sandy Springs, less than 10 percent said city officials should choose the largest of the three options presented to the council and the public.

Sandy Springs city center master developers and planners presented options for a facility at a special called city council meeting on July 23. The presentation included small, medium and large stages, each with seating sizes of 600, 800 and 1,000, and what each scenario might include.

The planners were presenting the options based on a feasibility study by Johnson Consulting that recommended a 750- to 1,000-seat facility that also included meeting space.

“I do fully support an active and lively city center for Sandy Springs,” said Griffith, who said that he was part of an earlier study gathering public input for the city center.

He said that in the survey, cost was the most often cited concern for the city center project.

“We’re dealing with two issues in short supply – land and tax dollars,” he said, explaining that he’s afraid a large performing arts center would take away from proposed green space, gathering spaces and walkable retail. “At the end of the day, we want things we can utilize on a fairly regular basis,” he said.

John Jokerst, with Carter/Selig, the city center master developer, in July gave a rundown of building costs associated with different stage sizes and options, which could range anywhere from $24 million to $42.6 million. Final costs including the addition of meeting space, offices, parking and road improvements is estimated to be $169.3 million to $196.6 million.

City Manager John McDonough has said the city could use a combination of options to finance the center, including fundraising, using money set aside, land sales to developers, allocating money already earmarked for the city center, utilizing money the city currently uses to lease city hall, and bonds.

Griffith said his ideal vision for a city center would be modeled after locations like Canton Street in Roswell and the Decatur square.

Resident David Carr says he agrees with Griffith that while the community needs a gathering space, it doesn’t need the 1,000-seat option.

“We need to have a setting where people can come together,” he said. “The arts center proposal is wrong for this community. It’s aroused all sorts of anger and stress. What I want to see happen in the city center is a small venue with 200 seats where people can experience a wide array of stimulating experiences.”

Carr said he envisions a place where folks can come for book signings and discussions, small performances and recitals – not a place “that would require a full-time technician to operate” or that features “economically demanding” attractions. He also proposes moving the Sandy Springs Library to the location.

Carr, a retired University of North Carolina professor, says he and his wife moved here two years ago to be near family and have so far been “thrilled” with Sandy Springs.

“It’s still very much a city that’s becoming something,” he said. “It’s in the process of trying to decide what it’s going to be. As a city, it could create a valuable model that you don’t find everywhere.”

See also: Letters to the Editor: Sandy Springs arts center a ‘no’

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