ALPHARETTA, Ga. – With North American Properties set to invest $200 million in phase one of the mixed-use project called Avalon at the northwest corner of Old Milton Parkway and Ga. 400, Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce President Brandon Beach organized a “call to action” from his chamber members.
The chamber arranged for North American Properties Managing Partner Mark Toro to make a presentation March 21 to its members to see the details of the project. Beach said it is necessary for the community to show its support of Avalon when it comes before the City Council.
Beach said the project means a lot of jobs in the short-term for the construction of the $200 million first phase. The total value of the project at build out will be between $700 million and $800 million when the office component comes in.
“In the long-term, it means hundreds of jobs for retail and entertainment for the 12 to 14 restaurants there,” Beach said. “We, the business community, need to get behind this and show our support for this project.”
The project is about a 35 percent reduction of the original mixed-use project when it was known as Prospect Park. It is less retail space, less office and less residential. It will have about 13 percent more hotel space.
But the most controversial aspect of Avalon is the plan to have 250 luxury rental units above the retail shops on the ground floor. What makes it controversial is the city’s goal of having no more than 20 percent of city’s housing stock zoned for apartments. It stands at about 75 percent to 25 percent factoring in property zoned for apartments, but not built.
“These luxury units are a deal-breaker for North American,” Beach said. “I don’t want to see another Avenues. What I want to see in Alpharetta is something iconic. When people visit here from Birmingham or Charlotte and get back home, I want them to ask their neighbors, have they seen Avalon?”
Toro’s presentation was much the same as those he made for the public and before the Planning Commission. In those presentations, Toro described “the energy” that similar four-star mixed-use properties obtain by having people live on the property.
Single-family and condominium homes are also on the property, but the 250 units above the retail are a key element in the mix, Toro said. Toro explained that while the Avalon project would be unlike any in the Southeast, North American Properties is not blazing a new trail.
Quite the contrary, Avalon is closely following the formula staked out by the most successful mixed-use developments in the country in Austin, Texas, Glendale, Calif., and San Jose, Calif.
The San Jose project called Santana Row is the model Avalon follows most closely. It offers upscale shopping, dining and entertainment. Its 514 homes, 295 condominiums and 295 for-rent townhouse flats mean more than 1,000 people live on the property. They have guests who provide more “juice” to the retail and entertainment setting. Toro calls it “experiential retail.”
Throw into this mix North Fulton’s dynamic demographics. Dividing the U.S. population into 60 levels of retail, North American found the mean household incomes of families within a five-mile radius fall in the No. 1 and No. 2 best categories.
There is a new dynamic for tenants of the sort this project will appeal. Toro says they expect 65 percent to be young professionals who work in the technology companies surrounding Avalon who do not want a house, a dog and white picket fence.
Another 20 percent will be empty-nesters, with the rest made up of the newly divorced and corporate executives.
Each day 250,000 office workers in a seven-mile radius will have lunch and get off at 5 o’clock. Many will find their way to Avalon, Toro said.
With the synergies of the upscale stores and restaurants, the luxury rental units will command a premium of 30 percent above normal rates, Toro said. And that is why they are a deal-breaker. North American does not want risk the whole project by deviating from the proven model.
“Right now, Alpharetta and North Fulton has an embarrassment of riches,” Toro said. “People worry we will take stores out of North Point Mall. It is a viable, well-run mid-level mall. The stores we will appeal to will be the ones you have to go to Lenox and Phipps.”
The retailers North American is talking to are Brooks Brothers, Louis Vuitton and Anthropologie – not North Point tenants.
After the presentation, the audience was enthusiastic about the project.
“It’s beautiful, and it will be in my backyard,” said attorney John Hipes.
Al Nash, president of Fulton Partners for Progress, called Avalon the best economic development tool North Fulton could have.
Alpharetta architect Richard Debban and board member of the Alpharetta Business Association was enthusiastic about Avalon.
“I love it. It is at the forefront of what is happening in the marketplace,” Debban said. “It has a different culture of clientele and sells a completely different experience.”
Debban said the Alpharetta Business Association is not worried about being hurt economically by Avalon. He actually expects it to help the downtown.
“We are not the same type of animal. We offer a completely different experience,” he said. “We are the small shop and the corner deli. But we will draw from Avalon because we are so different.”
Roswell Mayor Jere Wood was enthusiastic about the project as well, but with a different take on it. Avalon’s success will make it easier to sell his city on the idea of rental units above retail in a redeveloping Roswell.
“Rental units are the only way to make mixed-use work,” Wood said. “Toro recognizes it is critical. I hope he can break a trail for us.”