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April 10, 2013ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and the city of Alpharetta have set up a recruitment team to lure a four-year private institution to come to Alpharetta, preferably at the site of the old Milton High School campus on Milton Avenue.
"This is the missing piece of the puzzle for North Fulton. Ours is the only congressional district in Georgia without a four-year college within its borders," said Greater North Fulton Chamber President and CEO Brandon Beach.
There are colleges with a presence in North Fulton, including Georgia State University, Perimeter College and Reinhardt College. And there are plans for a state technical college on Old Milton Parkway. But none offer a four-year degree.
"We are talking to some private institutions. State dollars are very limited right now, so we think a private institution is the best fit right now," Beach said.
The chamber has formed a committee with Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, developer Penn Hodge and Chamber Public Policy Director Liz Hausmann. Beach was asked which hat would Hausmann wear in the committee – that of chamber executive, member of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners or as a former member of the Fulton Board of Education?
"All three," Beach said. "That is the neat thing about hiring the right people. I think that she has those relationships with [Fulton School Board member] Katie Reeves and other people who will make the decisions concerning the property."
The Fulton County Board of Education still owns the old Milton campus, but Beach is optimistic that the property can be brought into play.
"I think that 52-acre campus is vastly underutilized," he said. "And it has to cost the Board of Education to keep the lights on.
"Other attractions for a prospective college would be the demographics of North Fulton County, the opportunity for jobs in the area and a metro Atlanta campus that is ready-made for college. There is a lot of opportunity."
Another benefit would be offering local students a choice to stay home rather than go out-of-state. The community loses those students because many don't come back home.
Belle Isle said they are still in the early stages of recruiting a college, but it fits in well for Alpharetta on several fronts.
"We're focused on our technology industry and the revitalization of downtown. This is something that would help both of those areas. We would love to see the old Milton High School site become something that could be beneficial to those efforts and the community," Belle Isle said.
"One of the things we noticed in studying the benchmark cities [that Alpharetta competes with economically] is that they have a relationship with a four-year institution," he said.
In terms of creating a vibrant downtown life, the infusion of 5,000 to 8,000 students would have a huge economic effect on the downtown.
"Think how great it would be to have a baseline of business having those students always there creating that life in downtown," Belle Isle said. "I think it would be beneficial on the education front, on the technology front and on our downtown development front.
"It's a win for us in a lot of categories. I don't know if it will be a two-year pursuit, a five-, a seven- or a 10-year pursuit. But there are not many things better than this to pursue," he said. "It needs to be a priority."
This article was published in the Revue & News April 11, 2013 edition
Executive Editor, Appen Media.