Sandy Springs approves new home for Holocaust memorial

After six months of uncertainty over the new location for the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and a state-of-the-art memorial, Sandy Springs approved the Heritage Building on Blue Stone Road.
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After six months of uncertainty over the new location for the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and a state-of-the-art memorial, Sandy Springs approved the Heritage Building on Blue Stone Road.

After six months of debate, the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust has a future home for its state-of-the-art memorial and exhibits.

Sandy Springs City Council approved the use of the Heritage Building at 6110 Blue Stone Road on Nov. 2.

The Commission was in jeopardy of losing a portion of the $4 million raised from donors for a new Anne Frank exhibit and Holocaust memorial because of the city’s delay in deciding on a location, Commission Chairperson Chuck Berk said Tuesday.

“Some donors were wondering if City Council was really dedicated to this,” Berk said. “This is confirmation of Sandy Springs’ dedication.”

Berk said he would like to see the new cultural center open at the new downtown location in 2023. The city owns the Heritage Building. In the coming weeks, city officials and Commission board members will discuss if the building will be remodeled or replaced, Berk added. The Commission’s space would not include the adjacent Heritage Sandy Springs Amphitheater.

Sally Levine, the Commission’s executive director, and some staff currently have offices in the Heritage Building, which is also an event facility. The Anne Frank in the World exhibit and the commission offices were located at the Parkside shopping center in Sandy Springs for 10 years. The exhibit closed last year due after the start of the pandemic.

The Heritage Building is neighbor to the City Springs campus and was operated and managed for the city by Heritage Sandy Springs until April 2020 when the nonprofit asked to be released from its agreement due to the pandemic.

The Commission on the Holocaust, a state agency that educates the public on the mass killing of Jews by Nazi Germany, has been planning to bring large rotating exhibits and events to a new space for three years. Board members have said they expect the interactive exhibits and Holocaust memorial to draw visitors from around the state and southeast.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is helping the Commission to create exhibits, including one that would reproduce the 540-square-foot space where Anne Frank and seven other Jewish people hid for 761 days during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Berk said. 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.

Last April, some residents opposed plans for the city to pay $2.4 million for construction of a new cultural arts center near the Performing Arts Center at the City Springs campus. Plans were for the city to own the building and rent the Commission a portion of the building for $150,000 annually for 40 years.

Last month, city officials considered the Abernathy Arts Center for the Holocaust memorial. Sandy Springs acquired the 4-acre property on Johnson Ferry Road from Fulton County in September at a cost of $1. But local artists and residents who frequently utilize the arts center asked City Council to reconsider closing the facility.

Sandy Springs has nearly $2.5 million allotted for the development of a cultural center, City Manager Andrea Surratt said during last week’s meeting. Using those funds to house the Holocaust memorial would have to be approved by City Council.

City Council approved the Heritage location during a regular meeting held on Election Day. The vote was approved four to one with Councilman Steve Soteres absent and Councilwoman Jody Reichel in opposition. Reichel said she preferred decisions be made after a new council is in session in January with new council members filling two vacant seats.

But Berk urged Council members to make a decision during public comment saying that a donor was considering withdrawing a $500,000 pledge.

Berk said Tuesday that the Commission is pleased that the center will be located downtown. With the city working on a new master plan for more development in the area, the cultural center and restaurants and small businesses would compliment each other, he said.

“If the city wants to make a statement standing up against hate ... antisemitism and oppression and stand for for inclusion and diversity then what better place to put it,” Berk said of the new Holocaust memorial.

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