Sandy Springs’ proposal for a new “cultural center” received a largely positive response at its debut public meeting. But some major pieces of the concept’s origins and its future remain unclear, including whether it can compete for a new state Holocaust memorial and whether it was essentially already approved by the public in an eight-year-old master plan document.

The center would hold several offices, an art gallery and potentially be a place for the state’s Holocaust memorial, though that may be going outside the state Capitol, a lawmaker said.

Groups interested in being part of the center, which is expected to be built somewhere around City Springs, include Visit Sandy Springs, the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, and the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and its Anne Frank exhibit already in Sandy Springs.

The organizations using space in the building would be required to pay a portion of the design and construction of the building, as well as part of the cost to run the building.

Sandy Springs residents provide input for the city’s proposed “cultural center” at a Nov. 29 meeting held at City Springs. (Evelyn Andrews)

Holocaust memorial

A promotional image for the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust exhibit “Anne Frank in the World,” which is currently housed in Sandy Springs.

The cultural center has been discussed by city officials as a good location for the Holocaust memorial now required by a state law passed earlier this year, but a lawmaker behind the legislation says it may already be claimed.

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, who represents part of Sandy Springs and sponsored the bill, said she is in discussions to put the memorial at the state Capitol building. A display at the Gold Dome “is what I had in mind with my bill,” Kirkpatrick said.

“I’d like to see both, but putting something educational at the Capitol would be a lot faster!” Kirkpatrick said. “I’d like to see both, but Sandy Springs has a lot of moving parts.”

Sally Levine, the director of the Holocaust Commission, which would build the memorial, said it has not officially determined where it will be or what form it would take. But the group does know it will be an educational display of some sort, since that is the group’s mission, Levine said.

“It’s not going to be a slab of marble or a statue, unless there is a strong education component,” Levine said.

If the Holocaust memorial does not come to Sandy Springs, the cultural center would still have the “Anne Frank in the World,” exhibit operated by the commission that would move from the Parkside Shopping Center on Roswell Road.

A product of the master plan

The first public discussion of the cultural center came at the Nov. 6 City Council, though Mayor Rusty Paul said residents should have been aware of the idea far earlier. The idea for the cultural center came out of the City Center Master Plan, which the city completed in 2012 and sets a strategy to create a downtown and “identity,” Paul said. The new City Springs civics and arts center is a major product of that master plan.

“This is not new. In fact, it’s old,” Paul said of the cultural center concept. “Maybe it’s new because they forgot about it, but it hasn’t been sprung on anybody.”

The master plan vaguely mentions creating new “cultural facilities” and calls for a new “civic/cultural center that functions as a place of community activity and identity,” seeming to refer to what eventually was built as City Springs.

The cultural center is only mentioned as a general concept in the plan, and no specific discussion about a place for these groups is included.
However, Paul said the cultural center was once discussed as going inside City Springs, but there was no room left.

The new Sandy Springs downtown area envision in the 2012 City Center Master Plan.

The cultural center isn’t the first project to come out of the master plan, which mapped out a strategy for the entire City Springs district. The controversial Sandy Springs Circle streetscape project surprised many when it was proposed in 2016, though city transportation officials said the design was publicly vetted long ago through the master plan. Like the cultural center, the streetscape was in the master plan as a general concept.

Another major strategy from the master plan is making a new grid street system, which has already started through the recent construction of Denmark Drive.

The proposal to remake the Johnson Ferry and Mount Vernon intersection was included in the master plan and has undergone significant changes and public input since. Originally proposed as dual roundabouts, the intersection is now being designed as a grid.

Several people at a Nov. 29 public meeting about the cultural center asked about its location, which has not been determined. Paul said that the site selected as the “preferred location” in a bid document, which included the current location of Buckhead Motor Works and part of Heritage Sandy Springs’ property, was never a firm decision.

“We just pulled a parcel out of the air,” Paul said. “We had to put a stake in the ground for the architect.”

The city owns several parcels in that area, but not that location, and the city has not had serious discussions with the owner about buying it, he said.

The center is planned to be in that area and close to City Springs, he said.

The city owns the Heritage Sandy Springs piece. Heritage Sandy Springs, in a 2016 master plan, identified its part of that site as a possible location for a new museum for its own exhibits.

A budget for the center has not been determined, Paul said, and won’t be until programming decisions are made following the residents’ input. The city has already spent $154,000 on the design contract with Houser Walker Architecture.

Public meeting proposals

At the Nov. 29 public meeting, residents’ wish list for the center included music, possibly small outdoor concerts, classes that correlate with the art exhibits, workshops, speakers and community meeting space for small groups like book or garden clubs.

Randy Young, an architect involved with Art Sandy Springs, said the center is “a great idea” and encouraged including an art teaching component in the center, including possible hands-on classes and interactive gallery spaces.

Another supported an outdoor garden space, saying it could be a good place for reflection following a visit to the Anne Frank exhibit.

“It would be nice to have a garden to walk into to think about what you’ve seen,” one resident said.

The center could bring more personality and identity to the city, which has begun to form with City Springs, some residents said.

“I kind of think Sandy Springs never had an identity,” one resident said, “We need it to be more than commercial and shopping strips.”

Paul addressed some residents’ opposition to the entire idea of building the center, saying, “We can’t make everybody happy. We’re never going to get unanimity.”

“But based on the input we’ve gotten, we’re comfortable there’s a consensus on doing this.”

The architecture firm will next put together all the residents’ input into a report that is expected to be presented to the City Council at a January work session. A concept design is expected to be discussed at the council’s retreat later that month.