Let’s be honest, our downtown, the stretch on Roswell Road from I-285 to Sandy Springs Circle, is a disgrace.
Roswell Road with its abundance of old strip malls, low-to-mid range restaurants, heavy traffic and exposed overhead wires is little different to Buford Highway -- yet it actually sits as the city center of what is the 9th wealthiest city in America!
Probably 95 percent of people visiting Sandy Springs view our city based off their commute up and down Roswell Road and there is simply no evidence of what a lovely city we have.
How this decay has been allowed to occur doesn’t matter, but what is important is that we now have the opportunity to build a downtown we can be proud of.
As many of you know Sandy Springs has employed a planning agency Goody Clancy to investigate how we can improve this area. They have been successful in improving downtowns in other locations, and I’m sure we’re all keen to see their recommendations. However despite the meetings I’ve attended with the so-called opportunity to express my views, I do not feel these meetings do anything other than pay lip service to the communities views.
I feel I’ve not really had the chance to express my views and therefore wanted to take this opportunity to articulate them. I will begin by getting the basics out of the way, namely the ‘must-haves’ and minimum requirements.
The exposed overhead cables either have to go underground or be hidden behind stores and entirely out of view. Tree lined medians, with plants and flowers need to be introduced wherever practical along the Roswell Road corridor. Sidewalks need to be upgraded with a consistent design and trees need to be added. Red paved walkways at all intersections will improve the visual appeal.
The addition of an attractive ‘Welcome to Sandy Springs Main Street’ sign would help enhance the entrance and exit to downtown.
Introduce some nice street art in suitable locations on Main Street. The city needs to work with existing landlords and tenants to improve the strip mall signage and names. (Main Street West, for example certainly conjures up more impressive associations than Parkside Shopping Center does.)
The remaining buildings around the old Target store need to be purchased. While this is of course a shame for those business owners – whom many of us know personally - it is none the less a basic requirement to improve our city.
Those are the basics, the absolute minimum, but what else do we need to see? Old Target Store: Greatly admire Mayor Galambos, she is an exceptional leader who has tirelessly and selflessly served Sandy Springs and she is committed to a new City Hall.
Indeed, Mayor Galambos is correct there have been many examples where this has rejuvenated a downtown, however there are equally many examples of where City Halls have developed where the area around the newly built hall remains derelict.
I am not against a new City Hall. We do need a better city hall, as the existing location is not optimal and it makes sense to have our local government employees and guests have access to the best Sandy Springs has to offer; to be able to walk to our best restaurants and bars, and to enjoy a work environment that rewards the hard work of the city’s civic leaders.
With that said building a new building at this time is not prudent, nor practical. I’m sure we can all agree that when money is finite, and the needs for redevelopment so great, the money can be better spent!
I do believe there is value in relocating government employees to the new downtown, but let’s use far less money to populate the already half vacant office space on Roswell Road. Let’s use city funds to help improve those facilities, which will also likely bring in new tenants (and shoppers and diners) to Main Street.
This frees up the ‘old Target store’ for a beautiful lake and park. As mentioned some believe it controversial to relocate existing businesses, but without this there will simply be no redevelopment. A park with a lovely lake should be the focal point of our community, and it should link to Heritage Park.
It amazes me there is simply no place in Atlanta where I can go to have meal overlooking a park and a lake! I would like to think most people want to see a downtown that has plenty of green space, lakes, fountains, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, street art, small artisans, upscale dining, outdoor dining, gastro pubs etc.
The thing is we already have some of these as we already have some nice restaurants on Roswell Road – Ruths Chris, Double Zero, Rumi’s, Le Petite Maison – and other enjoyable dining attractions – El Azteca, Cocktail Cove - but no one thinks of Sandy Springs as an upscale fine dining destination as they are so spread out and interspersed by auto outlets!
However, I am convinced that some small upgrades to Sandy Springs would encourage other restaurants to open up and will make our downtown a dining destination.
Many people meet friends and spouses in Buckhead after work to enjoy dinner at places such as Twist or Nava, yet there are many people who could easily meet in Sandy Springs after work who simply decide to drive on through.
Let’s attract these diners – the success of Double Zero shows it’s easily possible!
One challenge atheistically is the abundance of auto retail outlets, such as repair shops, tire shops, car rental, car washes and emission testing locations. They are all great resources for the local population, but surely no one would expect to see these on Peachtree Road, let alone the Main Street of any of the other Top 10 wealthiest cities in America!
Ideally, we need to free up this prime real estate space south of Sandy Springs Circle for additional fine dining, which the City must try and attract.
Now I readily admit I am a marketing person, not operations, so I fully understand what’s outlined below is difficult to facilitate, and some would say it’s impossible. But, it is not impossible, it may be very difficult but none the less our Main Street needs a vision.
These outlets need to be relocated to a better location (better for them and the local community) and therefore it would be ideal if north of Sandy Springs Circle we can facilitate for a developer to create a purpose built “Motor” destination. This ties in nicely with the articulated goal of Sandy Spring's building a ‘Car Museum.”
The ‘carrot’ for these businesses is the benefit all these local shops would gain through synergy from having complimentary businesses in one location as well as the infrastructure that Sandy Springs would develop to make this a world class destination.
There is a famous story from the city where I grew up where a man opened up an upscale clothing shop on a vacant street but business was bad, really bad, but instead of closing his store he opened another one exactly opposite. That street is now the most prestigious in my city…because he created a destination.
Create a destination where customers can get their cars washed, repaired, shop for new wheels, visit a small car museum and be shuttled a mile south to enjoy Main Street while their car is being repaired.
Obviously we need to be careful about traffic, but the few additional vehicles would have little impact and by creating a world class, purpose built space, we will create additional tax revenues for our city.
I’m sure this will be called a naïve suggestion and totally impractical, but I call it a necessity if we want a nice downtown, so let’s find a make to make it possible!
And while I am on a topic that many would suggest is ‘fantasy’ I will continue! Let’s start with the entrance to our downtown! Rodeo Drive has the Beverly Wilshire, Buckhead has the Mandarin Oriental, Ritz Carlton, Grand Hyatt (and many more) and we have "The Comfort Inn." This is the first impression of our City.
The upscale, boutique Bohemian Hotel chain is looking to build near Ga. 400 so we need to encourage them to purchase this space instead by offering infrastructure improvements and we need to get them to convert it to an upscale hotel.
There is simply no reason why if Buckhead can attract nine large upscale hotels that we can’t support one upscale boutique hotel.
Let’s do whatever is needed to make this happen and it creates a far more impressive entrance than the current motel – and could also provide a nice accommodation choice for people visiting from out of town!
The reality however is what I’ve suggested above will take real will and dedication, and there will be many people, including vested interests, who simply will say it can’t be done, so I will focus for a while on the small improvements that will make a big difference! I will start from I-285 and move north. There is a long vacant lot on right hand side just before Carpenter Road. This needs to be purchased by the city and made into a pleasant space.
It should, in my opinion, be turned into a fountain and act as the ‘welcome’ to Sandy Springs City Center. The cost, assuming the developer is willing to sell, is not prohibitive and we should take the opportunity now to purchase the vacant lot at a good price and turn it into the impactful ‘welcome’ that can become the signature of Sandy Springs.
Parkside Shopping Center is ideal to turn into a nice village square. It is highly visible from the main road and therefore important to improve. There are already a plethora of restaurants and cafes, such as Chiquito, Chef Robs Cafe, Egg Harbor Café, Subway, and Bishoku. Imagine how much more you would eat there if rather than overlooking parked cars you overlooked a nice landscaped space.
The landlord and tenants would each greatly benefit from this addition of a “green space” square in the middle of the strip mall. Vacancy is currently high and parking spaces abundant and the cost is low, so this should be done.
Whole Foods strip mall: Ideally this would be rezoned and it is perfect for additional live, work, play space seeing as it’s so close to City Walk. But if that’s not feasible then at the very least we need to add some hedges and greenery to hide the parked cars.
The cost is literally under $3k and the impact of seeing trees rather than parked cars is worth many times this. There is simply no downsidee. Hammond Springs (El Azteca, Boston Market): The parking in front of these restaurants needs to be landscaped! It is far more appealing to have frontage that is not parked cars (a la Flying Biscuit, Double Zero) and would have a huge impact on the visual appeal of Roswell Road.
I would also like to see Sandy Springs rezone the BP gas station and turn into a small green space – Hammond Spring owners have invested in their strip mall and deserve to be rewarded for this with a green space and some nice street art with access to them strip mall.
Hilderbrand strip mall would ideally be rezoned but if not possible then surely an incentive to the owner to convert the spaces facing Roswell Road into something more attractive, such as restaurant space with outdoor seating, this would be a vast improvement on what is there today.
Cafe 290 and the nearby Punchline are actually great venues and assets to our city (enough so for Hollywood celebs Vince Vaughn and Clint Eastwood to make the journey) and any new development to our downtown should promote these assets with better visibility and access.
The street next to City Walk on Sandy Springs Place, namely between the City Walk entrance openings on, should at the very least be repaved in red brickwork, however it’s the other side of Heritage Park, on Hilderbrand Road, that is ideal for a Canton Street style venue.
There is very little traffic on this road, and (with the obvious exception of the electricity pylons) is ideal for a lovely tree lined avenue distanced from Roswell Road.
It could easily be redeveloped and there are already a plethora of authentic small businesses and unique artisans that line the road and it would create a nice space linking Heritage Park and the new space in front of the Old Target lot.
Many of the recommendations detailed above are practical and inexpensive. Others I admit will take a large amount of commitment, and money, however certainly affordable for our city if we divert funds from other infrastructure projects in to our downtown.
Improving road surfaces and adding sidewalks, while a great enhancement, does not provide any additional revenue to our city like an improved downtown will and therefore funds, including those set aside for a new city hall, should be directed to making these improvements happen.
I would also like to see Goody Clancy come up with some unique ideas for our city, something that few other towns and cities have! For example let’s make space for golf carts. Let’s create lanes for bikes and golf carts, everyone likes to see these around a community! In fact they can even make an average community (which we are not) feel like an upscale community -- so let’s welcome them by having lanes and parking spaces exclusively for golf carts.
I would also like to see something that is visionary for elder folks, those wealthy individuals who could move anywhere but choose Sandy Springs; whether this be working with a developer to create a strip mall that has a foreign theme, such as a French theme – with lamp posts, signage etc – to create a unique environment for people who can no longer travel to Europe.
Or even ideas that are more mundane, such as convenient areas to be picked up and dropped off, or bigger signage, or larger parking spaces so elder people can get out their car more easily.
Clearly those sound mundane but let’s do something unique that makes our city different and encourages affluent people to move to Sandy Springs from all over America.
I’d also like to see a small permanent “Turtle Museum or Exhibit’ in our downtown. I love the Sandy Spring turtles, but don’t quite yet see what they have to do with Sandy Springs! Let’s develop a small exhibit that at least houses some small turtles and explains their relevance to Sandy Springs.
I acknowledge the difficulty of making some of these recommendations a reality…………... but we are the 9th wealthiest city in America, let’s have a vision to make our main street more like Bal Harbour and Bel Air than Buford Highway!