A multi-week grand opening and a new theater company are among the big plans for City Springs’ arts programming debut next year. And those plans are finally moving forward with the resolution of a legal tangle that delayed booking shows and raising key funds — including through facility naming opportunities — and pushed back the theater’s opening schedule.
The Sandy Springs Foundation, a nonprofit in charge of the fundraising and community input for arts at the new civic center, is ready to raise an initial $7.5 million under the campaign slogan, “Art Springs Forth,” board members said at a Nov. 1 meeting. It already has a fundraising company, First Community Development, working on the project.
That money would help launch a slate of regular arts programming —one of the trustees is director of the new City Springs Theatre Company —following a lengthy grand opening of virtually every type of performance.
“It’s not a grand opening. It’s grand openings,” said Jan Collins, the foundation’s programming committee chair, about the city’s early plans at the Nov. 1 meeting. “Two weeks of grand opening.”
The funds have other purposes, too – especially arts education programs related to shows. At a Nov. 7 city meeting, Mayor Rusty Paul said that is a key function.
“It’s not just about entertaining ourselves,” Paul said of City Springs. “It’s about creating a new generation of artists.”
Legal status and naming ‘opportunities’
But before public fundraising or sponsorship-offering could begin, the city had to untangle the legal status of who can spend money on what at the facility, according to city attorneys. A core issue was the use of federal tax-exempt bonds to fund the $222 million project, which comes with a 10 percent limit on “private” use of the facility, city staff attorney Kathy Williams told the foundation Nov. 1.
City Attorney Dan Lee said that issue had been cleared up by a specialty tax attorney on Nov. 7, as was a disagreement with the theater’s private management about what type of contracts to use for booking shows.
Under the clarified fundraising arrangement, the foundation can solicit and vet donations, while the city Public Facilities Authority — which consists of the mayor and City Council members under a different legal status — can decide whether to accept such donations and approve naming all or part of City Springs. With that policy, donors cannot directly buy naming rights, but only become considered for “naming opportunities” to recognize their contribution.
“We’ve been held up on legal issues,” said Ken Byers, the foundation’s executive board chair, at a Nov. 7 meeting of the Public Facilities Authority. “We’re chomping at the bit” to raise the funds, he said.
The legal confusion has delayed booking of shows at City Springs’ 1,100-seat performing arts center, officials said, partly because that often involves sponsorships or other financial underwriting. The theater now will not open until September 2018, though other public spaces in City Springs may hold arts events earlier, said city spokesperson Sharon Kraun.
Another programming wrinkle is that Michael Enoch, the general manager for arts programming at City Springs, has been out for weeks on medical leave, according to officials from the city and his direct employer, the management company Spectra by Comcast Spectacor. Other Spectra officials have stepped in and Enoch participates in teleconference discussions while awaiting his return, they said.
Besides the large theater, City Springs’ arts and entertainment venues will include a smaller theater, a park with a sculpture garden, galleries and event spaces. The overall complex — located between Johnson Ferry Road and Mount Vernon Highway at Roswell Road — includes a new City Hall, retail space and housing.
Many of those public event spaces could be named in honor of donors, with possibilities ranging from the entire performing arts center to its stage curtain, stairways, even the parking lot. With the new legal clarity, the Public Facilities Authority approved the general idea of donor-naming and a policy for vetting proposals for propriety. However, councilmembers had some reservations.
“This facility does not belong to XYZ Corporation,” but to the citizens, and its name should reflect that, Tibby DeJulio said. John Paulson said, “I guess I’m not ready for this to be … the Wendy’s Hamburger Performing Arts Center.”
Chris Burnett said he understands concerns that “you don’t want the [performing arts center] to look like a NASCAR [racing car].”
Paul emphasized that any naming would happen only with Public Facilities Authority approval. He also said the city is not only interested in giant corporate donations, but likely will have such opportunities as individual bricks so that regular community members can feel connected, “whether you can give a lot or give a little.”
Grand opening and programs
When the fundraising finally launches, it is intended to spark major cultural events. Paul and other officials have previously said they have already discussed possible collaborations with such institutions as Atlanta’s Woodruff Arts Center and the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, whose director, Kenny Blank, is a foundation board member.
The exact nature of the City Springs Theatre Company — which incorporated in March, according to state records — remains unclear. Foundation executive board chair Ken Byers said it is technically not an in-house theater company, but is intended to perform “Broadway-style” shows at City Springs.
Natalie Barrow, the trustee who heads the company, declined to comment beyond saying “more soon.” Steve Hauser, a Sandy Springs attorney who is the theater company’s registered agent in state papers, also declined comment.
Different parts of City Springs will open in different phases, with the park possibly opening next spring and the performing arts center later in the year. Various arts events may debut in phases, too, Kraun said.
As for the grand opening, she said it will be “not just a day, not just a week,” but a rolling slate of indoor and outdoor events.
Collins said Spectra officials are discussing a wide range of events, including but not limited to “traditional performing arts”; ballet; symphony and chamber music; pop music; film; lectures; comedy; family activities; private and corporate events.
Another important part of ongoing foundation funding is fulfilling the mandate from city leaders that cultural events be appealing and affordable to everyone in Sandy Springs.
That involves not only subsidizing some programs, but also, Collins said, conducting focus groups and surveys on past and future shows.
Extensive educational programming is also on the foundation’s drawing board, including after-school programs, internships, teacher training and more.