The City Springs civic center and its Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center are celebrating their first birthday, after a year that included adding new public art, changing the theater’s operator and buying an outdoor stage to host concerts.
And there’s more to come, including a new gallery, a restaurant and a brick-naming program to raise funds for the PAC.
To Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, the Performing Arts Center, which opened in August 2018, has been “overwhelmingly successful,” citing over 500 events in the first year. It’s also brought the walkability, community gathering space and apartments for young renters and families Paul envisioned, he said.
Though the Performing Arts Center still relies on a city subsidy to keep it in the black, the city said that was expected and anticipates donations, grants and private funding to help balance it.
Paul also touts the development as bringing the community together by giving them spaces in the city center to play sports in the City Green park, bring the children to a splash pad or come to restaurants — all in the same place.
“This would have never happened before. Nobody walked here before,” Paul said during a July tour of City Springs.
The city has also made several tweaks to the civic and art complex since opening, including making on-street parking free and adding signs to keep children out of fountains and in the splash pad.
The splash pad has opened and has become incredibly popular, with open hours extended after several requests, Paul said. It’s also helped keep children from playing in the regular fountains, which have become an “attractive nuisance,” he said.
An outdoor sculpture gallery debuted in May, bringing nine sculptures to City Green. And longstanding plans to create a gallery inside the building are still in the works. The gallery would feature a mix of permanent and rotating artwork, city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said.
The City Council decided to purchase the previously leased outdoor stage after finding events to be successful. The stage is not installed on the City Green permanently and has been used for the first “City Green Live” summer concert series, which Paul said have been well-attended and a success.
“If you come out here on Friday, the lawn is covered,” he said.
All the businesses and restaurants initially announced by the city in 2018 have opened, the last being The Select.
Dave Green, one of the co-owners of The Select lives in City Springs’ Aston apartments, which he says has “been a great experience” and allows him to join in the city’s newly walkable environment.
“I haven’t seen my car in six weeks,” Green said.
The city has been sure to communicate with the apartments about events that could cause late noise, Kraun said. Most Friday nights until September have an event, she said.
The Select made a major change to the façade of the building, adding a closed-in area that can be opened during nice weather, which Green said is working well, along with the location.
Two retail spaces remain empty and haven’t been announced, but Green said one of them is expected to be a restaurant from the owners of the General Muir, located in Emory Village.
Jennifer Johnson, one of the General Muir’s owners, said restaurant is not moving out of its current space. Johnson said in an email she’s “not in a position to share any other information at this time,” but more information would be available later in August.
Performing Arts Center funding
The latest numbers, from May, show that in the first 10 months, the PAC would have lost over $2 million if it wasn’t for the city subsidy. With the city subsidy, it’s in the black by over $300,000. The city has said it always expected to provide extra funding to facility as it starts up.
Between July 2018 and May 2019 the PAC had $3,314,514 in revenue, including facility rentals, event income and a $2.3 million city subsidy. Operating expenditures cost $3,003,087.
In May, the PAC brought in $81,033 in revenue from event income and facility rentals and spent $341,533, meaning it lost $260,500 that month. Parking, which is combined with the PAC on the city’s financial records, earned $47,175, but cost $61,852.
In April, the PAC’s revenue was $639,234, which includes $582,548 of the subsidy. It spent $168,233. In March, it earned $117,313 and spent $125,811, losing $8,498.
The PAC also lost money in its opening months. The facility was operating about $185,000 in the red at the end of 2018, despite receiving over $1 million in subsidies from the city. The revenue between August to December 2018 was $1.9 million, including performances, private rentals, the city subsidy and parking income. Expenditures cost the city over $2.09 million, including parking.
The PAC and parking were budgeted to break even by the end of the fiscal year in July, with revenue and expenditures balancing at $5.2 million, including the subsidy. The financial records for June and July were not available at the time of publication.
“We knew from the beginning that the Performing Arts Center would need financial support in its early years as the center was established,” Kraun said.
Paul also said this was an expected part of opening the theater. Now, the goal is to get more funding from businesses, residents and through grants, he said.
“My job is to sell the private sector on this facility,” he said. “We’ve proved the value of this facility. Now what can we do to engage the private sector and residents?”
Extra funding is needed to help it “live up to its potential,” he said.
Some of that is planned to come from a engraved-brick fundraising program that has long been in the works. Expected soon, the program will allow people to buy engraved bricks that will inlaid in the walkways at City Springs, Paul said. The city has not yet secured a donor to buy the naming rights to the PAC, he said.
The Sandy Springs Arts Foundation, which was set up by the city to fund the facility but has since cut ties, has been expected to operate the brick program. The nonprofit has also been providing a $500,000 grant to the PAC over the year.
Sandy Springs also had to cope with losing the first PAC executive director, Michael Enoch, who left in October 2018, three months after its opening. Shaun Albrechtson filled the position and took the post July 15. He previously worked at a city-owned cultural arts center in Colorado.
“We have a very talented and driven staff who do really good work and are committed to a successful operation for the community,” Albrechtson said in a written statement. “I am talking with as many stakeholders as possible, and will use their input, as well as feedback from our staff to form a plan for our next season.”
The city also changed up the City Springs’ operator, ending early a contract with Spectra, an event facility management firm owned by Comcast, which had run the venue since opening in 2018.
The City Springs employees are now employed by The Collaborative, a Boston-based firm that once held the city’s communications department contract before the city began employing them in-house, along with most other departments.