“Welcome to the very first day at City Springs!” said Mayor Rusty Paul, greeting a crowd of about 200 people at the ribbon-cutting for Sandy Springs’ brand new City Hall May 7.
“Well, what do you think?” he asked from his podium on the City Hall’s front steps facing the sun-drenched City Green park, and was answered with loud applause.
The historic moment was a landmark in a civic center plan that predates the city’s 2005 founding, the mayor said, and nearly four-and-a-half years of construction. The community excitement was no surprise, since community input was key in crafting the vision for City Springs, a $229 million, public-private civic center that became far more than a City Hall largely due to public demand. The City Hall part is a gleaming, glass-walled tower five stories high, fronting on a park and flanked by fountains.
A group of current and former City Council members joined Paul in cutting a red ribbon on the front steps. Paul also unveiled a dedication plaque on an exterior column that names the various officials involved in design and construction.
Paul repeated many of his favorite slogans that have carried through the City Springs vision in years of public planning and occasional ceremonies.
It’s “everybody’s neighborhood,” where all are welcome. It’s the city’s “gift to itself,” for which the mayor and council merely provided “the wrapping paper.” They’ve reversed Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” by “tearing down a parking lot and putting up paradise” – the civic center replaces a former commercial district that included a vacant Target store.
The new City Hall, which replaced a labyrinth of rented offices at a northern Roswell Road office park, is inspiring Paul to some new sayings as well. An especially popular feature, he believes, is the “city’s front porch” – a second-story terrace with comfortable furniture and a great view that is open to the public. (In a joke about the city that Sandy Springs incorporated partly to remain independent from, Paul noted part of the Atlanta skyline is visible from the terrace, and “I told the mayor that we would be keeping an eye on them from up here.”)
City Springs became such an expansive vision that City Hall is just one part, and probably not even close to the most popular and anticipated. The new City Green park was still partly fenced off as the sod grows in, but will open in about a month; in about a year, it will host a major new competitive sculpture contest that will be an annual feature. And then there’s the Performing Arts Center, a huge arts complex featuring the 1,100-seat Byers Theatre, that will have a two-week grand opening in August that promises to host a household name or two.
One goal is a “family-friendly” civic center that will attract each citizen at least once a year, Paul said. Another is contributing to a walkable new downtown, he added, saying “a great thing is, a high percentage of our citizens will be able to simply walk here.”
Paul previously said the city opted not to seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, a controversial and expensive rating of energy-efficient construction, for City Springs. However, some of its features have the environment in mind; the “fountains galore” on the site partly use rainwater from a giant underground cistern that controls runoff.
“Like most dreams we’ve had in Sandy Springs, it’s been a long time coming,” Paul said of City Springs, and many in the crowd recalled the site’s history as former department stores, as well as smaller businesses. In an interview afterward, Paul had similar memories – “I was a regular at the Waffle House” – and recalled the city originally acquiring 7 acres for a City Hall that became 14 acres for the community’s City Springs vision. The applause at the ribbon-cutting was similar to that from a large crowd that gathered in June 2015 to see the unveiling of the first building design concepts.
The city’s founding mayor, the late Eva Galambos, made the official construction start one of her last acts in office, as in January 2014 she directed earthmovers to knock down the first bits of the old Target building. The ribbon-cutting took place on the steps right on Galambos Way, the new City Springs street named for her. Sitting in a wheelchair in the front row was her husband, John, who nodded as Paul praised her leadership. “We know she’s here in spirit,” Paul said.
Also praised was City Manager John McDonough, whose oversight of City Springs was in addition to his normal work and required a crash course in the obscure, complex details of major construction financing and theater design. Standing among the audience, McDonough became visibly emotional as Paul praised his “attention to larger goals while being obsessed with details.” As the crowd applauded, Paul added that was “just deserved because this wasn’t in his contract… It’s great to be able to dream and then have someone else go do it.”
“It’s an exciting day for our community,” McDonough said in an interview afterward. “And it’s nice to see such a great turnout on a beautiful day, and gives you a glimpse of the community’s excitement… It’s rewarding to see the smiles and enthusiasm of everyone here.”
As local officials and members of the public chatted in new City Hall lobby to live piano music and toured the facility, Paul said in an interview that, like any new building, there will be quirks and adjustments. He himself couldn’t get into his office that morning due to issues with the new security gates, and he discovered the Mayor’s Office furniture was placed to block all the power outlets. But such details – and others, like traffic patterns and parking – will be worked out in time, he said, noting the bottom line is a City Hall that is much more friendly to citizens and staff members.
Which brings up another new favorite saying, that Sandy Springs now has “not only the most publicly accessible, but the most publicly usable, City Hall.”
The City Springs site is bounded by Roswell Road, Johnson Ferry Road, Sandy Springs Circle and Johnson Ferry Road. The new City Hall’s official address is 1 Galambos Way. For more information, see citysprings.com.