Avalon starts digging

$600 million project gets underway



ALPHARETTA, Ga. – After nearly six years of inactivity, the property now called Avalon between Westside Parkway and Ga. 400 on Old Milton Parkway will see construction going up. Avalon broke ground – and concrete – Jan. 28 amid great hoopla for this $600 million mixed-use project.

An eyesore for many years, what was once “Prospect Park” stalled mid-construction when the economy tanked and the developer went bankrupt. What should have been a mixed-use model instead turned into a derelict and abandoned project.

That changed at the groundbreaking amid cheers when the wrecking ball sailed into the concrete foundation that had blighted the corner of Old Milton Parkway and Ga. 400 for several years.

“Prospect Park was the symbol of everything that was wrong with the economy,” said Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. “Now, it’s a symbol that everything is OK.”

Amid a large party on site, Avalon lit a bonfire and had a parade of bulldozers announce the end of Prospect Park. As people watched, a wrecking ball knocked down portions of standing cement and a crane began disassembling a parking deck.

North American Properties developer Mark Toro tried to allay fears of a repeat of history by stressing he and his team have been aggressive in pursuing tenants and conservative in waiting to build.

“Fifty percent of Avalon’s Phase I development is leased out with a further 30 percent in negotiations,” Toro said.

Most of Phase I will be retail. The residential aspect of the 86-acre property will come about 60 days later.

“Prospect Park was a symbol of the downward spiral and the recession,” said Belle Isle. “Now, I don’t know too many cities who are breaking ground on $600 million projects.”

Avalon will feature a movie theater, a 475-room hotel and dozens of stores and restaurants. It is expected to employ about 4,500 people. It will also be home to numerous events during the year, including ice skating on a rink rivaling that at Rockefeller Center.

Monte Hewett, the longtime Atlanta builder who has charge of the residential component, said the real estate market is back from the dead. He said he sees no problems starting the homes once the retail is up.

“The day after Christmas, we started writing contracts [not for Avalon] and we are getting multiple offers for product that is built,” Hewett said.

The people living on the property in homes, condos, apartments and at the hotel will create a buzz at Avalon all the time.

“This is going to have a regional impact,” said Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce CEO and state Sen. Brandon Beach. “Avalon will be iconic and transformational for all of North Fulton.”

Avalon will ripple through the region as a destination that will draw other companies and businesses to the area.

“We need this in our toolbox to recruit companies,” he said.

Beach said the effects of a project of this size will be enormous, employing people throughout the region and drawing customers and tenants to its shops.

“You don’t build a development like this if you’re still in a recession,” said Belle Isle. “This property is still a symbol – now it’s of revival.”

Avalon is expected to open Phase I in August 2014.

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