Responding to public criticism of the city’s plans for a cultural center, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said the community “doesn’t understand” and has “misperceptions” about the proposal and that officials need to learn more before any final decisions are made.

Paul spoke to the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods during its annual meeting, held virtually on April 22, to describe the state of the city.

Answering a question from Duffy Hickey, president of the High Point Civic Association, Paul said a viewpoint was expressed passionately during the City Council meeting on April 20. But he thinks the conversation wasn’t well-rounded because a group of people who thought that discussion about the cultural center would be held in May did not attend the meeting.

City Manager Andrea Surratt presented a plan on April 6 to build a $3.3 million, 8,300 square-foot cultural center at the City Springs civic center at Mount Vernon Highway and Roswell Road that would provide 7,000-square-feet of space for the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and would include the “Anne Frank in the World” exhibit. The GCH would then lease the building for $150,000 annually for 20 years, with a 20-year extension option.

The majority of local residents who spoke out on the proposal at the April 20 meeting were against that location. Councilmembers Tibby DeJulio and Jody Reichel did not support the plan as presented, nor did the head of the foundation supporting the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum. Many opponents said the cultural center would duplicate programs already offered by the Breman Museum, which is just 20 minutes away from City Springs. 

“But one thing is clear. The community doesn’t understand what we’re doing there,” Paul said. “There’s a perception that we’re doing this with taxpayer dollars, the Anne Frank exhibit is going to be done totally with private donations.”

He acknowledged the city will provide some property for the cultural center, which would house the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and the Anne Frank exhibit. “But the construction of the building, the payments for that will be done through private donations. They have already raised $3 million toward that facility,” Paul said.

The proposal made to City Council on April 6 was that the commission would pay the city $150,000 annually in a 20-year lease, with options for another 20 years.

 Paul told the Council of Neighborhoods that the commission is a state agency required to build a memorial to the Holocaust, raising private dollars to fund it.

He said the Anne Frank in the World exhibit already is in the city, but it’s tired, not very interesting and very static. The Holocaust Commission has a different take on it and plans ultra-modern, high-tech digital presentations.

“I think the community needs to see what the plan is there, and they haven’t had an opportunity to do that before we make any final decisions. And so, we’re trying to arrange where people can actually see what the plan is,” Paul said.

“But I hope that the community will look at the presentation, and then give us real honest, straightforward feedback based on the facts, not some misperceptions,” he said.

Paul said he didn’t think there was intentional misleading, and he wasn’t accusing anybody of that. He just didn’t think the whole picture has been shown yet.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.