February 06, 2013Perhaps you have noticed that concrete monstrosity at Ga. 400 and Old Milton Parkway is at last coming down. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall, it signals a new era in North Fulton.
Can another shopping mall really be, as Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce President Brandon Beach called it, "Iconic and transformational?" For North Fulton, it certainly can.
Retailers and economic developers will tell you when a project does not work (think Underground Atlanta), that there is no "there" there. That means it does not deliver on the users' desires or expectations.
Avalon delivers. How can you tell already? I'll answer with a question. What went wrong with Prospect Park? It was an ambitious plan, but it simply did not have the money behind it when the economy went south. Perhaps no one had "enough money" to launch a huge mixed-use development at the beginning of the worst recession since 1929.
Second, Prospect Park's plan was fairly conventional. I'd say it was like comparing Disneyland's plan to the plan for D-Day. North American Properties Managing Partner Mark Toro has made a detailed study of what works in today's market. And it is not a shopping mall.
The Internet has had a huge impact on the shopping habits of America. To get people to come to Avalon, they will need a sense of excitement, a sense of something you can't find anywhere else.
It's a lot like going to Roswell's Canton Street. It's a happening place. It has restaurants galore – people like to eat, drink and socialize – and boutique shops you can't find anywhere else.
Canton Street also has people there all the time. That is because people live there and work there. That creates buzz as well.
Toro plans to take that kind of buzz and inject some human growth hormone into it. That is, it will have more restaurants, more shops, more people and more things to do than anywhere else in the Southeast.
That is why the residential component is so important. Homes, condos and rental units over the shops of Avalon give it a base population all the time. That is great for the shops and restaurants, and it attracts others.
That is what members of the Alpharetta City Council saw when they went to California to see the kinds of development Avalon will emulate and perhaps surpass.
Avalon will be an "experience," Toro says. He says that a lot. When he talks about Avalon, it is about experiencing it. The shops and stores will be the crème de la crème. Why? Because the demographics of North Fulton can command those kinds of stores.
According to their research, the 10-mile radius around Avalon is the wealthiest in the United States.
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"Our challenge will be to put a premium on the shopping experience," Toro said.
Gee, there's that word again. He speaks of concierge treatment and valet parking and increasing the "dwelling time" on the property.
That means wide boulevards with a walkable area in which to visit delights for the eyes, nose and ears. Small concerts, light shows and seasonal events will keep people walking the streets – the cars are parked on the perimeter.
It's a party and everybody is invited, 24/7.
With 50 percent of the property leased, and another 30 percent in negotiations, the ground is moving. North American is self-financed and is able to move at its own pace and not rely on banks. No Berlin Walls this time.
So in August 2014, we can expect the doors to open on something that may just be iconic and transformational.
Managing Editor, Appen Newspapers Inc.