The Dunwoody City Council voted Sept. 12 to approve a bid to demolish Brook Run Theater.
Many people attending the meeting in support of saving the theater booed the vote, shouting “Shame on you!” to council members.
Cost to demolish the theater, one of the last remaining buildings in the park that was once part of the Georgia Retardation Center, will be no more than $272,000.
Low bid to bulldoze the building came in at $147,000 but a contingency fund of $125,000 was added to the final amount. Brent Walker, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the contingency funding was needed due to unknown asbestos levels.
The council also voted to spend $20,000 to save and crate the stained glass windows located in the theater building.
The vote came after a half-hour of public comment with nine people urging the council to postpone bulldozing the 34,000-square-foot building that they said could become a community gathering place and performing arts center.
Mayor Denis Shortal cast the lone vote against awarding the demolition bid.
He spoke in favor of giving community members more time to try to raise the nearly $8 million they said was needed to renovate the building.
“I think we’re doing something detrimental to our city,” he said right before the vote.
“I see citizens who are willing to work their tails off to try to save the building. I’m not sure it can be saved. But no one here [on the council] is sure it can’t be saved. What is the harm in waiting,” Shortal said.
Shortal noted an apparent divide in the city between those wanting to save the theater and those wanting multiuse athletic fields in Brook Run Park.
“What we are doing is excluding part of our city. All of us can’t play football or soccer. They have other talents. Why not give the people a chance,” he said.
Council members made no comments before or after they voted to award the bid.
At the end of the more than 3-hour meeting, several people who supported the theater spoke again during public comment to express their disappointment.
Queenie Ross scolded the council and told members they had “no vision.”
“I am a Dunwoody volunteer and my husband [Danny Ross, president of the Brook Run Conservancy] and I have worked very hard for a long time [to save the theater]. Shame on you,” she said. “The six of you have never listened to any of us. You are derelict in your duty.”
Jim Williams, vice president of property management for the Dunwoody Preservation Trust, said their vote was not in the best interest of the city. He also questioned why the council debated other items on the agenda but did not even discuss the theater before voting to tear it down.
“You all had your own reasons to justify your own decisions. You were elected … to generate assets for this city. You chose to deny that the city. This was not in the best interest of the citizens,” he said.
Before the vote, Danny Ross announced there was a $100,000 anonymous donation being made to save the theater. He also said Rodney Mims Cook Jr., founder and president of the National Monuments Foundation, supported saving the Brook Run Theater. At 14, Cook started the campaign that saved Atlanta’s Fox Theatre.
Mims could not attend the meeting because he was in Russia, Ross said. Mims made a recording that was played for the City Council asking members to defer razing the theater building and giving the community 24 to 36 months to raised the needed funds.
Many council members have questioned why no money has been raised for the project since talk to save it began as far back as 2011. At the City Council retreat in February, council members said it was time to put the issue to rest.
Serious talks about renovating the building to create a community theater began last year.
Danny Ross has told the council in recent weeks the Conservancy did not raise any money for the project to date because it needed to have the city’s support and vote for time to do so. The Conservancy was also asking the city to contribute up to $1 million to renovating the theater.