To the editor:

When we began to seriously plan for our City Hall in downtown Sandy Springs, we heard quite a bit of lobbying from the arts community that we should also include a performing arts center. So we came up with the idea that an empty City Council chamber 13 out of every 14 nights makes no sense, and that there had to be some way to combine theater space with City Council seating space.


We figured if we can get two venues under one roof and over one foundation, we might be more likely to afford the inclusion of the performing arts center.

Two years later, and past the first set of consultants, we have a recommendation for a performing arts center to include meeting facilities that would cost approximately $38 to $42 million.

This is for a facility that seats from 750 to 1000 patrons, and would accommodate the sets that must be raised above the stage and vastly complicate the construction process. The architects advised me that the space for the sets and the open space for the theater seating without obstructing columns could not support office floors above these features. So, yes, we can build a council chamber and theater space that is all one space, but we cannot put the offices of the city on top of that.

This probably means that the taxpayers would still save some dollars by combining functions, but not nearly as much as had originally been hoped for.

The magnitude of the projected cost calls into question some of the recommendations by the consultants.

They recommend, for example, that the facility seat 750 to 1000 patrons. I compare that to the Roswell venue, which seats 600.

Roswell has a longstanding theater group and is a community that values the arts and has been fully involved in that direction for decades. If they do not fill a 600 seat venue   (I have never experienced it full at many events I have attended there), the ambitions for Sandy Springs may be too large.

We are being compared to Gwinnett County’s facility. The population of Gwinnett County is 860,000 compared to approximately 100,000 for Sandy Springs.

Perhaps the most astounding aspect of the recommended Performing Arts Center is that it should include a 15,000-square-foot ballroom or banquet space to accommodate 750 guests, which could also be split into two junior ballrooms of 7,500 square feet.

Apparently in the discussions for the performing arts center, some stakeholders injected this idea and justified the need for it on the basis of all the corporate interests in Sandy Springs.   In my opinion, such meeting space is up to the private sector. For example, a 50-story office tower on the current zoning agenda should be asked to address this need of the corporate sector.

The inclusion of the meeting space comes too close for comfort in my estimate to a convention center. Many a financially strapped local government has regretted the day it ventured into the convention center business.

The city of Sandy Springs has already met the need for more modest meeting space with our beautiful Heritage Hall. We accommodated the Indian community there in a recent year when we welcomed the Ambassador from India to Sandy Springs. The facility has a full service kitchen which is also on the list of the Performing Arts Center report.

The most important question that the taxpayers of Sandy Springs need to address, via their elected officials, is whether the current tax millage can cover the city center development, city hall, and the performing arts center.

The city manager has estimated the total cost of the municipal complex with its green, all the public works improvements that must be done and the cost of the buildings and parking at somewhere between $169 and $!97 million. Can we afford that?   Only with detailed financial projections should the decision be made regarding the Performing Arts Center.

Eva Galambos

Eva Galambos was the first mayor of the city of Sandy Springs.

To the editor:

Remember why we voted to become a city?

Everyone I heard talk about it answered basically the same way:  to enhance our fire, police and EMS services, safeguard our relatively quiet area, and have control over expenditures to avoid unnecessary taxpayer obligations.

We felt Fulton County wasn’t doing these things adequately or providing service commensurate with the tax dollars we contributed.  We wanted our tax dollars spent for our basic needs: safety services, parks, storm water protection, bridge/road maintenance, traffic control, facilitate bike/pedestrian accessibility.

Nowhere in the discussion did I hear:  bring more traffic to the area, compete with neighboring communities for regional/national theater productions/audience, buy up long established small businesses to build a city center with performing arts at a cost projected in excess of $196 million.

Yet the latter is what is happening.  Unless there is a groundswell of citizens saying, “Whoa, we didn’t sign on for this.  This wasn’t our vision and it isn’t what we want,” we will get a big change to the landscape of the city we had hoped to protect.

Susan Joseph

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

14 replies on “Letters to the editor: Former Sandy Springs mayor has questions about Performing Arts Center proposals”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with Susan Joseph’s letter. What is happening in Sandy Springs is a nightmare. It will soon be an unlivable city. Rents in run-down apartments have increased beyond ridiculous and commercial square-footage is far too high. Traffic in the Sandy Springs/Dunwoody/Perimeter areas has already caused a decrease in quality of life for residents and workers. A five-mile commute becomes a 30-minute drive (on a good day). A 50-story tower at 400 and Abernathy? Insanity. When will it all stop?

    1. I totally agree with your statement Anita. Especially the residential rent situation. I have watched this over the 10 + years I’ve lived here and it’s quite disturbing. It could be construed as “economic discrimination”. Anyone with a medium salary can’t save to buy a place. Rents for the smallest apartments are $1200+ not including utilities. So, forget buying those brand new $300,000 townhomes they’ve been building up on Roswell Rd. It helps weed out the low income from the high income people.

      Regarding the Performing Arts Center, I think it’s an overkill. I don’t think a large venue is needed in Sandy Springs. They will not get the volume they desire. Too much local competition. Most people will venture out to the Fox Theater or Cobb Performing Arts Center for big performances. Now, if the vision is a bit smaller then I would support it. If they are looking to perform plays I could see that as a favorable alternative to driving elsewhere and would make for a fun night out locally.

      To conclude I will agree with others, that I do believe SS is becoming a great city. I think the improvements they have made since they incorporated should be commended. But the traffic and crime have dramatically increased. So much so that I am looking to leave SS. In the last couple of months I’ve seen Sandy Springs on the front web page of AJC (from carjackings to shootings).
      What is reassuring however, is the consistency of the SS police driving up and down Roswell Rd. Very appreciative of that.

      1. Missy, you are very correct in your assessment of “economic discrimination” in Sandy Springs. It is pretty blatant. The image for Sandy Springs is that it is going to be only for the wealthy. The city wants the poor out, that is very evident. However, even middle-class folks are being pushed out, especially middle-class retirees. Yet, as you note, there is an increase in crime and the traffic is terrible and will only get worse as the over-building continues.

  2. Sandy Springs is finally becoming the great city is has always strived to be! I think SS is doing an great job – keep up the great work! Live, work, and play community – if you don’t build in SS then you can’t live, work and play in SS!

  3. I agree with both our former mayor and Susan Joseph. This proposed project is too big, too expensive and not necessary. They over did the Abernathy Greenway with over-the-top rock work and too large a scale hard scape. (I’m all for green space but this small park cost 11 million dollars!) Now they want to erect a monument to the arts when there is not a need in our area. We have a ton of places to go to within an 8 mile radius. PLEASE be better stewards of our tax dollars or I can assure you that you will get voted out at the next election. We are tired of our representatives not listening to their constituents, and a majority of the voters think that this is either not necessary at all, or way too over scale for our tax base and market.

  4. Our former mayor and several citizens have captured the essence of why we formed Sandy Springs. People like our first mayor worked hard on behalf of the citizens. Let’s keep our community as designed. Government serves the citizens and taking on corporate needs or excessive funding of agendas is not what the majority voted for. I support the arts. I think Eva Galambos eloquently, factually and intelligently describes why men and women like her worked tirelessly to create the City of Sandy Springs.

  5. Bravo to our former Mayor! I attended the July 24th meeting when the feasibility report was given and was surprised and disappointed that not one classical or concert organization was consulted about their needs and suggestions. The talk was mostly about theater and Broadway productions (and attracting shows like Jay Leno). I was particularly surprised when Rusty Paul told me his dream was to one day have a local orchestra and chorus! If that ever happened, they would have to go to Roswell or, better yet, Kellett Chapel of Peachtree Presbyterian Church, for their concerts. A 1,000 seat hall with no acoustical shell will not be useful to large or small music groups except ones that are amplified. I am 100% in favor of a performing arts center that welcomes ALL arts groups, but I agree fully with Mrs. Galambos that a hall this big may prove be a financial burden on the city and not useful to its residents. I also see no need, with the large hotel spaces we already have, to add ballroom and convention space and try to compete with the Buckhead Theater. It is good to dream big and get excited about something like this (it IS exciting) but we can’t get carried away from what is practical, useful, and needed.

  6. I agree there’s no need for a convention center in the new City Center, and we don’t need more retail space either (that’s what City Walk was for, right?). However, having a decent performing arts center absolutely adds to the quality of life in our city. A smaller-scale version of the original proposal (as the former mayor suggested) is a good idea, able to serve the needs of the community without being too large or expensive. City offices, a performing arts venue, and I’d say that’s all we need there. The benefit of having a venue in our city like this is priceless.

  7. Can anybody tell me where the parking for the big performing arts center is going to be? And what about access roads: Roswell, Hammond, Lake Forrest, Johnsons Ferry are nightmares after 5 p.m. already.

  8. It appears to me that there are a lot more citizens concerned about the cost, the NEED, and the traffic ramifications of a large performing arts center. Who is behind this project, and WHY?
    The governing body of Sandy Springs needs to start listening to its citizens and addressing their concerns rather than create their own agenda!! Stop spending money for the sake of spending it!

  9. Is it too late to stop the project, at least the Performing Art Center piece of the project?

    What exactly needs to be done in order to stop this project?

    Can we start an online petition, and would that be effective?

  10. This is a FANTASTIC project, and a real boost for the local area.

    The Performing Arts center will be an ‘anchor’ for true growth within the new city center.

    Traffic is an issue, and will always be an issue until some major changes occur within the entirety of metro Atlanta – something SS does not have complete control over.

    It’s time Susan Joseph et al. woke up to the reality of this fantastic development. A brand new City Center will soon be here, bringing a focal point and walkable community that people actually want to use.

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