ALPHARETTA, Ga. – If you’re wondering what’s going on behind that blue curtain around much of downtown Alpharetta, just listen.
Heavy machinery, hammers and trucks ring out the rumble of construction on an $85 million project city leaders say will transform the area into a business and entertainment hub.
At the site where local officials ate cake for a groundbreaking three months ago, scaffoldings, footings and subfloors now carry the landscape.
Cranes swivel with heavy beams dangling toward a framework that will soon house a women’s boutique. Workers trod on dirt paths and uneven terrain to grab a tool or a spec sheet to lug back to another skeletal building at another corner of the site.
“We’re in merchandizing and air traffic control mode right now,” said Cheri Morris, president of Morris & Fellows, which is heading the retail portion of the project. “We are very close to 100 percent leased for the shops.”
Morris & Fellows makes up one-third of MMS Alpharetta, a consortium developing the property for what will be City Center, a 26-acre tract in Downtown Alpharetta that will include shops, green space, restaurants, office space and residences.
All will be anchored on the east end by the new City Hall and Fulton County Library, which were completed more than two years ago.
It will encompass five city blocks.
Before the first spade of dirt was turned, Morris said she researched the history of the downtown to match as much of the old architecture as possible. Every building, every shop will be constructed to match late 19th and early 20th Century architecture, she said.
The Highland Bakery will occupy a building on the corner of Main and Academy streets that replicates the 1847 Milton Courthouse. Another building is fashioned after the old Cotton Exchange, where goods were bought and sold on the first floor and commodities were stored on the second floor.
Farther south along Main Street, the 1915 Jones House is being restored for conversion into a restaurant.
Next door, Hard Baily’s early 20th Century blacksmith shop is being recreated as “The Workshop,” where Phillip Cooper, owner of Vin 25 in Roswell, will open a new concept restaurant in the spring.
In all, retail plans call for about a dozen restaurants, eight ladies’ apparel stores and a men’s clothing store.
Shops will occupy the ground level of two multi-family buildings, each ranging from three stories to four stories. These apartment buildings are a little hard to nail down visually because their faces and heights will vary within each structure.
Some parts of the facades will be brick and some stone. It’s all to give the impression that there are more than two buildings, Morris said.
Deliveries are another consideration at the site.
“This is a very intimate district, and delivery trucks just can’t get everywhere,” Morris said. “It’s more important for us to be a downtown district than for us to get delivery trucks at every shop.”
As a result, those shops requiring large deliveries are situated at the east edge of the development where trucks have easy access.
The four-story office building includes retail on the ground floor, with DataScan, a technology finance service company, occupying the top three floors.
Overall construction is expected to last 18 months, but some shops should open earlier as work moves from Main Street eastward.
Right now, there’s little except the height of some frameworks to distinguish one building from another, but Morris said the plan will begin to take shape soon.
She sees it all in her head.
“I wish I had more space,” she said wistfully. “Everyone wants to be in downtown Alpharetta.”