Dunwoody City Council members voted 5-2 to give Brook Run Theater supporters until July 11 to come up with a financial feasibility study to prove they can raise the some $18 million needed to renovate the shuttered structure into a community performing arts center.
However, if the Brook Run Theater financial feasibility study comes back and says the money cannot be raised or raised in a reasonable amount of time deemed by council members, the council is ready to accept bids beginning July 12 to demolish it.
Voting against allowing time for a feasibility study were Councilmembers Terry Nall and Doug Thompson; voting in favor were Mayor Denis Shortal and Councilmembers Lynn Deutsch, John Heneghan, Pam Tallmadge and Jim Riticher.
One thing all council members agreed on was that no taxpayer money would be used to refurbish the theater.
“To the question of putting the city in debt to redo the theater, that’s not going to happen,” Shortal said.
Heneghan noted the theater is estimated to cost nearly $20 million while the city’s entire budget is right at $25 million.
Thompson added that he doesn’t support the idea of the theater, but that if private money could be raised to pay for the renovations and also for the estimated $700,000 a year to run the theater, he would support the project.
Nall first made a motion that was seconded by Thompson to put out a request for bids to demolish the building in Brook Run Park; Nall asked for the estimate at the Feb. 22 meeting.
The theater building, owned by the city as part of park property, is the last remaining structure of 17 buildings in the park, including the hospital building, that were once part of the Georgia Retardation Center. The Georgia Retardation Center was closed in the late 1990s.
Brent Walker, director of Parks and Recreation, told council it would likely cost approximately $357,200 to tear the building down.
Heneghan offered up a different motion and proposed, on behalf of Shortal, to defer taking any action on the Brook Run Theater project until March 20, 2017. As part of the motion, the theater supporters would have to come up with a reputable economic feasibility study by July 11 and, if the theater proposal is found to be economically feasible, then quarterly fundraising goals would be.
“I’m conflicted. How much more time do they need,” Heneghan said. “Does it make sense to tear it down or give them six months. Maybe they have a big donor. I just don’t see the financial numbers being there,” he said before he made the motion.
Then Deutsch made her motion that was eventually approved in the split vote.
“This economic study should have done and could have been done simultaneously” with the feasibility study of the theater, Deutsch said, adding that fundraising goals are often made with hypothetical projects.
Danny Ross, president of the Brook Run Conservancy, said after the vote he and the supporters would do what was necessary to have an economic feasibility study finished by July 11. He disagreed with Deutsch, saying there needed to be backing of the project before fundraising goals could be set.
Green shirt brigade
The council chamber was packed with members of the Brook Run Conservancy and people wearing green shirts to show their support for the Brook Run Theater.
Former DeKalb CEO Liane Levitan, the official namesake of Liane Levitan Park at Brook Run, told council members while in office she worked and negotiated with state officials to get the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners’ approval to ensure the some 100 acres of land would stay a park area.
“They thought it was a great idea,” Levitan said of the commissioners’ response to creating a park.
“And this was to be limited to recreation and education. This would be a double whammy” if the theater was restored, she added.
Theater, arts, community meetings, weddings, school functions — all of these could take place in the restored building, Levitan said.
“Time is of the essence, I know. But sometimes we don’t need to rush into anything,” she added.
“The building has been vacant. It’s a strong building. It needs gutting. But it would be a shining example of the cooperation with the community,” she said. “Let’s look at it for another moment. This will be a decision you all will proud of. I’m confident this will become a reality.”
Riticher said that if the supporters cannot meet the goals set, then demolition will have to be put back on the table. He also said that while he was sitting in a room full of a supporters wearing green, there were likely just as many who opposed the idea.
“There’s the forgotten man out there, who doesn’t want to have conflict with the people wearing green … but he doesn’t want taxpayer money spent on this and would rather have it spent on … public infrastructure,” he said.