This story originally appeared in the April 2016 edition of Georgia's Cities.
The 35 years that preceded the incorporation of Sandy Springs in 2005 saw the area transform from a predominately rural area to the second most populated community in Metro Atlanta.
This transformation happened haphazardly around three distinct commercial districts: the Central Perimeter, Roswell Road and Powers Ferry, but with no discernible municipal core, said Sandy Springs Communications Director Sharon Kraun. These multiple locations caused confusion for Metro Atlanta residents when asked to locate downtown Sandy Springs. A city survey showed that the majority cited the “King and Queen” towers near the I-285 and Ga. 400 intersection. But, in reality, the Roswell Road corridor, then an aging collection of strip malls, fast food outlets and standalone buildings, most resembled a central business district. It was evident to city officials that Sandy Springs needed more than just downtown redevelopment—the city need to create a new downtown from the ground up, Kraun said.
In the initial creation stages, city leaders identified a parcel at Roswell Road and Mt. Vernon Highway as the ideal platform for a new city center. Occupying one of the highest ridgelines along the Piedmont Plateau’s urbanized sector, it offered vistas of both the North Georgia Mountains and the city of Atlanta’s southward skyline. It also provided a 15-acre tract that the city could acquire to jumpstart the creation of its downtown.
Just after his election as mayor in 2013, Mayor Rusty Paul gave the city council and staff copies of the book, “Reimaging Greenville,” written by former Greenville, SC officials. An urban redevelopment case study, the book served as a blueprint for attacking the city’s redevelopment challenges.
Paul’s effort inspired the city officials to build an ideal downtown for residents. The goal was to have public redevelopment stimulate a wave of nearby private sector investments along Roswell Road.
“A key lesson in the book was that a community unwilling to invest in itself can hardly expect the private sector to take risks there,” he said. “So, the Council took the bold step of budgeting cash and issuing its first bonds to fund what is now known as the City Springs project.”
Paul’s plan worked. The city purchased almost half of the site in 2008, acquiring an old Target store, which relocated about a half-mile south. Over time, the city assimilated adjacent parcels and hired architect Rosser International to design a public/private-owned, mixed-use project that included a new city hall, performing arts center, meeting space, a retail/restaurant district and residential complex, all anchored by a new city green featuring fountains and other water features.
In short order, developers snapped up older nearby strip malls, and several mixed-use projects were soon in parallel construction, including new residential units and modernized retail that an earlier study showed were essential for a successful downtown.
In late 2017, the City Springs project will open, and several private sector projects will come on line almost simultaneously.
The process continues as new ideas to extend the Roswell Road Transformation are developing. Kraun has no doubt that the iconic “King and Queen” towers will remain a Sandy Springs staple, but is sure that the successful completion of the Roswell Road project will clearly identify Sandy Spring’s new downtown.