Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center could stay shuttered until 2021

Sandy Springs’ popular performing arts center could remain closed for the rest of the year as the city searches for a way to economize and keep residents safe during the pandemic.

City Councilman Chris Burnett, a longtime community banker, spoke up during a city budget work session Tuesday to express his doubts that performers and members of the public would feel safe attending events that draw large crowds.

Burnett also said he considered the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, which is operated by the city and would normally bring in revenue, to be an expense for the city. The nearly 1,100-seat center opened in 2018 in the City Springs arts and government complex, but has been temporarily closed due to the outbreak. Burnett said he believes it might not reopen until 2021. Performers and shows on the arts center stage have included saxophonist Branford Marsalis, the Atlanta Ballet and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific," directed and choreographed by Baayork Lee.

“Have we run some scenarios where we may not have events there for the remainder of this year; to see how much the city will need to fund in order to carry the (performing arts center) if we don’t have events there the remainder of this year?” Burnett asked.

The city could take another financial hit from the pandemic on its planned redevelopment of the city’s north end. Work to transform four older shopping centers there into mixed-use developments could be delayed for two years, Burnett said.

Banks have already begun to tighten lending, which could stall any development plans for the area, Burnett said.

“The reality is with the financial space where it is today, there is going to be little to no capital available for developers,” Burnett said. “And as we always talked about, we don’t want to be in the development business. We want to provide opportunity and incentive for others.”

During the work session, City Manager Andrea Surratt gave council members a general overview of priorities for fiscal year 2021. She suggested holding off on more community input meetings for the north end redevelopment until the end of the summer when people might be more engaged in activities outside of their homes.

Burnett said he believes redeveloping the north end has been set back at least two years by the public health crisis. He suggested the city redirect funds for the north end to somewhere else in the budget.

Surratt will present a budget proposal to City Council members on Tuesday taking into consideration Burnett’s feedback, she said.