Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul has repeatedly called it the “most important” project the city has ever undertaken, and on Sept. 2 that project inched a little closer to reality when the city council gave the go-ahead to developers to proceed with City Center planning that includes a performing arts center up to 1,000 seats.
Options presented by City Center master developers Carter/Selig for the performing arts center have included three sizes, ranging from 600 to 1,000 seats with varying amenities and stage sizes.
While a resolution adopted by the council gives planners the ok to pursue the larger performing arts center option, it does provide flexibility.
Adopted unanimously, the resolution, an alternative submitted by Councilman John Paulson, gives the city leeway to later determine during a design phase the specific components of the arts center. The original resolution specifically favored a black-box design for the performing arts center with 1,000 seats.
Paulson said he supported a performing arts center because it will enhance citizens’ quality of life.
“The eight years that we’ve been a city we have what I called the taking care of the business of Sandy Springs,” he said. “We developed a police force, developed a fire department, paved and poured sidewalks, paved streets. We have stormwater system that works in probably the first time in 30 years. “We’re doing a lot of things that are fundamental to running a city and running a city efficiently. This development in my opinion is truly a project that will enhance the quality of life for the Sandy Springers.”
The city council has mulled four designs for an arts center, each with 600, 800 and 1,000 seats. The smaller prototype A includes no fly loft nor orchestra pit. A larger prototype B includes a fly loft, orchestra pit and cinema/concert seating, while a full performing arts facility (prototype C) includes a large fly loft, orchestra pit and theater seating.
The plan that the council favored in the original resolution was titled “B+” and included theater-style seating with side boxes.
The adopted resolution also contained a tentative City Center site plan that includes one building with government offices, meeting space and the performing arts center, as well as a parking deck, city green and a separate mixed-use development including residential, restaurants and shops. The total project budget is expected to be up to about $196 million.
Councilman Andy Bauman said he was voting to support a performing arts center in part because it creates a community gathering place.
“If this project was proposed to go forward without some significant community amenity such as a performing arts center . . . to me it became more of a city hall that happened to have a couple of nice public pieces – the park and some retail,” he said. “But when you include the performing arts center and you include this great public space that will be built that has been made bigger and more user friendly as a result of a plan right now to combine the features into one building, it’s really the other way around. It becomes a community connector, a community gathering place that happens to have a city hall.”
Bauman also spoke to mixed community reaction to building a performing arts center.
“There’s no doubt that the community is not unanimous on this, there would be almost no way to expect that to be the case,” he said. But he added that he thinks the community will embrace the plan and that he’s noticed the conversation moving from cost to value.
“The status quo was not acceptable,” he said. “Roswell Road, the cental part of our city, was not acceptable and we need to find a way to move forward.”
Paulson asked City Manager John McDonough if online feedback from the community would be made public, but McDonough said those comments have not been published because the citizens providing feedback assumed it would be a private conversation.
He said the city received 181 comments in support of a performing arts center, 38 opposed and 64 neither in favor nor opposed but voicing concerns.