JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Mayor Mike Bodker issued a call for support for a new city center that would help brand the city while raising the quality of life in Johns Creek. He warned of “short-term” thinking that does not plan adequately for the future.
Addressing a packed house at the March 7 State of the City Address at the Atlanta Athletic Club, Bodker said he wanted to “start a dialogue” about the future of the city and the need to look beyond the first seven years as a city.
“Johns Creek’s greatest asset is also its Achilles’ heel – the quality of life the city enjoys,” Bodker said. “It makes us susceptible to short-term thinking. We have a big decision to make. It’s whether to be the premier residential city we are today or to be willing to pay the price to [ensure] continued prosperity.”
A city that remains reliant on a tax base that is 80 percent residential is in a potentially tenuous situation. While Johns Creek’s highly desirable subdivision communities and excellent schools are like two legs of the stool, the city should not ignore the part commercial growth should play in maintaining that level of prosperity.
There is a price to take the city to the next level. However, Bodker thinks it is worth it.
“There is a significant part of the population that is untapped. But they are willing to pay more to live in Johns Creek,” he said.
He is talking about the new Millennials, the new generation entering the workforce. They are much more technologically savvy. Sociologists and developers say they are not interested in the three- or four-bedroom house with a white picket fence.
In the ideal city center, these younger professionals are drawn to the urban lifestyle, with an interesting nightlife that does not require a car. Call it the “urban village.” They want to be able to walk to work or ride a bicycle. Ideally, they would be able to walk to the cleaners, the grocer, the café or barber.
“It is something Technology Park is rethinking,” Bodker said. “It does not increase pressure on schools. The new businesses would generate taxes that would underwrite the pressing needs of today.”
Bodker noted the now $40 million in immediate road maintenance and resurfacing. That does not include other future transportation projects such as the proposed cut-through between Old Alabama and State Bridge roads.
A city center that might feature wide boulevards with wide sidewalks suitable for umbrella tables and al fresco dining, shops, restaurants and cafes could be a 30-year project since it is starting from less than scratch.
There is not even a likely site identified.
“What I do know is that the land available is disappearing. And what we are contemplating is a 30-year plan,” he said.
Although Bodker never used the term, such a project would likely require a bond referendum and would have to be a shared dream with the voters.
By committing to a plan, it would encourage corporate relocations to come to Johns Creek. There is no “there” there, as one real estate person confided about the city.
Meanwhile, Roswell is looking to greatly expand its Canton Street area with trendy restaurants, cafes, art galleries and specialty shops with the charm of a Carmel or Monterey. Alpharetta is going full bore with its own City Center that will have a centerpiece City Hall, a 7-acre park, a 1-acre mall and several hundred thousand square feet for commercial, retail and apartments over retail.
The mixed-use Avalon development is also speeding ahead with its $600 million mall and high-end homes and condos. Another 800,000 square feet of office awaits in phase II.
“We have the executive housing, the golf clubs, recreation and fine schools. What are missing are the young people, the recent college graduates,” Bodker said. “They are an important ingredient. We need a young, vibrant workforce.”
To do that, the city has to provide the lifestyle to bring them here, he said.
If all the high-end stores and destination restaurants continue to be snagged by neighboring cities, they won’t be adding more locations in Johns Creek.
For Johns Creek to take that next big leap, it will take a plan, determination and vision.
“Do you want to work as team to create that?” Bodker asked. “I am prepared to lead with your direction.”
He said he wanted dialogue with the community, but he did not offer any specific plans on how to create such a dialogue.
“Seven years ago, I stood before you and said let’s start a city. All I ask now is to listen and engage,” Bodker said.