Editor’s Note: This op-ed is from Jody Reichel, the District 4 representative on the Sandy Springs City Council.
Sandy Springs is considering using 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 Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and educational initiatives related to human rights and justice. Based on what has and has not been presented to the City Council, I cannot support using taxpayer dollars on a Cultural Arts Center as it is currently conceived.
I will outline the considerations underlying my perspective.
Financial stewardship of the City
I have a duty as an elected representative to be a responsible steward of public funds. With that duty in mind, the proposed project raises several financial issues that require further deliberation before undertaking a project of this consequence. As of today, I cannot determine what this project would cost the city. Greenlighting a project without knowing its cost is fiscally irresponsible, separate, and apart from the project’s merits.
We don’t have a feasibility study to guide the proposal’s economic impact. Such a study would allow us to project revenues and expenses, including costs for added security. All area synagogues maintain paid security due to threats of violence, and the project may require similar enhanced security measures.
The most recent data on the operation of the previous Anne Frank Exhibit at Parkside Shops indicated that 7,000 visitors per year attended the Exhibit. That number consists primarily of students. The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust asserts that the Anne Frank Museum, once completed, could expect 20,000 – 40,000 annual visitors. By context, the Houston Holocaust Museum, the fourth largest in the U.S. at 57,000 square feet (eight times the size of the proposed Sandy Springs Exhibit), has 163,000 annual visitors, of which 44,000 are students. It has total functional yearly expenses of $7.5 million per public record.
Sandy Springs currently operates the Performing Arts Center at a $2 million annual loss. Before undertaking another project for which we don’t have a study, the city should ensure that the Performing Arts Center stabilizes financially.
Without a feasibility and cost study, the City must refrain from making an unknown financial commitment until and unless we have more considered information.
What is best for the Anne Frank Museum?
The Anne Frank Museum is culturally and educationally important, and its ultimate location should befit its importance and provide it with the stature worthy of its relevance. Again, the Houston Holocaust Museum is instructive. The Houston Museum is located, fittingly, in the museum district in Midtown Houston, housed near the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Natural Science.
Given that analogy, it’s reasonable to locate the Anne Frank Museum in one of the following locations: the Bremen Jewish Museum in Midtown, the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University, or adjacent to or within the Civil Rights Museum in downtown. To quote one constituent on the issue, the Museum “deserves a contextually correct placement.” The placement along Bluestone Road lacks physical prominence, at odds with the gravitas that the Museum should convey.
It is critical to point out that these other locations are not pipe dreams but completely realistic. Bremen has already stated that they would welcome the Anne Frank Museum exhibits. Kennesaw already has an existing museum that could house the collection. Asking what’s best for the Anne Frank Museum is the responsible approach. A more considered approach to identifying the proper home can be found in the New York Times article titled, U.S. Holocaust Museums Are Updating Content and Context.
As described in the article, sixteen Holocaust Museums are currently operating in the US. The Shoah Foundation, established by Steven Spielberg, acts as a partner and consultant to the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida, set to open in Orlando in 2024. The article further states that some of the sixteen museums are teaming with the Shoah Foundation and looking to it for direction.
The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust should consider such a consultative relationship with the Shoah Foundation so that the Anne Frank Museum can achieve its objectives.
What’s best for the City?
My constituents and other citizens of Sandy Springs have provided significant input. Their consensus is that they are not clamoring for the Anne Frank Museum but strongly prefer creating trails, parks, and a thriving downtown with restaurants, retail, and recreational amenities. The city also needs to confront 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 now unmet. Approving this museum without a feasibility study would be the wrong choice for Sandy Springs.
Voice your opinion
The Sandy Springs City Council is voting 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 sign up at the meeting. The meeting is in the Studio Theatre at Sandy Springs City Hall (1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs, GA 30328).