Sandy Springs approves lease for Holocaust memorial center ending debate, for now

Sandy Springs moved forward on Tuesday in an agreement to help the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust build a Holocaust memorial center, despite objections that the $6 million project is not financially sound.

“This does not make sense for us right now,” Councilman Tibby DeJulio said Tuesday.

The city is partnering with the commission to build a new Anne Frank exhibit and Holocaust memorial at the Heritage Building property on Bluestone Road. The commission will rent space at the future redeveloped property.

A special called meeting of the Public Facilities Authority was held Tuesday, when City Council approved a $3 million rental agreement in a split vote.

The commission has heard officials and residents debate whether the memorial center should be located in Sandy Springs since April 2021.

Plans are to demolish the existing Heritage building and construct a new 13,000-square-foot structure in which the commission would occupy up to 8,700-square-feet of space. Visit Sandy Springs tourism organization and Sandy Springs Police Bicycle Patrol would be located in the building, and occupy nearly 5,000-square-feet of space.

Sandy Springs owns the property and estimates its cost for construction of a new building would be $1.6 million.

DeJulio and fellow Councilmember Jody Reichel voted in opposition, saying they support the mission of the project but not the timing.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of this city to spend their money wisely,” DeJulio said. “This at this time is not a wise investment.”

Pointing to Sandy Springs’ risk of losing local option sales tax (LOST) revenue, DeJulio said the city needs more certainty before spending money on the new center.

In July, the Fulton Board of Commissioners asked the 15 cities of the county to increase its share of LOST revenue to 35%, from less than 5%. Sandy Springs could see an $11 million drop — $33 million to $22 million.

Most of the 20 residents who commented at Tuesday’s meeting were in favor of the project.

Mayor Rusty Paul told residents that the possible loss of local option sales tax revenue from Fulton County would not impact the city’s ability to pay expenses for the project.

“The risk is almost nonexistent,” he said, adding millions of dollars in private donations have already been raised by the commission.

The commission will provide a letter of credit for the rental payments in the amount of at least $3 million for a 20-year lease.

City Council must approve expenditures for the project and can decide not to move forward if they become too costly, Paul told residents during the meeting.

“We’re not committing to doing something without knowing what the final cost is going to be,” he said. “We’re not that irresponsible. We would never take that kind of risk with your resources.”

The commission is raising funds for the exhibits and rental space through private donations. To date, approximately $3.8 million has been raised privately, Commission Chairman Chuck Berk has told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The exhibits will cost about $2.5 million, according to the commission.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is helping to create exhibits, including one that would reproduce the 540-square-foot space where Anne Frank and seven other Jewish people during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

A high-tech interactive exhibit created by the USC Shoah Foundation and titled “Dimension in Testimony” will allow visitors standing in front of a video screen to ask questions related to a Holocaust experience, and a survivor will appear on the video with an answer.