Proponents and opponents of a proposal to lure Gwinnett Technical College to Sandy Springs are rallying public support as the divided Sandy Springs City  prepares to vote on the plan during its Jan. 18 meeting.

“If you agree that a college can only be a plus for our city, I would appreciate your support,” Mayor Eva Galambos said in an e-mail to constituents. “There will be a hearing on Tuesday, Jan 18, at City Hall.  I need support.

But an e-mail sent by three council members who have expressed opposition to the plan also sought citizen help in fighting it.

“We believe it’s not too late for you, the taxpayer, to make a difference,” said the e-mail signed by Ashley Jenkins, Karen Meinzen McEnerny and Chip Collins. “Let the Mayor and others on the council hear your opinion immediately, in advance of the Jan. 18 meeting and vote, on this hasty and ill-advised major expenditure of taxpayer funds.  All we need is one more vote on the council to stop, or at least slow down, this runaway train.”

A committee appointed by the city recommended last week that the council approve spending $2.5 million, to be matched by an equal amount from the city’s business community, to attract Gwinnett Tech to MARTA-owned property near the North Springs transit station.

Committee chairman Ray Persons said the group had looked at numerous apartment complexes and shopping centers in Sandy Springs and determined the MARTA property would be the most attractive to the college.

Gwinnett Tech has said it wants to build a new campus in north Fulton County and has asked communities to present proposals for the location of the facility. The college is expected to spend $40 million to $50 million in the new campus, which would attract 10,000 or more students.

The Sandy Springs Reporter received many e-mails following the discussion by Sandy Springs City Council at its Thursday, Jan. 13, work session meeting,

The following are many of those e-mails.

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This e-mail was sent to the Sandy Springs Reporter Friday, Jan. 14 by City Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins in advance of the Sandy Springs City Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 6 p.m. and the Sandy Springs City Hall.

An open letter to city of Sandy Springs taxpayers from Councilpersons Ashley Jenkins (District 4) , Karen Meinzen McEnerny (District 6), and Chip Collins (District 3).

During Thursday evening’s (Jan 13) City Council meeting, it became clear that the votes are currently in place to support the  Mayor’s initiative to use up to $2.5 million of your tax dollars as a cash inducement to cement the Gwinnett Technical College’s (GTC’s)  interest in locating up to 12,000 students to Sandy Springs.  The final vote on a resolution supporting the proposal takes place on Tuesday, Jan. 18.  We remain steadfastly opposed to this use of city funds based on the following facts:

  • Taxpayer dollars (coming from excess  budgeted revenue from the FY 2011 Real Estate Property Taxes) are being used to comply with the GTC ‘s Request for Proposal  (RFP) that any North Fulton city responding provide $5 million ;
  • The site recommended is  a premier corporate site at the North Springs MARTA Station that is better used by the free enterprise system to attract corporate Fortune 100-500 companies to Perimeter Center.  If used  by corporations, it will be taxable , generating revenues into the far future not tax exempt  as part of the State college system. Compare  12,000 students and 250 employees  to a corporate user:   The site is zoned for 1.1 million sf of office, which at 150 sf per office worker equates to 7,333  corporate professional jobs using residential housing in the community versus  apartment rentals;
  • The site will require the immediate widening of Peachtree Dunwoody to accommodate the increase of 14,400 trips per day, at a projected cost of at least $9 million, making the total short-term cost to the city $11.5 million.  We think those funds are needed and can be better used to complete the significant capital works projects already planned, such as a new city hall, downtown infrastructure improvements to facilitate redevelopment, the Abernathy Greenway, the Lost Corner park, and stormwater improvements, among others;
  • The site is not close to ANY retail or restaurants to service the students, and the closest retail that the students will likely patronize is primarily in Dunwoody around Perimeter Mall.
  • We support the GTC campus locating  in Sandy Springs,  but to justify using tax dollars to locate it, let’s find a win-win site for both the taxpayers and GTC.  Ideally, we would use the interest of GTC in Sandy Springs to redevelop a functionally obsolescent property that  is (i) in need of re-tenanting ; (ii)  has fallen to class C or D status;  and is  (iii) more accessible  to the students in Sandy Springs and North Fulton which  it is designed to serve.
  • The Site Selection committee did look at many properties in Sandy Springs before settling on the MARTA site.  However, several viable sites were never considered:
  1. Lakeside – fully accessible by 400 and 285; close to the hospitals and the PCID; building already in place so no money needed to build.  GTC can rent space as Technical Colleges all over the state do; the student traffic patterns would be less burdensome at this congested location than other proposed uses.
  2. Ackerman site at GA 400, Abernathy and Barfield – Infrastructure already in place to handle 14,400 trips; high visibility from GA 400 and already zoned.
  • More time is needed than the arbitrary Jan 31 deadline to respond to the RFP to further analyze the possible locations.  What is most responsive to the GTC RFP isn’t necessarily in the best interest, in our view, of the citizens of Sandy Springs.  Let free market forces work;
  • Inexplicably, neither the citizens site selection committee nor the city staff has been asked to prepare a cost-benefit analysis of this transaction for taxpayer scrutiny of this $2.5 m + cost.  So the expenditure of $2.5 million is being made on personal hunches, extrapolated scenarios in other States, and generalities,  many of which were provided by GTC itself.  (see attached as the city’s economic analysis).  So much is missing here.  As the lender, the taxpayers are entitled to a comparative analysis of the lost costs to the taxpayers of real property taxes from a corporate user, the return on investment, and any known associated costs (MARTA ground lease).

We believe it’s not too late for you, the taxpayer, to make a difference.  Let the Mayor and others on the council hear your opinion immediately, in advance of the Jan. 18 meeting and vote, on this hasty and ill-advised major expenditure of taxpayer funds.  All we need is one more vote on the council to stop, or at least slow down, this runaway train.

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Saturday, Jan. 15, Wanda Morganstern, former president of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber and member of the Main Street Alliance of Sandy Springs merchants, sent this email.

I’ve taken a sabbatical from volunteer work in Sandy Springs however I still care about what is going on in our city.

I am compelled to forward this to Main Street because what is happening here is just plain wrong for all the reasons stated in the letter from council members Ashley Jenkins, Karen McEnerny and Chip Collins.  Coincidentally, the chair of the site selection committee, Charlie Roberts, owns the property across the street from the site selected.

Are there better sites available for Gwinnett Tech in Sandy Springs?  Many people think there are much better sites to locate Gwinnett Tech.

I’ve cc’d our Mayor and City Council so you can easily let them know if you agree with Councilmembers Ashley Jenkins, Karen McEnerny & Chip Collins.

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On Saturday, Jan. 15, Jan Saperstein, a member of the site selection committee and Sandy Springs developer, sent this e-mail to Wanda Morgenstern, the mayor and members of City Council.

I am also on the site selection committee as appointed by the Mayor.

Charlie Roberts does own the property on Peachtree Dunwoody Road, directly across from the proposed GTC site (the current MARTA station). He has been very open about his ownership of the parcel, and if the proposed GTC site wasn’t the best available, I would have loudly protested the conflict. Charlie Roberts did resign as the chair of the committee when the site was identified as the final presentable parcel.

To me, it is a better site than the other municipal competitors will present (i.e. simple access to GA 400, light rail, invaluable sign opportunities along a major urban highway, and it is already zoned for over 1,000,000 SF of office density). Whether a “Class A” tenant would locate there or GTC, the road improvements would absolutely have to be made. Waiting for that hypothetical office user will take quite a while, as the central Perimeter office market has approximately 8-10 years of absorption to get the market back into balance.

There are other better sites but we are restrained by the cost to acquire those sites. The acquisition cost of the MARTA site is minuscule compared to a market driven, investment grade property. The City will be able to secure a long term ground lease at a fraction of what a purchase of an redeveloped apartment/retail/office would cost.

The benefits from a technical college are numerous and their graduates will supply skilled personnel that will attract companies willing to invest within Sandy Springs for years. There are still very clear business issues that need to be resolved, and I am certain that they will be.  Jan Saperstein

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The following email was sent out Friday, Jan. 14 to homeowner association presidents by City Councilman Chip Collins.

We had our work session on the Gwinnett Tech proposal last night.  The site selection committee made their expected recommendation that the MARTA property on Peachtree-Dunwoody adjacent to the North Springs rail station is the most competitive site for the response to the RFP.

We heard multiple public comments both for and against the proposal.  For instance, the business community fully supports the proposal. Most residents, on the other hand, are opposed to a financial contribution to attract the college, and many residents near Peachtree-Dunwoody are opposed to the college being at the MARTA site, period.

Although good points were made on both sides, my position on the matter remains unchanged:  I oppose the contribution of city funds for a proposal at the MARTA site.  My rationale has evolved some, and my biggest concern is that because of the necessity of widening Peachtree-Dunwoody for this project, the total cost to the taxpayers to make the college a reality could be as much as $11.5 million ($2.5 million financial incentive, plus $9 million to widen P-D).

The full rationale for my position includes the following (which is largely cut and pasted from an email I sent to my fellow council members):

  1. The biggest benefit I saw in the college, as I think everyone else did, was to use it as an opportunity for urban renewal in an area that needed a boost.  That clearly would not be happening at the MARTA site;
  2. I fear that the total cost to the city ($2.5 million, plus at least $9 million in road improvements for Peachtree-Dunwoody), even over a multi-year period, will impair the city’s ability to fund the many projects we have committed to complete in the near future (e.g. town hall, downtown redevelopment, storm water improvements, Lost Corner, Abernathy Greenway, sidewalks, etc.). These quality-of-life projects all have broad support in the community and provide tangible benefits to all residents of Sandy Springs.  The financial contribution for a school, on the other hand, has very little support among the residents. With regard to the road-widening expenditure, I understand the argument that we’ll eventually have to widen it at some point, when something else goes in the MARTA site.  All the developer types seem to agree, however, that such development is at least 5 years away and probably longer. I just can’t stop thinking about all the other important things that could be done in the city over the next few years for $11.5MM, and that’s really the deal killer for me right now.
  3. I’m concerned that the committee did not fully consider some other attractive sites, which might be less burdensome for nearby residents and require less capital improvements.  For example, Ashley Jenkins and others mentioned the site at Abernathy and 400, next to Serranno.  This site has equal access to 400 as the other site, and is walking distance to MARTA rail. The Lakeside property seems like a good possibility as well, and could be retrofitted for school use for much less than new construction.  The diffuse traffic patterns of a school may make it the perfect solution for this difficult intersection.
  4. The entire project seems rushed and not-fully-analyzed for a project of this magnitude.  I don’t like either the reality or the perception of committing $11.5MM of public funds after only two public meetings within 5 days of one another, and very little detail in the way of cost-benefit analysis.
  5. If GTC believes the MARTA site is indeed the best site in North Fulton, than it will likely happen there regardless of whether we contribute $2.5 MM of city funds.  I find it hard to believe the state will allow the location of this regionally important school to be dictated by a couple of million dollars in an “auction” format. They will ultimately select the site that most benefits the region and assures the long-term success of the school.

If you agree with my position, you should let the Mayor and other members of the council know immediately.  The vote is this Tuesday the 18th. Based on the statements last night, it looks like the votes are there to support a $2.5 million contribution for a proposal involving the MARTA site (Galambos, DeJulio, Paulson and Fries supporting).
If you think I should reconsider my opinion, feel free to contact me with your thoughts as well, although I’m not as open-minded on the issue as I previously was.
Also, I encourage you to send this email to your mailing lists.  This is a major city project, and the citizens should be fully aware of what’s going being proposed and have an opportunity to let their elected officials know what they think.

Thanks,
Chip

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The following email from Sandy Springs activist Bill Gannon was distributed on Saturday, Jan. 15.

Dear Sandy Springs Neighbors:

As many of you are just starting to learn about, the city of Sandy Springs has recently been asked to present a location for a new $50 million campus to house a junior college. We are competing against Roswell, Alpharetta & Johns Creek – and proposals are due-in by the end of this month. This timeline is very tight.

There is a vote coming up this Tuesday evening at the Sandy Springs City Council meeting – and since last night, I have received over 10 calls asking for info & my opinion, etc. So in order for me to respond, I decided to write this e-mail – and I also included an e-mail (above) from Councilman Chip Collins.

Based on the info that I have seen to-date, I am in favor of the proposal – while Chip is against the proposal. In my opinion (and probably Chip’s), the proposal will win acceptance by a vote of 4 to 3. It is possible that someone’s vote could change over the weekend; but we have seven elected officials who are all intelligent and informed, and I don’t see much new info out there that will change their opinions.

Facts:

Based on current info, the school would grow to an enrollment of 12,000 students – some of them would be from Sandy Springs (the number of 1,000 was mentioned at last week’s work session), some would (presumably) move to Sandy Springs (i.e., into apartments on Roswell Road); some would commute via MARTA; some would drive; and some would take courses over the Internet.

The coursework would include high-in-demand subjects to allow graduates to work in, for example, medical areas (at Pill Hill) and IT, etc. Apparently, well over 90 percent of these graduates soon go to work in their chosen field, which everyone finds to be very impressive.

Sandy Springs’ star-employers (Cox, Pill Hill, PCID, Rubbermaid, UPS, IBM, etc.) are apparently very much in favor of this school being located in Sandy Springs. And they are willing pay some dollars for this to happen.

Our three sister cities to the north also want this school (badly) and they are willing to commit dollars for it.

Location: The mayor appointed a top-notch committee of experienced volunteers and they came back and reported last Thursday night (Jan. 13) with their proposed location, which is adjacent to the North Springs MARTA Station. (The Committee reported that all the other possible locations had fatal flaws, with the primary one being that land in Sandy Springs is expensive when compared to, for example, farmland in Alpharetta.)

Name of the school: It would be something similar to “Sandy Springs Community College.” It would not be Gwinnett Tech (the council was in total agreement on this point).

Opinions from Bill:

My responses to Chip Collin’s points in his email (referenced by number):

1.       Re: the School-Proposal being an urban development project: I never thought of it that way; but I do think of it as an in-direct renewal project because people associated with this school could populate apartments in Sandy Springs.

2.       Re: money: No one likes to spend it. (Remember the new Lake Forest Elementary School? The land purchases alone cost $13 million!). Each of the competing cities was asked to “ante-up” $5 million and the proposal has half coming from companies  and half from the city. This money will be paid over a period of years – maybe up to 5. And maybe we could solicit companies to pay more than 50 percent.

To put this in perspective, $2,500,000 will build, on average, 2.5 miles of new sidewalks in SS. Another example, the city has committed to put dollars into the Heritage site  and I am (finally)in favor of that project. Prioritizing dollars for projects in Sandy Springs is very subjective – we all have our own ideas, and it is understandable how our officials and neighbors can have differing opinions (how do you want to fund the storm water problems that will probably cost over $200 million?).

Chip points out that there is very little support for this school in the neighborhoods of Sandy Springs and he is probably correct, because most of us don’t know much about this proposal. However, I think if you asked the principals of our two public high schools, or some of the doctors who work at Pill Hill, or half of our city’s population who live along Roswell Road, you would get a different answer. Not everyone goes on to graduate from select colleges. Fortunately, our 7 elected officials understand these points – and they will vote accordingly on Tuesday evening.

3.       Re: possible locations for the School: The committee reported that the MARTA location is the only viable location that they think would have a chance of winning the competition and I agree with them. In other words, any other location would probably fail. Also, all the council wants the MARTA site to be developed. This property is already zoned for 30-story-buildings. The only questions are when, who and whether they are non-profit. And let’s be realistic, no one uses the NS MARTA station and that area is now generating no tax dollars for the city.  If we pass on putting a School there, that site could stay empty for another 10 or 20 or 30 years.

It is true that Peachtree-Dunwoody would have to be widened. That will cost big bucks, and that is a sticking-point which will cause one or two of the councilpersons to oppose this proposal. However, the eventual widening of PD is going to happen; it is just a question of when.

4.       Re: the tight time constraints associated with this Proposal: I agree with Chip’s concerns 100 percent.  However  the city faced similar problems in, for example, starting a police department from scratch, and because we are a good city, with good elected officials, we did it. This opportunity of creating a school is unique – and if we miss it, it is gone for a long, long time.

5.       Re: the fact that the School’s location should not be based solely on who kicks-in $2.5 million: I agree with Chip. This decision should be based on many factors, the least of which would be who can come up with $2.5 million. However, we did not make up the rules. So, if the city wants to play in this game, we need to decide if we want to adhere to the rules.

Thank you for reading this email – and please read Chip’s email below; I hope you read-up on this proposal online & in the papers. Consider emailing your councilperson, and plan to attend this Tuesday’s (Jan. 18) council meeting at 6 p.m.

Bill Gannon

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The following e-mail was distributed by Mayor Eva Galambos on Saturday, Jan. 15.

I favor the city of Sandy Springs competing against Roswell and Alpharetta in the competition to land a campus of the Gwinnett Technical College in our community for the following reasons:

1.  An educational institution is a huge generator of economic growth.   Employers choose locations where they can obtain trained staff, or send current staff for more training.  This will help fill our office buildings and attract more firms to the Sandy Springs office and health services market.

2.   Nobody wanted Northside Hospital when it sought zoning in the 1970’s.   Everyone was afraid of traffic and change.  That is a natural human reaction, but not in keeping with vision for a healthy community.   People also objected violently in Sandy Springs to Ga. 400.   Where would we be without it today in terms of the healthy tax base for Sandy Springs?.

3.  We are planning a $2.5 million investment from the city, matched by similar amount from the business community.   We can continue in the future on our path with infrastructure improvements and capital plans and still make this expenditure.   Our fund balances are sufficient to allow this.

4.  The MARTA site is already zoned for over 1 million sq.ft of offices.  There will be more traffic regardless of whether it is a college or an office complex.   We will have to improve the road in either event.

5.  This will provide for dual enrollment at North Springs HS for high school students who can begin their occupational certificate of associate degrees at the same time they finish high school.  We have a large population in Sandy Springs that needs this program.

If you agree that a college can only be a plus for our city, I would appreciate your support.  There will be a hearing on Tuesday, Jan 18 at City Hall.  I need support.

Eva Galambos

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This e-mail was sent Saturday, Jan. 15, by attorney and Sandy Springs resident Fariba Bayani to council members and Mayor Eva Galambos.

Dear Council Members of Sandy Springs,

My husband Peter Teimori and I, as land owners, business owners (Flavor Cafe and Law Offices of Fariba Bayani LLC) and taxpayers in Sandy Springs are opposed to using $2.5 million of taxpayers’ money in order to bring in GTC to the proposed site. According to Councilmembers Jenkins, McEnerny and Collins’ open letter, GTC can be brought to Sandy Springs without incurring this high expense, if another site is selected with a building already in place and closer to I-285 and 400, so the increased traffic does not require widening of Peachtree Dunwoody and thus much more expenses to come.

We strongly believe the funds will be by far better used toward capital works projects already planned such as downtown infrastructure improvements or building the new City Hall, especially, that the site is already purchased by the city but the vacant site, is not being built or used for anything to improve Sandy Springs and to benefit the citizens and business owners.

It would be ideal if Sandy Springs could benefit from having both. GTC could be placed in another site in Sandy Springs that does not require the $2.5 million cash inducement, thus, use the funds for other, more urgent projects and also save the North Springs MARTA site for a taxpaying corporation which brings over 7,000 corporate, professional jobs instead of 12000 students to the city.

We respectfully ask the council members to consider another site for GTC and save the funds for improving our wonderful city.

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The following e-mail response was sent Saturday Jan. 15 to Fariba Bayani by Mayor Eva Galambos.

Dear Fariba, thank you for your message.  The technical college will be a tremendous engine of economic development, because it enables employers to obtain trained employees and to upgrade skills of current staff.  The college will help us fill the office buildings and continue to develop the office market of Sandy Springs.  They will be customers of yours in the long run.

If we are to compete for the college, we have to come up; with an upfront start-up cost of $5 million, half of which would come from the city and the other half from the private sector.  Without this, we cannot compete against Roswell and Alpharetta, who also want the college.   A $2.5 million investment is something the city can well afford while continuing to make capital improvements as we have done the past five years.  Eva Galambos

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This e-mail was sent to the Sandy Springs Reporter by Sandy Springs resident Alison Harris on Sunday, Jan. 16.

I strongly oppose Mayor Galambos’ proposal to lure Gwinnett Tech to Sandy Springs with a $2.5 million bribe — paid for with my tax dollars.

Please see the attached files (e-mail from Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny on Sunday, Jan. 16) for excellent info regarding why the taxpayers should oppose the plan.

Councilwoman McEnerny’s Jan. 16 e-mail responding to Mayor Galambos’ Jan. 15 e-mail. The mayor’s comments are numbered and McEnerney’s are in bullets.

1.  An educational institution is a huge generator of economic growth.   Employers choose locations where they can obtain trained staff, or send current staff for more training.  This will help fill our office buildings and attract more firms to the Sandy Springs office and health services market.

  • This is a regional school.   We live in a large metropolitan area .   If the campus is in Roswell or Alpharetta the students will still travel on our roadways to the job centers on Pill hill and Perimeter Center where there is such a high concentration of high paying jobs.  The school site shouldn’t be built on “Wall street in Manhattan”; when cheaper land, in “Brooklyn“ but accessible, is available and affordable to the taxpayer supported college..  The $2.5 million taxpayer inducement shouldn’t subsidize their desire for Wall Street space when they can only afford Brooklyn.   So, the school doesn’t have to be in Sandy Sprkngs for the employers in Perimeter Center, Sandy Springs and Pill Hill to attract them.

2.   Nobody wanted Northside Hospital when it sought zoning in the 1970’s.   Everyone was afraid of traffic and change.  That is a natural human reaction, but not in keeping with vision for a healthy community.   People also objected violently in Sandy Springs to Ga. 400.   Where would we be without it today in terms of the healthy tax base for Sandy Springs?.

  • The reverse long-term vision “to hold out for a higher and better use”  that is taxpaying is also meritorious  to the long-term benefit of Sandy Springs taxpayers.  Consider the decisions made that preserved a key site in Perimeter Center for the ultimate headquarters of Cox Enterprises as compared to extended stay hotels or apartments. The citizens of Sandy Springs  now have the benefit of a Fortune 500 company adding high quality  jobs and significant tax base in addition to Cox Enterprises’ outstanding leadership and many community contributions to our city.

3.  We are planning a $2.5 million investment from the city, matched by similar amount from  the business community.   We can continue in the future on our path with infrastructure improvements and capital plans and still make this expenditure.   Our fund balances are sufficient to allow this.

  • Any expenditure of funds should be carefully prioritized..  Despite being available and “sufficient to allow this.”  This is about other higher priority and more beneficial uses for that $2.5 million, which is coming incidentally from excess collections of FY 2011 Property Tax bills each of us paid in October 2010 .   Every penny we put toward the $32milion city hall is a penny we don’t have to borrow.   My recommendation that this $2.5 million that the Mayor has identified  as “sufficient to allow this” should be earmarked by the council for the city hall.

4.  The MARTA site is already zoned for over 1 million square feet of offices.  There will be more traffic regardless of whether it is a college or an office complex.   We will have to improve the road in either event.

  • I agree with her. But if the MARTA site was developed to its highest and best use as a corporate headquarters, the cost for the road widening would be offset by taxes over time, which is not the case with the GTC.   Using a rough estimate of $2.50 per square foot for taxes, with 15 percent coming to the city for its portion, that’s about $500,000 per year in lost taxes to the city. Or an 18 year payback on a $9 million cost;

5.  This will provide for dual enrollment at North Springs High School for high school students who can begin their occupational certificate of associate degrees at the same time they finish high school.  We have a large population in Sandy Springs that needs this program.

  • Again, this is true but must compare those benefits to the $2.5 million cash inducement costs , plus the lost tax revenue over time and the $9 million road costs.

It just doesn’t add up to me.   With no economic analysis ..  it is all general conjecture, however, well intentioned.   Karen Meinzen McEnerny

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This e-mail was sent to Mayor Eva Galambos on Thursday, Jan. 13, by Chris Burrett of Cornerstone Bank, who is president of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce.

Mayor Galambos,
I’m sorry for this late response.  I had planned to attend the meeting at 6:30 tonight, but may be unable to make the 4 p.m. meeting,

as I will be downtown in a mandatory meeting with banking representativies from Washington. If I can leave that meeting early, then I’ll plan to attend. Rusty Paul and Pat Chesser will be there representing the chamber and I’ve asked other chamber board members to be present if possible.

We have had extensive discussions about this issue within our board and the overall concept of having Gwinnett Tech within the City of Sandy Springs is very appealing due to its potential economic impact on our community.  Also, the school’s medical focus could create an employment “feeder” system for our hospitals and its technology focus could be beneficial to our growing base of professional and IT firms.  Also, the potential opportunity to expand our vocational training for our high school students, particularly those students that may have fewer post-high school educational opportunities, could help to improve the skills and “hire-ability” for a broader cross-section of our citizens.  For these reasons, the SSPC board could get excited and get behind the Gwinnett Tech initiative if the issues can be worked out.

The issues that need greater clarity for our board members are the appropriate site selection and the issue of the $5 million in pre-project soft costs.  The chamber board has recommended that we be “site neutral” until each prospective location can be reviewed in detail.  Also, if it is possible to have the $5 million in soft cost expenses payable only if Gwinnett Tech gives an unconditional commitment to put its campus in Sandy Springs, then that would certainly be preferable to spending $5 million and potentially losing the bid to another community.  Maybe that condition is possible…..and maybe not, but we thought it would be worthy of consideration.

I wanted to let you know our message in advance of the meeting this afternoon and I’m sure that Rusty and Pat will do a great job of articulating them chamber’s position if called upon do to so.  Again, I’m sorry I may not be able to attend and will do everything possible to make it if I can rearrange my schedule.  Thank you very much,

Chris Burnett

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This e-mail was sent to Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny on Thursday, Jan. 13, prior to the City Council  workshop meeting, by Pat Chesser, of Akerman & Co.

Personally I do not support the site that is being presented.  In addition, Gwinnett Tech is not our ideal tenant- they are nowhere near the win another Newell or UPS would be.  As a landlord to therse kinds of schools, the economic impact is pretty minimal.

I may speak on behalf of the Chamber today- If Chris Burnett makes it I’m sure he will.  We will not give unconditional support for this- it’s a fine line to walk. Pat Chesser

This -email was sent to Mayor Eva Galambos on Tuesday, Jan. 11, by Steve Massell, president of Massell Commercial  Real Estate.

I am NOT supportive of spending taxpayer funds for this project. Identify alternate sites and let capitalism work its magic. The MARTA site will be quite valuable in due time, it would be a shame to offer it up at the taxpayer’s expense. Thanks for your hard work,

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Response to Council vote on college proposal

The Sandy Springs Reporter received many e-mails following the discussion by Sandy Springs City Council related to a proposal for locating a campus of Gwinnett Technology College at a site near the North Springs MARTA station at its Thursday, Jan. 13, snow-delayed work session meeting,

The following are many of those e-mails.

This e-mail was sent to the Sandy Springs Reporter Friday, Jan. 14 by City Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins in advance of the Sandy Springs City Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 6 p.m. and the Sandy Springs City Hall.

An open letter to city of Sandy Springs taxpayers from Councilpersons Ashley Jenkins (District 4) , Karen Meinzen McEnerny (District 6), and Chip Collins (District 3).

During Thursday evening’s (Jan 13) City Council meeting, it became clear that the votes are currently in place to support the  Mayor’s initiative to use up to $2.5 million of your tax dollars as a cash inducement to cement the Gwinnett Technical College’s (GTC’s)  interest in locating up to 12,000 students to Sandy Springs.  The final vote on a resolution supporting the proposal takes place on Tuesday, Jan. 18.  We remain steadfastly opposed to this use of city funds based on the following facts:

· Taxpayer dollars (coming from excess  budgeted revenue from the FY 2011 Real Estate Property Taxes) are being used to comply with the GTC ‘s Request for Proposal  (RFP) that any North Fulton city responding provide $5 million ;

· The site recommended is  a premier corporate site at the North Springs MARTA Station that is better used by the free enterprise system to attract corporate Fortune 100-500 companies to Perimeter Center.  If used  by corporations, it will be taxable , generating revenues into the far future not tax exempt  as part of the State college system. Compare  12,000 students and 250 employees  to a corporate user:   The site is zoned for 1.1 million sf of office, which at 150 sf per office worker equates to 7,333  corporate professional jobs using residential housing in the community versus  apartment rentals;

· The site will require the immediate widening of Peachtree Dunwoody to accommodate the increase of 14,400 trips per day, at a projected cost of at least $9 million, making the total short-term cost to the city $11.5 million.  We think those funds are needed and can be better used to complete the significant capital works projects already planned, such as a new city hall, downtown infrastructure improvements to facilitate redevelopment, the Abernathy Greenway, the Lost Corner park, and stormwater improvements, among others;

· The site is not close to ANY retail or restaurants to service the students, and the closest retail that the students will likely patronize is primarily in Dunwoody around Perimeter Mall

· We support the GTC campus locating  in Sandy Springs,  but to justify using tax dollars to locate it, let’s find a win-win site for both the taxpayers and GTC.  Ideally, we would use the interest of GTC in Sandy Springs to redevelop a functionally obsolescent property that  is (i) in need of re-tenanting ; (ii)  has fallen to class C or D status;  and is  (iii) more accessible  to the students in Sandy Springs and North Fulton which  it is designed to serve.

· The Site Selection committee did look at many properties in Sandy Springs before settling on the MARTA site.  However, several viable sites were never considered:

1. Lakeside – fully accessible by 400 and 285; close to the hospitals and the PCID; building already in place so no money needed to build.  GTC can rent space as Technical Colleges all over the state do; the student traffic patterns would be less burdensome at this congested location than other proposed uses.

2. Ackerman site at GA 400, Abernathy and Barfield – Infrastructure already in place to handle 14,400 trips; high visibility from GA 400 and already zoned.

· More time is needed than the arbitrary Jan 31 deadline to respond to the RFP to further analyze the possible locations.  What is most responsive to the GTC RFP isn’t necessarily in the best interest, in our view, of the citizens of Sandy Springs.  Let free market forces work;

· Inexplicably, neither the citizens site selection committee nor the city staff has been asked to prepare a cost-benefit analysis of this transaction for taxpayer scrutiny of this $2.5 m + cost.  So the expenditure of $2.5 million is being made on personal hunches, extrapolated scenarios in other States, and generalities,  many of which were provided by GTC itself.  (see attached as the city’s economic analysis).  So much is missing here.  As the lender, the taxpayers are entitled to a comparative analysis of the lost costs to the taxpayers of real property taxes from a corporate user, the return on investment, and any known associated costs (MARTA ground lease).

We believe it’s not too late for you, the taxpayer, to make a difference.  Let the Mayor and others on the council hear your opinion immediately, in advance of the Jan. 18 meeting and vote, on this hasty and ill-advised major expenditure of taxpayer funds.  All we need is one more vote on the council to stop, or at least slow down, this runaway train.

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On Saturday, Jan. 15, Wanda Morganstern, former president of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber and member of the Main Street Alliance of Sandy Springs merchants, sent this email.

I’ve taken a sabbatical from volunteer work in Sandy Springs however I still care about what is going on in our city.

I am compelled to forward this to Main Street because what is happening here is just plain wrong for all the reasons stated in the letter from council members Ashley Jenkins, Karen McEnerny and Chip Collins.  Coincidentally, the chair of the site selection committee, Charlie Roberts, owns the property across the street from the site selected.

Are there better sites available for Gwinnett Tech in Sandy Springs?  Many people think there are much better sites to locate Gwinnett Tech.

I’ve cc’d our Mayor and City Council so you can easily let them know if you agree with Councilmembers Ashley Jenkins, Karen McEnerny & Chip Collins.

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On Saturday, Jan. 15, Jan Saperstein, a member of the site selection committee and Sandy Springs developer, sent this e-mail to Wanda Morgenstern, the mayor and members of City Council.

I am also on the site selection committee as appointed by the Mayor.

Charlie Roberts does own the property on Peachtree Dunwoody Road, directly across from the proposed GTC site (the current MARTA station). He has been very open about his ownership of the parcel, and if the proposed GTC site wasn’t the best available, I would have loudly protested the conflict. Charlie Roberts did resign as the chair of the committee when the site was identified as the final presentable parcel.

To me, it is a better site than the other municipal competitors will present (i.e. simple access to GA 400, light rail, invaluable sign opportunities along a major urban highway, and it is already zoned for over 1,000,000 SF of office density). Whether a “Class A” tenant would locate there or GTC, the road improvements would absolutely have to be made. Waiting for that hypothetical office user will take quite a while, as the central Perimeter office market has approximately 8-10 years of absorption to get the market back into balance.

There are other better sites but we are restrained by the cost to acquire those sites. The acquisition cost of the MARTA site is minuscule compared to a market driven, investment grade property. The City will be able to secure a long term ground lease at a fraction of what a purchase of an redeveloped apartment/retail/office would cost.

The benefits from a technical college are numerous and their graduates will supply skilled personnel that will attract companies willing to invest within Sandy Springs for years. There are still very clear business issues that need to be resolved, and I am certain that they will be.  Jan Saperstein

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The following email was sent out Friday, Jan. 14 to homeowner association presidents by City Councilman Chip Collins.

We had our work session on the Gwinnett Tech proposal last night.  The site selection committee made their expected recommendation that the MARTA property on Peachtree-Dunwoody adjacent to the North Springs rail station is the most competitive site for the response to the RFP.

We heard multiple public comments both for and against the proposal.  For instance, the business community fully supports the proposal. Most residents, on the other hand, are opposed to a financial contribution to attract the college, and many residents near Peachtree-Dunwoody are opposed to the college being at the MARTA site, period.

Although good points were made on both sides, my position on the matter remains unchanged: I oppose the contribution of city funds for a proposal at the MARTA site.  My rationale has evolved some, and my biggest concern is that because of the necessity of widening Peachtree-Dunwoody for this project, the total cost to the taxpayers to make the college a reality could be as much as $11.5 million ($2.5 million financial incentive, plus $9 million to widen P-D).

The full rationale for my position includes the following (which is largely cut and pasted from an email I sent to my fellow council members):
(1) The biggest benefit I saw in the college, as I think everyone else did, was to use it as an opportunity for urban renewal in an area that needed a boost.  That clearly would not be happening at the MARTA site;
(2) I fear that the total cost to the city ($2.5 million, plus at least $9 million in road improvements for Peachtree-Dunwoody), even over a multi-year period, will impair the city’s ability to fund the many projects we have committed to complete in the near future (e.g. town hall, downtown redevelopment, storm water improvements, Lost Corner, Abernathy Greenway, sidewalks, etc.). These quality-of-life projects all have broad support in the community and provide tangible benefits to all residents of Sandy Springs.  The financial contribution for a school, on the other hand, has very little support among the residents.

With regard to the road-widening expenditure, I understand the argument that we’ll eventually have to widen it at some point, when something else goes in the MARTA site.  All the developer types seem to agree, however, that such development is at least 5 years away and probably longer. I just can’t stop thinking about all the other important things that could be done in the city over the next few years for $11.5MM, and that’s really the deal killer for me right now.
(3) I’m concerned that the committee did not fully consider some other attractive sites, which might be less burdensome for nearby residents and require less capital improvements.  For example, Ashley Jenkins and others mentioned the site at Abernathy and 400, next to Serranno.  This site has equal access to 400 as the other site, and is walking distance to MARTA rail.
The Lakeside property seems like a good possibility as well, and could be retrofitted for school use for much less than new construction.  The diffuse traffic patterns of a school may make it the perfect solution for this difficult intersection.
(4) The entire project seems rushed and not-fully-analyzed for a project of this magnitude.  I don’t like either the reality or the perception of committing $11.5MM of public funds after only two public meetings within 5 days of one another, and very little detail in the way of cost-benefit analysis.
(5) If GTC believes the MARTA site is indeed the best site in North Fulton, than it will likely happen there regardless of whether we contribute $2.5 MM of city funds.  I find it hard to believe the state will allow the location of this regionally important school to be dictated by a couple of million dollars in an “auction” format. They will ultimately select the site that most benefits the region and assures the long-term success of the school.
If you agree with my position, you should let the Mayor and other members of the council know immediately.  The vote is this Tuesday the 18th. Based on the statements last night, it looks like the votes are there to support a $2.5 million contribution for a proposal involving the MARTA site (Galambos, DeJulio, Paulson and Fries supporting).

If you think I should reconsider my opinion, feel free to contact me with your thoughts as well, although I’m not as open-minded on the issue as I previously was.

Also, I encourage you to send this email to your mailing lists.  This is a major city project, and the citizens should be fully aware of what’s going being proposed and have an opportunity to let their elected officials know what they think.

Thanks,
Chip

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The following email from Sandy Springs activist Bill Gannon was distributed on Saturday, Jan. 15.

Dear Sandy Springs Neighbors:

As many of you are just starting to learn about, the city of Sandy Springs has recently been asked to present a location for a new $50 million campus to house a junior college. We are competing against Roswell, Alpharetta & Johns Creek – and proposals are due-in by the end of this month. This timeline is very tight.

There is a vote coming up this Tuesday evening at the Sandy Springs City Council meeting – and since last night, I have received over 10 calls asking for info & my opinion, etc. So in order for me to respond, I decided to write this e-mail – and I also included an e-mail (above) from Councilman Chip Collins.

Based on the info that I have seen to-date, I am in favor of the proposal – while Chip is against the proposal. In my opinion (and probably Chip’s), the proposal will win acceptance by a vote of 4 to 3. It is possible that someone’s vote could change over the weekend; but we have seven elected officials who are all intelligent and informed, and I don’t see much new info out there that will change their opinions.

Facts:

Based on current info, the school would grow to an enrollment of 12,000 students – some of them would be from Sandy Springs (the number of 1,000 was mentioned at last week’s work session), some would (presumably) move to Sandy Springs (i.e., into apartments on Roswell Road); some would commute via MARTA; some would drive; and some would take courses over the Internet.

The coursework would include high-in-demand subjects to allow graduates to work in, for example, medical areas (at Pill Hill) and IT, etc. Apparently, well over 90 percent of these graduates soon go to work in their chosen field, which everyone finds to be very impressive.

Sandy Springs’ star-employers (Cox, Pill Hill, PCID, Rubbermaid, UPS, IBM, etc.) are apparently very much in favor of this school being located in Sandy Springs. And they are willing pay some dollars for this to happen.

Our three sister cities to the north also want this school (badly) and they are willing to commit dollars for it.

Location: The mayor appointed a top-notch committee of experienced volunteers and they came back and reported last Thursday night (Jan. 13) with their proposed location, which is adjacent to the North Springs MARTA Station. (The Committee reported that all the other possible locations had fatal flaws, with the primary one being that land in Sandy Springs is expensive when compared to, for example, farmland in Alpharetta.)

Name of the school: It would be something similar to “Sandy Springs Community College.” It would not be Gwinnett Tech (the council was in total agreement on this point).

Opinions from Bill:

My responses to Chip Collin’s points in his email (referenced by number):

1. Re: the School-Proposal being an urban development project: I never thought of it that way; but I do think of it as an in-direct renewal project because people associated with this school could populate apartments in Sandy Springs.

2. Re: money: No one likes to spend it. (Remember the new Lake Forest Elementary School? The land purchases alone cost $13 million!). Each of the competing cities was asked to “ante-up” $5 million and the proposal has half coming from companies and half from the city. This money will be paid over a period of years – maybe up to 5. And maybe we could solicit companies to pay more than 50 percent.

To put this in perspective, $2,500,000 will build, on average, 2.5 miles of new sidewalks in SS. Another example, the city has committed to put dollars into the Heritage site and I am (finally)in favor of that project. Prioritizing dollars for projects in Sandy Springs is very subjective – we all have our own ideas, and it is understandable how our officials and neighbors can have differing opinions (how do you want to fund the storm water problems that will probably cost over $200 million?).

Chip points out that there is very little support for this school in the neighborhoods of Sandy Springs and he is probably correct, because most of us don’t know much about this proposal. However, I think if you asked the principals of our two public high schools, or some of the doctors who work at Pill Hill, or half of our city’s population who live along Roswell Road, you would get a different answer. Not everyone goes on to graduate from select colleges. Fortunately, our 7 elected officials understand these points – and they will vote accordingly on Tuesday evening.

3. Re: possible locations for the School: The committee reported that the MARTA location is the only viable location that they think would have a chance of winning the competition and I agree with them. In other words, any other location would probably fail. Also, all the council wants the MARTA site to be developed. This property is already zoned for 30-story-buildings. The only questions are when, who and whether they are non-profit. And let’s be realistic, no one uses the NS MARTA station and that area is now generating no tax dollars for the city. If we pass on putting a School there, that site could stay empty for another 10 or 20 or 30 years.

It is true that Peachtree-Dunwoody would have to be widened. That will cost big bucks, and that is a sticking-point which will cause one or two of the councilpersons to oppose this proposal. However, the eventual widening of PD is going to happen; it is just a question of when.

4. Re: the tight time constraints associated with this Proposal: I agree with Chip’s concerns 100 percent. However the city faced similar problems in, for example, starting a police department from scratch, and because we are a good city, with good elected officials, we did it. This opportunity of creating a school is unique – and if we miss it, it is gone for a long, long time.

5. Re: the fact that the School’s location should not be based solely on who kicks-in $2.5 million: I agree with Chip. This decision should be based on many factors, the least of which would be who can come up with $2.5 million. However, we did not make up the rules. So, if the city wants to play in this game, we need to decide if we want to adhere to the rules.

Thank you for reading this email – and please read Chip’s email below; I hope you read-up on this proposal online & in the papers. Consider emailing your councilperson, and plan to attend this Tuesday’s (Jan. 18) council meeting at 6 p.m.

Bill Gannon

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The following e-mail was distributed by Mayor Eva Galambos on Saturday, Jan. 15.

I favor the city of Sandy Springs competing against Roswell and Alpharetta in the competition to land a campus of the Gwinnett Technical College in our community for the following reasons:

1.  An educational institution is a huge generator of economic growth.   Employers choose locations where they can obtain trained staff, or send current staff for more training.  This will help fill our office buildings and attract more firms to the Sandy Springs office and health services market.

2.   Nobody wanted Northside Hospital when it sought zoning in the 1970’s.   Everyone was afraid of traffic and change.  That is a natural human reaction, but not in keeping with vision for a healthy community.   People also objected violently in Sandy Springs to Ga. 400.   Where would we be without it today in terms of the healthy tax base for Sandy Springs?.

3.  We are planning a $2.5 million investment from the city, matched by similar amount from the business community.   We can continue in the future on our path with infrastructure improvements and capital plans and still make this expenditure.   Our fund balances are sufficient to allow this.

4.  The MARTA site is already zoned for over 1 million sq.ft of offices.  There will be more traffic regardless of whether it is a college or an office complex.   We will have to improve the road in either event.

5.  This will provide for dual enrollment at North Springs HS for high school students who can begin their occupational certificate of associate degrees at the same time they finish high school.  We have a large population in Sandy Springs that needs this program.

If you agree that a college can only be a plus for our city, I would appreciate your support.  There will be a hearing on Tuesday, Jan 18 at City Hall.  I need support.

Eva Galambos

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This e-mail was sent Saturday, Jan. 15, by attorney and Sandy Springs resident Fariba Bayani to council members and Mayor Eva Galambos.

Dear Council Members of Sandy Springs,

My husband Peter Teimori and I, as land owners, business owners (Flavor Cafe and Law Offices of Fariba Bayani LLC) and taxpayers in Sandy Springs are opposed to using $2.5 million of taxpayers’ money in order to bring in GTC to the proposed site. According to Councilmembers Jenkins, McEnerny and Collins’ open letter, GTC can be brought to Sandy Springs without incurring this high expense, if another site is selected with a building already in place and closer to I-285 and 400, so the increased traffic does not require widening of Peachtree Dunwoody and thus much more expenses to come.

We strongly believe the funds will be by far better used toward capital works projects already planned such as downtown infrastructure improvements or building the new City Hall, especially, that the site is already purchased by the city but the vacant site, is not being built or used for anything to improve Sandy Springs and to benefit the citizens and business owners.

It would be ideal if Sandy Springs could benefit from having both. GTC could be placed in another site in Sandy Springs that does not require the $2.5 million cash inducement, thus, use the funds for other, more urgent projects and also save the North Springs MARTA site for a taxpaying corporation which brings over 7,000 corporate, professional jobs instead of 12000 students to the city.

We respectfully ask the council members to consider another site for GTC and save the funds for improving our wonderful city.

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The following e-mail response was sent Saturday Jan. 15 to Fariba Bayani by Mayor Eva Galambos.

Dear Fariba, thank you for your message.  The technical college will be a tremendous engine of economic development, because it enables employers to obtain trained employees and to upgrade skills of current staff.  The college will help us fill the office buildings and continue to develop the office market of Sandy Springs.  They will be customers of yours in the long run.

If we are to compete for the college, we have to come up; with an upfront start-up cost of $5 million, half of which would come from the city and the other half from the private sector.  Without this, we cannot compete against Roswell and Alpharetta, who also want the college.   A $2.5 million investment is something the city can well afford while continuing to make capital improvements as we have done the past five years.  Eva Galambos

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This e-mail was sent to the Sandy Springs Reporter by Sandy Springs resident Alison Harris on Sunday, Jan. 16.

I strongly oppose Mayor Galambos’ proposal to lure Gwinnett Tech to Sandy Springs with a $2.5 million bribe — paid for with my tax dollars.

Please see the attached files (e-mail from Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny on Sunday, Jan. 16) for excellent info regarding why the taxpayers should oppose the plan.

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Councilwoman McEnerny’s Jan. 16 e-mail responding to Mayor Galambos’ Jan. 15 e-mail. The mayor’s comments are numbered and McEnerney’s are in bullets.

1.  An educational institution is a huge generator of economic growth.   Employers choose locations where they can obtain trained staff, or send current staff for more training.  This will help fill our office buildings and attract more firms to the Sandy Springs office and health services market.

· This is a regional school.   We live in a large metropolitan area .   If the campus is in Roswell or Alpharetta the students will still travel on our roadways to the job centers on Pill hill and Perimeter Center where there is such a high concentration of high paying jobs.  The school site shouldn’t be built on “Wall street in Manhattan”; when cheaper land, in “Brooklyn“ but accessible, is available and affordable to the taxpayer supported college..  The $2.5 million taxpayer inducement shouldn’t subsidize their desire for Wall Street space when they can only afford Brooklyn.   So, the school doesn’t have to be in Sandy Sprkngs for the employers in Perimeter Center, Sandy Springs and Pill Hill to attract them.

2.   Nobody wanted Northside Hospital when it sought zoning in the 1970’s.   Everyone was afraid of traffic and change.  That is a natural human reaction, but not in keeping with vision for a healthy community.   People also objected violently in Sandy Springs to Ga. 400.   Where would we be without it today in terms of the healthy tax base for Sandy Springs?.

· The reverse long-term vision “to hold out for a higher and better use”  that is taxpaying is also meritorious  to the long-term benefit of Sandy Springs taxpayers.  Consider the decisions made that preserved a key site in Perimeter Center for the ultimate headquarters of Cox Enterprises as compared to extended stay hotels or apartments. The citizens of Sandy Springs  now have the benefit of a Fortune 500 company adding high quality  jobs and significant tax base in addition to Cox Enterprises’ outstanding leadership and many community contributions to our city.

3.  We are planning a $2.5 million investment from the city, matched by similar amount from  the business community.   We can continue in the future on our path with infrastructure improvements and capital plans and still make this expenditure.   Our fund balances are sufficient to allow this.

· Any expenditure of funds should be carefully prioritized..  Despite being available and “sufficient to allow this.”  This is about other higher priority and more beneficial uses for that $2.5 million, which is coming incidentally from excess collections of FY 2011 Property Tax bills each of us paid in October 2010 .   Every penny we put toward the $32milion city hall is a penny we don’t have to borrow.   My recommendation that this $2.5 million that the Mayor has identified  as “sufficient to allow this” should be earmarked by the council for the city hall.

4.  The MARTA site is already zoned for over 1 million square feet of offices.  There will be more traffic regardless of whether it is a college or an office complex.   We will have to improve the road in either event.

· I agree with her. But if the MARTA site was developed to its highest and best use as a corporate headquarters, the cost for the road widening would be offset by taxes over time, which is not the case with the GTC.   Using a rough estimate of $2.50 per square foot for taxes, with 15 percent coming to the city for its portion, that’s about $500,000 per year in lost taxes to the city. Or an 18 year payback on a $9 million cost;

5.  This will provide for dual enrollment at North Springs High School for high school students who can begin their occupational certificate of associate degrees at the same time they finish high school.  We have a large population in Sandy Springs that needs this program.

· Again, this is true but must compare those benefits to the $2.5 million cash inducement costs , plus the lost tax revenue over time and the $9 million road costs.

It just doesn’t add up to me.   With no economic analysis ..  it is all general conjecture, however, well intentioned.   Karen Meinzen McEnerny

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This e-mail was sent to Mayor Eva Galambos on Thursday, Jan. 13, by Chris Burrett of Cornerstone Bank, who is president of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce.

Mayor Galambos,
I’m sorry for this late response.  I had planned to attend the meeting at 6:30 tonight, but may be unable to make the 4 p.m. meeting, as I will be downtown in a mandatory meeting with banking representativies from Washington. If I can leave that meeting early, then I’ll plan to attend. Rusty Paul and Pat Chesser will be there representing the chamber and I’ve asked other chamber board members to be present if possible.

We have had extensive discussions about this issue within our board and the overall concept of having Gwinnett Tech within the City of Sandy Springs is very appealing due to its potential economic impact on our community.  Also, the school’s medical focus could create an employment “feeder” system for our hospitals and its technology focus could be beneficial to our growing base of professional and IT firms.  Also, the potential opportunity to expand our vocational training for our high school students, particularly those students that may have fewer post-high school educational opportunities, could help to improve the skills and “hire-ability” for a broader cross-section of our citizens.  For these reasons, the SSPC board could get excited and get behind the Gwinnett Tech initiative if the issues can be worked out.

The issues that need greater clarity for our board members are the appropriate site selection and the issue of the $5 million in pre-project soft costs.  The chamber board has recommended that we be “site neutral” until each prospective location can be reviewed in detail.  Also, if it is possible to have the $5 million in soft cost expenses payable only if Gwinnett Tech gives an unconditional commitment to put its campus in Sandy Springs, then that would certainly be preferable to spending $5 million and potentially losing the bid to another community.  Maybe that condition is possible…..and maybe not, but we thought it would be worthy of consideration.

I wanted to let you know our message in advance of the meeting this afternoon and I’m sure that Rusty and Pat will do a great job of articulating them chamber’s position if called upon do to so.  Again, I’m sorry I may not be able to attend and will do everything possible to make it if I can rearrange my schedule.  Thank you very much,

Chris Burnett

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This e-mail was sent to Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny on Thursday, Jan. 13, prior to the City Council workshop meeting, by Pat Chesser, of Akerman & Co.

Personally I do not support the site that is being presented.  In addition, Gwinnett Tech is not our ideal tenant- they are nowhere near the win another Newell or UPS would be.  As a landlord to therse kinds of schools, the economic impact is pretty minimal.

I may speak on behalf of the Chamber today- If Chris Burnett makes it I’m sure he will.  We will not give unconditional support for this- it’s a fine line to walk. Pat Chesser

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This -email was sent to Mayor Eva Galambos on Tuesday, Jan. 11, by Steve Massell, president of Massell Commercial Real Estate.

I am NOT supportive of spending taxpayer funds for this project. Identify alternate sites and let capitalism work its magic. The MARTA site will be quite valuable in due time, it would be a shame to offer it up at the taxpayer’s expense. Thanks for your hard work,

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Proponents and opponents of a proposal to lure Gwinnett Technical College to Sandy Springs are rallying public support as the divided Sandy Springs City  prepares to vote on the plan during its Jan. 18 meeting.

“If you agree that a college can only be a plus for our city, I would appreciate your support,” Mayor Eva Galambos said in an e-mail to constituents. “There will be a hearing on Tuesday, Jan 18, at City Hall.  I need support.

But an e-mail sent by three council members who have expressed opposition to the plan also sought citizen help in fighting it.

“We believe it’s not too late for you, the taxpayer, to make a difference,” said the e-mail signed by Ashley Jenkins, Karen Meinzen McEnerny and Chip Collins. “Let the Mayor and others on the council hear your opinion immediately, in advance of the Jan. 18 meeting and vote, on this hasty and ill-advised major expenditure of taxpayer funds.  All we need is one more vote on the council to stop, or at least slow down, this runaway train.”

A committee appointed by the city recommended last week that the council approve spending $2.5 million, to be matched by an equal amount from the city’s business community, to attract Gwinnett Tech to MARTA-owned property near the North Springs transit station.

Committee chairman Ray Persons said the group had looked at numerous apartment complexes and shopping centers in Sandy Springs and determined the MARTA property would be the most attractive to the college.

Gwinnett Tech has said it wants to build a new campus in north Fulton County and has asked communities to present proposals for the location of the facility. The college is expected to spend $40 million to $50 million in the new campus, which would attract 10,000 or more students.

-John Schaffner, Joe Earle

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