Alpharetta moves forward with convention center

Based in Avalon, features 300 rooms, 47K square feet of meeting space

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The newest addition to the Avalon mixed-use mega-development may be a convention center. The City Council took the first steps on partnering with Avalon to build one.

Alpharetta issued an “indication of interest” in March asking for ideas and proposals for such a center. Avalon was chosen by the city as the better of the two responses.

The proposal at Avalon calls for 300 hotel rooms in a “full-service” hotel,” along with up to 47,000 square feet of convention space. A full-service hotel offers just about everything one would expect from a modern hotel, including restaurant and meeting space.

The city is on the hook for $60,000 in predevelopment costs, to be shared with the Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The agreement is not binding. After initial plans are drawn up and costs determined, either party can withdraw.

Beyond the Cobb Galleria and Gwinnett Center, there are few facilities near North Fulton that could house large conventions or meetings. The Marriott Hotel on Windward Parkway is the best contender, with 13,000 square feet of space.

“Within 10 miles of here [downtown Alpharetta], there are 63 hotels,” said Jim Stormont, with Stormont Hospitality Group. “Almost every single one of them are limited service and the only full-service hotel is the Marriott, which doesn’t have a lot of meeting space. There is a huge need for meeting space in this market, and we see a big opportunity.”

Stormont has partnered with Avalon on the hotel, and has a history of building high-end hotels, most recently the Marriott at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

He said the hotel and conference center would be placed in the Avalon project along the Ga. 400 side and feature prominently in the designs.

The benefits, he said, would be many.

There could be as much as $42 million in total economic benefits to the region, with 210 jobs created directly. Hundreds more would be created indirectly and supported by the center. By the third year of operations, Stormont said there would be $1.5 million in taxes generated each year by the convention center.

However, this would all be contingent on the city adding $25 million – to be paid for using bond monies – into the pot, creating a public-private partnership.

Given Alpharetta’s (and North Fulton’s) density of companies, at first glance, a convention center should be a simple concept. However, some on council were unimpressed.

“Why am I asking my taxpayers to pay $25 million so you can have a full-service hotel for an impact [to the city] of $1.5 million a year?” Councilmember D.C. Aiken asked.

Councilmember Jim Gilvin agreed.

“It’s an intriguing idea,” said Gilvin, “but the numbers just are not working for me.”

Mayor David Belle Isle disagreed, saying, while the plans need to be refined, the idea is sound.

“This is a facility that would not be for people downtown or inside the Perimeter to come north, but for companies that are already here,” said Belle Isle. “There’s lots of potential, and I want to know more.”

The agreement was approved 5-2 with both Gilvin and Aiken opposed.

Also at the meeting:

The Alpharetta City Council avoided approving changes to the Unified Development Code to allow for-sale detached housing on a dense scale. The item was tabled until the new year.

“Staff has been receiving increasing requests for for-sale detached residential,” said Richard McLeod, the community development director.

The problem is that the city has no zoning for such projects with lots smaller than 10,000 square feet.

“This would create a new category,” McLeod said of the proposed changes.

Since this is a new zoning category, any developments that would wish to have it would be required to go through the public hearing process before coming before council. McLeod said it could help with parcels of land that are difficult to build upon or that are too small.

“I believe there is a demand for this,” said Councilmember Jim Gilvin. However, he had reservations about allowing such development anywhere in the city.

“I’m wary of where this could lead without a little better guidance,” he said.

Gilvin motioned to table the item until better restrictions could be developed. This passed 4-3 with Councilmembers Chris Owens, Michael Kennedy and Donald Mitchell opposed.