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Alpharetta's West Side Story

Historic downtown seeks jumpstart

ABA member Larry Attig says there is plenty of opportunity to improve downtown for Alpharetta businesses. Jonathan Copsey. (click for larger version)

Banners and planters along the major roads help create a sense of community, place and excitement. Jonathan Copsey. (click for larger version)

New landscaping and park areas have helped improve the look of Alpharetta’s historic district. Jonathan Copsey. (click for larger version)
June 04, 2013
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Once all the hype and hoopla dies down after Alpharetta's many evening and weekend social events in the historic district, how can local businesses keep those people coming back during the day?

Such a question was at the top of the agenda May 24 when members of the Alpharetta Business Association and members of the city government toured the blocks of downtown west of Ga. 9 with an eye toward revitalization.

"Downtown Alpharetta will be competing with Avalon and the City Center," said Larry Attig, of the Alpharetta Business Association.

The area has already pushed simple improvements to spruce itself up. The ornamental planters lining the streets, banners on the telephone poles and improved landscaping have all helped to create a feeling of place in the district. But more needs to be done, Attig said.

"It doesn't cost a lot to do these things," he said. "We don't have the population density. We need high density, mixed-use housing."

Attig and the rest of the ABA want to bring those crowds downtown during the day. For that to happen, the historic district needs a population base within easy walking distance – even with the addition of on-street parking and a forthcoming 450-space parking deck, lack of parking is seen as a problem.

This is especially true for the businesses that do not front Ga. 9, such as those along Canton Street, Old Roswell Street and Old Canton Street. Despite there being several prime buildings, many of them lay unused.

"Parking is an issue in leasing space," said Brian Patton, a real estate agent with Capital Realty Advisors with several properties in the historic district. "There just isn't a lot of walking traffic."

To help solve this, Attig and the ABA want to see the 40-acre Old Milton Center become a college or university campus, to attract a more consistent population of younger people. More residential areas – with a mixed-use zoning – could be allowed along Canton Street north of Milton Avenue, which is currently an abandoned townhome neighborhood still in the "pipe farm" phase of construction.

For Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, the area already has a lot going for it.

"Avalon is a big item for Alpharetta, but it is a regional project," he said. "It's something for all of North Fulton and South Forsyth. But the downtown is for those who live here. It is your ma and pa stores, your Friday night deal."

With smaller locations and small businesses, the area has and will continue to have a charm not found at a site like Avalon, Belle Isle said.

The city is still pursuing a university, although a site has not been chosen, he said.

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