Sandy Springs City Council voted 4-2 to approve the lease terms and conditions with the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust (GCH) at its Aug. 16 meeting.

The council took the vote after its second public hearing on its plans for a cultural center that would house the GCH offices, a new Anne Frank in the World Exhibit and the Georgia Holocaust Memorial. The building also is expected to house Visit Sandy Springs – the city’s hospitality and tourism agency – and a Sandy Springs Police substation.

The plan is to build the cultural center at 6110 Blue Stone Road, the former home of Heritage Sandy Springs. 

For more than a year, the project has been quite controversial, with many residents and city officials split on whether they support it.

The proposed cultural center would replace the existing Bluestone building on the city’s Heritage site.

At the Aug. 16 meeting, councilmembers Jody Reichel and Tibby DeJulio ended up voting against the agreement, citing fiduciary responsibilities. Both said they support the mission of the GCH, but said it was not the time for the city to spend $600,000 on a design when the city’s finances were uncertain.

DeJulio also said if Fulton County and its cities don’t come to an agreement on the one-penny Local Option Sales Tax, the city could lose $33 million in tax revenue. And if Fulton County gets the share it wants of the sales tax revenue, Sandy Springs will lose $10 million in revenue. He cited inflation and a recession also.

“We are not being fiscally responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars by spending this money at this time until we have better guarantees until we have better knowledge. Until we know if we’re going to keep the local option sales tax,” he said.

Mayor Rusty Paul said the project was well funded, with almost $2.5 million available in budgeted city funds for the cultural center, the GCH’s $3 million letter of credit against the lease payments that will be due, and another $2.5 million it plans to raise for exhibits in the building.

Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-East Cobb), spoke in support of the project in her first appearance before the council.

“We certainly need — in this day and age of so much hatred and divisiveness in our country — something that speaks to our young people about what happens when you let hatred take over,” she said. “And when you pit one group of people against another, we are all equal in the eyes of God. And therefore, I would urge you to move forward with this.”

The next step for the cultural center project will be for an architect to provide a design based on what the city and GCH want for the building. That design should provide estimated construction costs that will set the amount of the lease payments.

The lease conditions require GCH to pay 20 years of rent equal to the costs for the design and construction of its share of the building, estimated to be 7,000 to 8,750 square feet. The anticipated size of the building to replace the existing Bluestone building is 13,230 square feet.

A January construction estimate put the cost at $5.93 million.

The city plans to go with its Option C, which is to construct a brand new building for its cultural center as seen in these concept drawings. (City of Sandy Springs)

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