Sandy Springs incorporated 12 years ago to wrest control from Fulton County and establish its own identity.
And like many of Atlanta’s growing suburban communities, this city of 100,000 people located just north of Buckhead, is spending millions to build its core and to create a central destination for its residents.
Rising from the center of the city on Roswell Road, a massive mixed-use development called City Springs will include a gleaming city hall, along with a performing arts center, amphitheater, parks, 275 flats and 19 townhome apartments, and more than 20,000 square feet of retail space.
The 15-acre site located between Johnson Ferry Road and Mt. Vernon Highway is a public-private partnership effort that will cost about $222 million.
“I think calling it significant is a gross understatement. It’s going to be a catalyst for a lot of community development and civic pride,” said Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris. “I think it is going to continue pushing Sandy Springs on its upward trajectory as a significant city in the state of Georgia.”
And this upward trajectory is something city officials and residents embrace.
“We’re not just creating a sense of place,” Mayor Rusty Paul said. “We’re creating a place for people. A connective tissue for the community - that’s what we need more than anything else.”
The city is already home to several Fortune 500 company headquarters, and City Springs is a development officials say allows those employees to live close to work and mass transit.
“Companies are trying to address the needs of their workers,” said Andrea Worthy, the city’s director of economic development. “They’re going to go where their employees want to move, which is close to home, with lots of ways to get work, and lots of options for restaurants and retail.”
Creating a city center has been long overdue, the mayor said.
“There are [residents] inside the perimeter who feel like they are part of Buckhead, there are people living closer to Dunwoody who identify more there, and then there are the people from the historic core of Sandy Springs who were the leaders in the effort to incorporate,” he said. “So we have a lot of smaller communities with different identities. Even today, you’ll find businesses and churches listing their addresses as Atlanta - not Sandy Springs.”
City Springs will provide visitors a centrally located place for entertainment, dining and outdoor space, all on foot, said Jennifer Cruce, executive director of Sandy Springs Hospitality and Tourism.
They city’s effort is following the national trend of municipalities’ desire for “walkability.” According to Sarah Kirsch, executive director for the Urban Land Institute Atlanta, “suburbs are changing and land use has to change in order for suburbs to remain competitive and sustainable.”
One of the city’s founders, Oliver Porter, says that the “total package” design was inevitable.
“I think Sandy Springs was like a 1940s, 1950s downtown with its buildings and strip malls, so this will provide a focus and core for the city,” he said. “But the city will continue to grow whether [City Springs] was there or not.”
Getting to the other side
Shopping centers line three of the development’s four sides, and those businesses have struggled with the recent increased traffic woes caused by construction crews, said Terri Moore, a Sandy Springs native and owner of Naomi’s Paperie on Johnson Ferry Road.
Despite the traffic hassles, she said she’s excited about the project, especially the prospect of more chef-based restaurants, something that would have previously required residents to drive to Atlanta.
“I think it’s going to be really great, we just have to get to the other side,” Moore said.
She said she expects business to pick up once sidewalks are added and people can walk to her store from City Springs and nearby neighborhoods.
The project’s apartments and townhomes are expected to open in January, followed by retailers moving in by April, according to Jerome Hagley, an executive vice president of Carter, one of the city’s development partners. City hall, the performing arts center, Studio Theater and the remaining elements are scheduled to open next summer.
Ultimately, once City Springs is finished and the residents, retailers and city officials move in, what’s important to Mayor Paul is not what people from Atlanta think, but what people from Sandy Springs think of their town.
“Five years from now I want to be the most envied community in metro Atlanta,” he said. “But 10 years from now, I want there to be a level of pride where everyone says ‘I’m from Sandy Springs.’ ”
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