Sandy Springs City Council picked the Heritage Building site at 6110 Blue Stone Road as the future home of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and the Anne Frank in the World exhibit at its Nov. 2 meeting.

City Manager Andrea Surratt asked the City Council to choose one of five options at four locations for the project, so staff could move it forward. These were the proposed locations:

·        City Springs Outparcel, 1 Galambos Way

·        Heritage Building, 6110 Blue Stone Road

·        Blue Stone Building, 151 Hilderbrand Drive

·        Abernathy Arts Center, 254 Johnson Ferry Road (This location included two potential options)

The city has $2.47 million available in its capital projects fund for the project, which was set aside for three years to create a civic/cultural center as part of its Next10 Comprehensive Plan.

Chuck Berk, chair of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, urged the council to choose the Heritage site, because with all the delays, they are in danger of losing the $4 million already promised in donations.

“Sally Levine and I just had to talk a half a million-dollar donor back on track because they didn’t think the council was ever going to get to the point where they were making a decision,” he said.

Councilmember Chris Burnett’s motion to select the Heritage Building (but not the amphitheater) in partnership with the commission was approved with an amendment. Councilmember Andy Bauman asked to change the wording of the motion to consider both renovations and replacement of the building.

The Holocaust commission would house its office and exhibits at the building. That includes the Anne Frank in the World exhibit, which has been without a home since its location at Parkside Shops closed.

“This motion in no way establishes any financial commitments from the city related to this project,” Burnett said.

The city manager, city attorney and the commission would need to negotiate any financial commitments, building or ground lease agreements, he said. Whatever is negotiated must be brought back to council to review and consider.

Councilmember Jody Reichel’s motion to table the decision until after the Sandy Springs’ City Center master plan update failed when no other councilmember backed her motion.

She said in 2019, a 0.64-acre parcel at 208 Sandy Springs Place around the corner from Heritage sold for $1.6 million. It’s now under review and permitting for 18 townhomes. Reichel said that puts the value of the Heritage site well over $3 million and closer to $4 million. An appraisal of the property and the City Center Master Plan Update should be used to determine the best use for the site, she said.

Mayor Rusty Paul and other councilmembers said they did not think council’s decision would impede the City Center master plan update. They will just include any plans the council makes in that plan.

Heritage site leaves Abernathy free for possible arts program

Burnett said council has seen the community outreach about the Abernathy Arts Center. When it was considered as a location for the Holocaust exhibit, many people spoke out against the idea.

“I think that sort of speaks for itself, and I would encourage the city strongly to consider how we can use that facility at Abernathy to start an arts program and perhaps even expand on the tennis courts that are there with pickleball courts,” he said.

Paul said he knows the community is concerned about art programs and what the city will do since Fulton County no longer provides those services after donating the Abernathy Arts Center property to the city.

“Depending on the outcome tonight, if I’m still in this job tomorrow, I want to make a commitment to the community that we are going to figure out how we can do a robust arts program,” the mayor said on election night.

This was dropped into the city’s lap about three weeks ago, he said.

“We don’t have the staff. We don’t have a budget. … All we’ve got are the buildings. We’ve got to figure the rest of it out. And there’s no magic wand to be able to do that in the next two weeks, maybe even the next two months,” Paul said.

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