As the Sandy Springs City Council prepares to vote Sept. 2 on components of the future city center, including the site plan, proposed performing arts center and budget, more than 100 citizens showed up to a public meeting on Aug. 27 to hear updates on the plan as well as give input.
Steve Levetan, chairman of the Sandy Springs Conservancy, said his group was in support of one of the site plan options that includes a 1,000-seat performing arts center. He said he was pleased with the green space that is incorporated into the plan by City Center landscape architects JB+a.
Options presented by City Center master developers Carter/Selig for the performing arts center have included three sizes, ranging from 600 to 1,000 seats with varying amenities and stage sizes.
The owner of Steve’s Live Music in Sandy Springs, Steve Grossman, agreed the city should build a performing arts center with 750 to 1,000 seats that could draw first-class acts. “You can’t do that at Steve’s,” he said.
Cheri Morris, who, along with Grossman, serves on the board of Art Sandy Springs, said that the non-profit group “is very much in favor of a performing arts center – we will use all of it.” She said a center is a key factor of bringing back money that is often spent outside of the city by Sandy Springs residents.
Resident Mark Griffith, who recently conducted an informal neighborhood survey that indicated many residents were against a center, urged caution. “We’re not dealing with a lot of space,” he said. “What does that take away from? Less housing? Is walkable retail space compromised?” He said he doesn’t think the city needs a performing arts center to draw folks in, pointing to downtown Roswell and the Decatur square as examples Sandy Springs could emulate.
“Some people don’t think we need a performing arts center, and I understand that opinion,” said Mayor Rusty Paul at the beginning of the meeting. “Others think it’s essential to have a place to meet.” He said he had to give his State of the City address earlier this year in Brookhaven due to lack of event space.
“We know whatever decision this council reaches, some people will disagree,” Paul said. “[Hopefully we’ll] reach a consensus that can make everyone reasonably happy.” He said city officials have been cautioned by performing arts center operators in other locations not to build too small. We should either “build it right or don’t do it,” he said.
City Manager John McDonough addressed some community concerns during the presentation. He said that building a city center will not require a tax increase and that site plans with a performing arts center do not decrease green space.
He also said the city has a plan to pay for a performing arts center, which could cost from $24 million to $40 million. The total city center cost that includes the addition of meeting space, offices, parking and road improvements is estimated to be $169.3 million to $196.6 million. McDonough said funding options include money set aside for three years; using the money the city currently pays to lease City Hall offices, which would move to the City Center; land sales to developers; private placement bonds; and a capital campaign to raise funds, which the mayor has pledged to lead.
“I’m convinced Sandy Springs citizens in the private sector will be generous,” Paul said.
City Center planners were on hand to go over the options of site plans, performing arts center sizes, landscaping and greenspace, and retail and restaurant goals.
George Bushey with Rosser International, the City Center architect, went over sizing options for the performing arts center, as well as four possibilities for the overall City Center site plan. While all options include a city green, parking deck, residential and retail, three of the plans have two buildings housing city offices, meeting space and performing arts center. A fourth plan houses the offices, meeting space and arts center in one building.
Steve Provost, with City Center landscape architect JB+a said “open space and greenspace are a critical component” of the plan. He said one of the City Center’s goals is to be a greenspace network, and described the City Center as the middle piece of a “big green arc” throughout Sandy Springs.
Jo Ann Chitty with City Center master developers Carter/Selig said the plan for a tenant mix uses the performing arts center as the anchor. “Tenant mix is the most important part of any retail project,” she said, adding that resident feedback has indicated that people want to see unique shops and chef-driven restaurants, not chains.
The council’s vote on Sept. 2 is intended to give direction to the city development team for the master plan, the performing arts center, site development program and overall city center program budget. The city council will meet at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 7840 Roswell Road.