By John Schaffner
Sandy Springs is about to get its own Chastain Park Amphitheater-type venue on a somewhat smaller scale adjacent to the Williams-Payne House historical site.
The $1.2 million amphitheater, which is presently under construction off Sandy Springs Place and Bluestone, will be a terraced lawn with permanent stage and is part of a larger project in planning for at least five years. The project includes the renovation of the former Suburban Rental building on Bluestone into new offices for Heritage Sandy Springs, a visitors’ center for the city and meeting facilities that will be available for use by people and organizations in the city. The combined properties total about four acres in the heart of Sandy Springs.
According to Carol Thompson, executive director of Heritage Sandy Springs, the amphitheater is expected to be completed in May, in time for the annual Concerts By The Springs programs put on by the Heritage Sandy Springs organization.
In addition to work on the amphitheater, Heritage is in the process of trying to raise funding to renovate the former Suburban Rental building, which presently it is being used as a warehouse.
The idea for the amphitheater originated from that Concerts By The Springs summer event, which has been free to the public and has been held for the past 11 years by the springs (after which Sandy Springs is named) adjacent to the Williams-Payne House historical site. The concerts traditionally have been well attended—about 600-700 people per concert over the past decade—and have featured a variety of different types of music. “We would get packed over there and we would think wouldn’t it be nice if we had a bigger place for this” and other types of events, Thompson said.
A couple of years ago—before Sandy Springs became a city—Heritage got about $800,000 in Fulton County Tax Allocation District money for the project and the Sandy Springs Society donated almost $400,000 of the money it raised from the turtle project. The Heritage Sandy Springs board also made some pledges to raise the $1.2 million for the amphitheater part of the project. Along with the amphitheater, the project includes a significant amount of landscaping and redoing a walkway—which comes from the area to around the front of the historic property along Sandy Springs Circle—to enhance wheelchair accessibility and baby stroller accessibility.
Thompson explained that the city actually owns the property the amphitheater, former Suburban Rental building and the Payne house and historic grounds occupy. Heritage Sandy Springs has a 30 year lease on all of it.
Heritage would also like to control the BMW auto repair facility on Hilderbrand next to its present offices and adjacent to the former Suburban Rental building. “If we could get that corner, we would have a nice little part of the city,” Thompson said. “We kind of consider ourselves the heart of the city.”
She said the annual operating budget for Heritage Sandy Springs is about $390,000. The organization has between 550 and 600 members (not the level they would like it to be), a board of 20-22 people and a full-time staff of four. “There are people out there that still don’t know who we are and what we do. That is the big challenge that we have,” Thompson explained.
Because of the design of the amphitheater, it provides sort of a concert-in-the-round venue, where the music can also be enjoyed from the area around the Williams-Payne house, which actually is behind the stage.
“It is pretty exciting,” Thompson said. “We have a lot of ideas of things we can do on the stage in addition to our concert series—outdoor performances, lectures, music, chorale, educational kinds of things.”
She suggested people might use this venue the way they do at Chastain Park Amphitheater events. If people are just sitting on the terraces during an event, the venue will probably hold 1,000. But, if tables are set up, it will not hold that many. She said the area close to the stage is conducive to putting up tables and chairs. “People do that at our current concert series,” she added. “It’s not quite Chastain. It is more like bring your camping chair and your beach blanket. All types of people come out. It is a very pleasant event.”
Special Events Director Meghan Webb, who is in charge of the concert series and Sandy Springs Festival, said the concert series features artists that range from Banks and Shane to musicians playing instruments from Australia. “You name it and we try to highlight it at some point,” she added. “Since we only typically have five concerts each year, we try to keep the diversity. We have the traditions and we have to keep those,” she added. For instance, she said the September final concert is always bluegrass music.
Webb said the neighbors living in the condos across the street have been very supportive of the project. “They want it to grow and develop in the right way.”
The renovation of the Suburban Rental building calls for some meeting rooms of different sizes and one plan also has a catering kitchen and ballroom on the lower floor. “We currently do weddings over in the park, so this could become a wedding facility or businesses could have a small meeting there,” Thompson explained. “There are endless ways to put it together that might be appealing and we hope this will be something that we can rent out.”