Comment: “I cannot agree to use taxpayers’ money for a cultural arts centre”

Editor’s note: This editorial is by Jody Reichel, the District 4 representative on the Sandy Springs City Council.

Sandy Springs plans to use public funds to build a cultural arts center to house the Anne Frank exhibit and a Holocaust memorial. I wholeheartedly support the mission of the Georgian Holocaust Commission and educational initiatives related to human rights and justice. Based on what has and has not been presented to City Council, I cannot support the use of taxpayer dollars for a cultural arts center as currently designed.

I will set out the considerations underlying my view.

City financial management

I have a duty as an elected representative to be a responsible steward of public funds. With this obligation in mind, the proposed project raises several financial issues that require further consideration before undertaking a project of this consequence. At this time, I cannot determine what this project would cost the city. Green-lighting a project without knowing its cost is fiscally irresponsible, separate and independent of the merits of the project.

We do not have a feasibility study to guide the economic impact of the proposal. Such a study would allow us to project revenues and expenses, including costs related to increased security. All synagogues in the area maintain paid security due to threats of violence, and the project may require similar heightened security measures.

The most recent data on the operation of the previous Anne Frank exhibition at Parkside Shops indicated that 7,000 visitors a year attended the exhibition. This number consists mainly of students. The Georgian Holocaust Commission says the Anne Frank Museum, when completed, could accommodate 20,000 to 40,000 annual visitors. By context, the Houston Holocaust Museum, the fourth largest in the United States at 57,000 square feet (eight times the size of the proposed Sandy Springs exhibit), has 163,000 annual visitors, including 44,000 students. It has a total functional annual expenditure of $7.5 million per public folder.

Sandy Springs currently operates the Performing Arts Center with an annual loss of $2 million. Before undertaking another project for which we have no study, the city should ensure that the Performing Arts Center stabilizes financially.

Without a feasibility and cost study, the City should refrain from making an unknown financial commitment until we have more considered information.

Best for the Anne Frank Museum?

The Anne Frank Museum is culturally and educationally significant, and its ultimate location should match its importance and give it a stature worthy of its relevance. Again, the Houston Holocaust Museum is informative. The Museum of Houston is rightly located in the Museum District of Midtown Houston, near the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Natural Science.

Given this analogy, it is reasonable to locate the Anne Frank Museum in one of the following locations: the Jewish Museum of Bremen in Midtown, the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at the University of Kennesaw State, or adjacent to or in the Civil Rights Museum downtown. To quote one constituent on the matter, the Museum “deserves a contextually correct location.” The placement along Bluestone Road lacks physical prominence, belying the gravity the museum should convey.

It is essential to underline that these other places are not chimerical dreams but quite realistic. Bremen has already declared that it will host the exhibitions of the Anne Frank Museum. Kennesaw already has an existing museum that could house the collection. Asking what is best for the Anne Frank Museum is the responsible approach. A more thoughtful approach to identifying the appropriate home can be found in the New York Times article titled, US Holocaust Museums Are Updating Content and Context.

As described in the article, sixteen Holocaust museums are currently operating in the United States. The Shoah Foundation, created by Steven Spielberg, acts as a partner and consultant to the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida, which is slated to open in Orlando in 2024. The article further states that some of the sixteen museums are teaming up with the Shoah Foundation. and looking for direction.

The Georgian Holocaust Commission should consider such a consultative relationship with the Shoah Foundation so that the Anne Frank Museum can achieve its goals.

What is best for the City?

My constituents and other citizens of Sandy Springs have made important contributions. Their consensus is that they are not calling for the Anne Frank Museum, but strongly prefer to create trails, parks, and a thriving downtown with restaurants, retail, and recreational facilities. The city also faces pressing issues, including a lack of sidewalks, stormwater planning, and thoughtful development in the northern part of the city.

The city has pressing needs that are not being met today. Approving this museum without a feasibility study would be a bad choice for Sandy Springs.

Express your opinion

The Sandy Springs City Council will vote on the terms of the cultural center proposal at its next meeting on August 16 at 6:00 p.m. The public is invited and encouraged to attend. You can register in advance by filling out the public comment card or registering for the meeting. The meeting takes place at the Studio Theater at Sandy Springs City Hall (1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs, GA 30328).

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