By Amy Wenk

The city continues to negotiate with Heritage Sandy Springs regarding the renovation of the Bluestone Building’s lower level.

The nonprofit group, which raises money by renting out space for corporate events and weddings and through the Sandy Springs Festival, hopes to boost rental income and provide public gathering space with the improvements. Early this year, the organization moved to the facility, which was Suburban Tool and Supply and is adjacent to Heritage Green.

The proposed city budget would spend $1.825 million on the project in the fiscal year that begins July 1: $125,000 for the design and $1.7 million to construct a large event hall and caterer’s kitchen in the 4,500-square-foot basement. The money also would pay for a two-story veranda that faces the entertainment lawn and other exterior improvements.

“We should have Sandy Springs events in the heart of Sandy Springs,” said Lori Evers, a Heritage board member since 2002.

But unsure how to share rental revenues, establish reduced rates for city organizations, and allot times for community and government use, the City Council and Mayor Eva Galambos have debated the investment.

“Everybody has a different point of contention,” Dist. 3 City Councilman Rusty Paul said at a May 26 budget workshop.

Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny and Dist. 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins have been cheerleaders for the project.

At the council’s June 2 work session, City Attorney Wendell Willard presented a proposed memorandum of understanding from Heritage Sandy Springs. The council found the proposal too vague.

“It is going to be really difficult to vote on this,” Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries said. She questioned how often the facility would be used and whether the rental revenue would offset the city’s utility costs.

Paul and Galambos also wanted to see hard numbers because the city has other needs.

Evers, a certified public accountant with Evers & Fox, returned with financial projections at a June 9 budget hearing.

Some council members had yet to review the material, but Paul said it was “a very comprehensive document.”

Evers said she projects more than 517,800 people will use the lower-level facility in the next 20 years. That puts the cost of the renovations at $3.52 a visitor.

Evers also addressed Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio’s concern that the facility be clearly labeled a city entity. She said the organization is looking at ways to incorporate the city’s identity in logos and on signs.

Discussions will continue June 16. The council has the option of allocating $1.825 million generally to capital projects and deciding later whether to spend it on Bluestone, Willard said.