Alpharetta mulls convention center in Avalon

Project on schedule: Retail 90 percent leased



ALPHARETTA, Ga. – A new wrinkle in the $600 million Avalon mixed-use project going up at Ga. 400 and Old Milton Parkway could include a four-star hotel and a 47,000-square-foot convention center.

Alpharetta and North American Properties are in discussions to partner in building the convention center pending a study on costs.

Phase one is already on schedule for an October 2014 grand opening that includes nearly 400,000 square feet of retail, 250 multi-family units, 101 single-family units and 83,000 square feet of office space.

Mark Toro, managing partner at North American Properties and the developer of Avalon, announced the project is 90 percent leased with many leading national retailers and restaurateurs having signed on.

North American Properties is the same real estate company that turned around Midtown’s Atlantic Station. In 2011, it paid $22.8 million for what was then called Prospect Park, an ambitious suburban luxury shopping center and mixed-use development that went south when the recession hit. North American called the new project Avalon.

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

The idea for a hotel and convention center has been pushed by Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, and Avalon was always on the city’s short list of sites. The City Council took the first steps in partnering with Avalon at its meeting last week.

The city has anted up $60,000 for a predevelopment design and cost analysis, with North American picking up the rest of the cost. It is estimated the convention center would cost in the neighborhood of $25 million.

The city and the Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau will split the cost of the city’s end.

Belle Isle said if the convention center could be brought in for that amount, the city could pay for the revenue bonds to build it through an increase in the Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau tax on hotel beds.

“That is the only real potential source to pay for those bonds that this [City] Council would consider is through an increase in the hotel-motel tax,” Belle Isle said.

It is conservatively estimated that moving the tax from 6 percent to 8 percent would raise more than $24 million.

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, but the agreement is not binding.

“Once the study is done, then the council will have to decide whether to pursue it. The only thing that has been definitively decided is that we want to learn more,” he said.

Belle Isle says he likes the idea of a convention center in Alpharetta because it would be an asset that would allow Alpharetta to continue to lead the area economically.

“It would provide many of the companies already here the opportunity to create community here among themselves rather than be just a part of the far-flung reaches of a greater Atlanta market,” he said. “And from the hoteliers’ standpoint, it is certainly to their advantage to host events in the city that their hotels don’t have the space for.”

It would really strengthen the technology companies by providing a “hub” that would help grow the Alpharetta technology industry in particular.

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 closest local 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 is 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.

Avalon by the numbers

• 40,000-plus dump truck loads of dirt will be moved on site (50,000 cubic yards)

• 87,000 linear feet, or 16 miles, of underground piping

• 20,000 tons of recycled concrete from demolition reused in the construction of Avalon

• 250 luxury apartments

• 101 Monte Hewitt single family homes

• Total project is 2.4 million square feet

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