Most Sandy Springs residents who offered public comment on April 20 on the city’s proposed Cultural Center opposed the suggested location on a prime site at Mount Vernon Highway and Roswell Road, next door to the Performing Arts Center at City Springs.

The City Council heard a proposal to build an 8,300-square-foot cultural center at the site that would house the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust offices, the “Anne Frank in the World” exhibit and  a gallery. The commission proposed that it sign a 20-year lease for $150,000 annually, with options for another 20 years.

A grassy area of the City Springs campus at Roswell Road and Mount Vernon Highway is now where the city proposes to build the Cultural Center. (John Ruch)

The council asked members of the public to voice their opinions during the meeting about the cultural center, its purpose and location. Residents submitted comments through the city’s website, registered to speak via Zoom during the livestreamed meeting and delivered in-person remarks in the Studio Theater at City Springs.

The complete remarks from residents who submitted them via the city’s online public comment form can be read online.

Several residents felt the proposal had not been properly vetted and asked the council to hold off on a decision until that is done.

“I believe that this recommendation to place the Cultural Arts Center and the Anne Frank exhibit and the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust offices is has not been properly evaluated, it has not been properly evaluated for cost for location,” said Linda Bain in comments made in person at the Studio Theater.

“To visit any Holocaust memorial is haunting, and this one is no exception,” Bain said. “Its tenor is at odds with the downtown vibe we’re creating in our great outdoor public art, Concerts on the Green, [and] uplifting performances in our Performing Arts Center, restaurants and shops,” Bain said.

Many of the people offering comments said spending millions to build a cultural center was not the best use of taxpayer dollars. Instead, they wanted to see more outdoor facilities and even stormwater systems.

“The residents I have recently spoken with consistently desire more trails, destinations to walk to such as restaurants and shops, a better dog park, places where they can dine and take their dogs, and more green space,” said Linda Trickey. “None of the persons I have spoken with desire a Cultural Arts Center.” 

Bill McGinnis echoed those comments and similar statements from City Councilmember Jody Reichel.

“I believe we should not prioritize these funds right now for a Cultural Arts Center,” McGinnis said. “I support Jody Reichel’s priorities of trails, parks, restaurants, retail shops, athletic space such as pickleball courts, sidewalks, and help with stormwater issues and smart development in the North End.” 

Not all commenters were opposed to the proposal.

“I am in support of the Anne Frank Project being placed on the City Springs campus, which the council approved unanimously last year. The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust has already raised over 3 Million dollars in donations and pledges to pay for their share of the building,” said Jerome Silver.

Janet Benjamin said her family supports putting the cultural center at City Springs with the Anne Frank exhibit.

Limiting a cultural center to a single demographic was a problem for several people who offered comments.

“If we need a cultural center, then it should reflect the diverse population of our city,” said Mary Ford.

Other Jewish heritage museums are a short drive away, several residents said.

“I think these are very important issues in our history and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be memorialized … however, we already have museums in the city that are used for these purposes. Why do we need another one in the middle of Sandy Springs?” asked Bonnie Dwatnez.

“I am writing to you as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and as a close relative of far too many who perished due to the atrocities of World War II. I understand the importance of Holocaust education and learning from the past as much as anyone,” said Faith Greenstein.

She said the proposal fell short in several ways, with the large amount of money better spent on trails, athletic fields and outdoor facilities. Spreading out exhibits to many venues about the Holocaust will dilute the message, she said. The GCH should work with the Breman Museum and Kennesaw State to consolidate efforts, she said.

As the Breman Museum close to Sandy Springs, the cultural center would be redundant, said Rachel Rosner.

“I served on the history committee of Heritage Sandy Springs for over five years. Not once did anyone ever approach us for a Holocaust memorial,” Rosner said.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.