An Open Letter to Prospect Park’s New Owner

North American Properties, the new owner of Prospect Park, issued a press release yesterday. It spoke of wanting community input on the project and touted a west coast tour of similar retail centers. You can read about it here.

Dear North American Properties:

Congratulations on your purchase of Prospect Park! The entire Alpharetta community is encouraged to see something happening with this tract of land. And thank you for including this humble blogger on your press list. I understand you want community input on the project, including what to name it. I will take it on good faith that you’re sincere in this request.

Allow me to offer this bit of early advice… Open Westside Parkway. I understand you have been in discussion with the city to do this. I would encourage you to get this done before you travel the country seeking inspiration for the project. For years we’ve sat in traffic, gazing in frustration at a four lane road that is 90% complete. You could create enormous goodwill with the people of Alpharetta right off the bat. This cannot be overemphasized. Get Westside open, or at least go public with a plan to do so.

It also wouldn’t hurt to demolish the half-built structures. Perhaps make a grand ceremony of the event, allowing City Council members to push the button on the wrecking ball. It might serve as a symbolic gesture, allowing politicians to experience a level of atonement for their past. These structures have stood as a reminder of Alpharetta’s failed adoption of large-scale mixed-use development, right at the gateway to the city. Get’em outta here!

And speaking of gateways… Your project will be a gateway to this community. Consider that as you ponder where to take this project. Ours is a community of affluent and well-maintained suburban neighborhoods with top amenities. Please don’t come to Alpharetta speaking the language of new urbanism or so-called “smart growth”. Urbanism doesn’t play in our version of Peoria. Don’t take my word for it, even Planning Commissioners understand our dislike of these buzzwords.

Again, you could create a great sense of goodwill by dramatically reducing the scope of the development. Cut the building heights to tree-top level, scrap the parking decks and severely reduce or eliminate the residential components. I get the sense that this might be the direction you’re aiming and I’m encouraged by it! We bristle at extreme housing density and high rise buildings.

We love shopping, restaurants, greenspace, outdoor malls, traditional architecture and all that neat stuff. The good folks of Alpharetta will talk your ear off with ideas if given the chance.

Thanks for reaching out to the community. We look forward to continuing the dialogue, especially in the social media space. You’ve got a tremendous opportunity to win the hearts of Alpharetta by quickly opening the road and nixing residential density. What do ya say?

Sincerely,

-S. Lee Guy
Blogger

You can follow North American Properties on Twitter @NAPatl or on Facebook.

27 Responses to “An Open Letter to Prospect Park’s New Owner”

  1. Chris Rouse August 13, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    Add my vote for Westside Parkway! Although I’m moving up to exit 13 in a couple months and won’t need that road anymore. Not only would it be great for resident, but it would speed up response for both the fire and police departments located on either end of that road.

  2. John Mathes August 13, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Yes, opening Westside Parkway should be a priority. Beyond that, the public forums are a good idea as I don’t necessarily agree with all of your other generalizations of what Alpharetta residents want.

  3. MarkToro August 13, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on the reimagination of PFKAPP (property formerly known as Prospect Park). We are in the business of prioritizing myriad issues as we advance a project and we recognize that Westside Parkway is Priority 1A. Progress is being made with the City to effect the road opening, but in the interest of managing expectations, I can tell you that our most intense efforts will likely still require a number of months to dedicate, then complete, the roadway. As relates to the parking deck, new urbanism, density and smart growth, you are preaching to the choir.

    Stay tuned for the wrecking ball ceremony.

    Thanks, again, for sharing your perspective. Keep it coming !

  4. Patrick August 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Basically what you told him is to build another strip mall. I think the entire point of this development was to build something other than the bland suburbia developments we already have. I think most people were excited to see this new type of kixed use coming to Alpharetta. To build more of what we have, when there is already tons of vacant spots, just seems dim witted.

    In my opinion, the best thing to build is similar to what was planned…and parking structures are way more appealing than another giant lot if it means there is actually a walkable/park-like area to enjoy.

  5. Greg August 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    This is a tall order, but one thing that’s missing in all of Atlanta is a place to go walking in the evening with your significant other. In cities that offer something like that, it’s often oriented around a large body of water. Some examples are the bayfront in San Diego, the riverfront in Portland OR, and even the riverwalk in Jacksonville. Obviously we don’t have water like that, but it’s a shame that keeps us from having a great area to, say, eat dinner in a restaurant, stop by an ice cream place, walk around or sit on a park bench, and then get up and catch a movie. Atlantic station was a noble attempt, but failed because of a lack of park-like open space. Prospect park may offer the land to accomplish something like that.

    Again, I know that’s a tall order. Maybe it could be done around a small man-made lake in the center of the development. If you could create such a feature, Atlantans would beat a path to your door!

  6. Kim August 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    Thank you for asking for citizen input but I hope that you will actually listen and act upon what you hear, not just go through the motions trying to placate the natives but then just do whatever you had intended to do all along. We’ve caught on to that trick.

    Yes, please nix the buildings over tree-top height. And please nix the residential. We don’t want an urban look like Atlantic Station! Yuck.

    Also please do more than pay lip service to “green space.” There have been games with the code’s green space requirements on every one of these projects approved up and down GA 400.

    Please use quality materials…. e.g., cast stone, not stucco made to look like cast stone. Make the architecture classy so we aren’t driving past it 20 years later saying that the design was “so 2011.”

    Thanks.

  7. Lee August 13, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    @Patrick – If you look at the projects NAP is studying, you’ll see a lot of outdoor malls. I believe they are thinking in this direction. It certainly isn’t a strip mall and it isn’t something Alpharetta has at the present time.

  8. Kim August 13, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    Lee, I cannot tell by looking at the pictures. Is it more like the Forum or the Avenues? That is much, much more preferable than what was previously planned.

  9. Mike August 13, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    @Greg — What you are describing is Peridot. Alpharetta just approved it a few months ago.

    http://peridotalpharetta.com/vision/plan

  10. Kim August 14, 2011 at 12:04 am #

    Mike,
    Any word on when they plan to break ground?

  11. Mark Toro August 14, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    All, thank you for the input. North American Properties is sincerely interested in what the North Fulton community would like Prospect Park to be. Please follow us at http://www.Facebook.com/NAPAtlanta or http://www.twitter.com/NAPatl for updates and to share your perspective.

    @Kim, we plan to break ground in 10-12 months, pending design and approvals.

  12. John August 14, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    Lee,

    I have to respectfully disagree with your statements on what Alpharetta residents want.

    As a single middle aged adult living in Alpharetta, I like the idea of mixed use density, a parking garage, etc.

    Some residents of Alpharetta actually like the idea of a parking garage where you leave your vehicle and spend the evening walking about and saying hello to passerbys.

    I personally love the idea of multiple venues geared towards adults with live entertainment. We’ve got enough fast food franchises, strip malls and “kid friendly” establishments. Let’s not make Prospect Park another North Point or Windward Parkway.

    Having residential units on site adds a sense of vibrancy and community to a development instead of the typical same old same old. Let’s think outside the box on this one and make it a destination worth visiting.

  13. Lee August 14, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    @John – You’re right, I don’t speak for all of Alpharetta. There are some in town who advocate for large, mixed-use developments with extreme density. And it has been my experience that those who do publicly are usually members of the business community, in the real estate or mortgage business, downtown business owners, or chamber leaders. If you don’t fit into this category then I’d love you meet you. You’re in an exclusive club.

    It’s been my experience that the vast majority of Alpharetta-area residents, the run-of-the-mill variety, don’t support this type of development.

  14. John Mathes August 14, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    I don’t see a problem with a parking deck. They can be integrated into the surroundings pretty seamlessly. And they are efficient. Seems a shame to tear down the existing foundation. Beyond that, the idea of having something walkable… a journey by storefronts and eateries connected by pocket parks and other green space/multi-use space. I bet the tour folks come back with some great ideas.

  15. Greg August 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    I actually like the idea of a parking deck if it’s hidden below the development. I think that’s preferable to large quantities of the development taken up by parking lots. (and it actually costs more than parking lots)

    And I also like the idea of residential in order to give it a “24-hour” environment. I don’t think that has to mean high-density (which I’m against). I’d love to see a “normal density” mixed use development that’s walking around friendly.

    Of course I also recognize that many of the ideas we’re all coming up with cost a lot of money (large amounts of greenspace, quality materials, etc.). I think we all have to be reasonable with our wishes – not just, “Hey could you please take a huge loss for us? We’ll just count it as a donation.”

  16. Greg August 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    I’ll put the parking garage issue a different way: Does anyone here feel that the acres of parking lots lining North Point Parkway are attractive? If you gave me the choice of bunching up some of that parking into a garage and using the recovered space as greenspace, I’d take it. (as long as you actually create the greenspace, of course!)

  17. Lauren August 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    Thank you NAP for reaching out to the community on this project. I, for one, am thrilled that it’s “back on the rails.”

    I agree with @Greg and @JohnMathes on all points.

    Yes, there are tons of families in Alpharetta, but please remember those of us without children, who spend weekends eating, shopping, enjoying adult beverages, etc. It would be great if we could get a Whole Foods or Fresh Market. I realize WF has two locations in the vicinity- but maybe FM would be interested.

    Atlantic Station and the Avenues- both are uninspired and unoriginal.

    Good luck!

  18. John Peltier August 16, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

    I’m intrigued that NAP is visiting places out west. Having lived in Austin for 18 months, I’m familiar with the Domain and Arboretum in northwest Austin.

    Those are both nice, bland outdoor centers with limited tree coverage and, primarily, chain stores. As a small business owner I think Alpharetta has quite enough of those already, so I am hoping to see more local flair. That’s what makes the rest of Austin such a special place to live, quite frankly.

    In re: John, I live near the square so I frequently walk around after parking my car (or leaving it at home). I only wish there were more businesses to walk to. I, too, am an Alpharetta resident who likes walkable development, though I do not assume a parking garage is necessary to achieve that.

  19. Greg August 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    Mark, if you’re still here:

    I went to Facebook to see the pictures of the places you’ve visited. The only one of them I’ve been to is the 3rd Street Promenade, and I’ve always liked it.

    That said, what I don’t like about the places you’re visiting is they all have this “downtown, look up at the buildings (even if it’s only three stories)” feel. As Lee said, Alpharettans aren’t looking for downtown in Alpharetta – we’re looking for a nice Alpharetta-type place to walk around and hang out. That means trees, open spaces, green space, etc.

    To put it differently: If you build Atlantic Station in Alpharetta (even with different stores), it’s going to fail.

  20. Eric August 17, 2011 at 8:22 am #

    So many of the ideas here are quite on-target as to what people are looking for. What metro Atlanta suffers from is the strip mall syndrome. For all of our population, very few areas are set apart from one another and many of us still have the “there’s nothing to do” mindset because it’s a regional with endless duplication and a lack of originality.

    Obviously, retail is at the core of the development. Personally, green space and walking areas are essential. The Forum is an example of a good mix of retail in the area, however, it’s in and out of each establishment and back to the car. A well developed property with a parking deck, allowing for more land use, and areas for people to sit, relax, for many, people watch, it not only adds to the ambiance, but enables the customer to stay on the property longer and most likely, spend more money.

    Obviously, you have partners nationwide in retail that you’ll want to have be a part of Prospect Park. Adding local merchants that fit in your theme in plan will add to the project, but most importantly, I’d think that an emphasis on attracting businesses who are looking to expand into the metro Atlanta region would be of high benefit to the project. Original retail and dining, that’s the key.

    Another interesting component could be a theater or independent type of cinema. We have a high end market here in Alpharetta and arts are important. Specialty independent theaters have done enormously well in many areas of the country. When I was living in Orlando, the Enzian is a good example of such. Not a mass market theater chain attracting countless obnoxious kids, rather a small cinema that presents speciality, independent type of films and hosts special events. There is potential there for that to be a big regional attraction.

    Alpharetta won’t embrace another run of the mill shopping center with the same chain stores, same endless parking spaces, and cramped sidewalks.

  21. Kim August 17, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    John and Greg, I concur.

    As I looked through the photos, it frankly looked like a dolled-up version of the Dawsonville Outlet mall with residential units stuck on top.

    The thing I have about all of these developments is how dense and contrived they appear.

    John, Coming from Austin, I assume you have been to Gruene, TX. Now that is what I call in inviting place. But it is organic and has happened over time. Any developer trying to recreate it would surely densify to pack more in. Buildings would be lined up with all the space between buildings filled in. And that is what takes away the effect.

    All of these places like the Forum and Avenues or Atlantic Station have a Main Street Disney effect. You feel like you ought to be able to go in to each shop and trade Mickey pins.

    Eric, do you live in Alpharetta? What is the fascination with parking decks? I actually bristle and avoid places with them. They creep me out.

  22. Kim August 17, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    I thought this article was interesting regarding Santana Row, which is one of the places they visited.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2001/12/17/story1.html

    It seems that Santana Row has negatively impacted their downtown plan, even though it was 3 miles away.

    I find it a bit worrisome that all of these big developments like MetLife and Prospect Park are so close to our downtown. Will our downtown suffer because of it?

    Will we spend 29M of taxpayer money that only gets us a city hall and big parking deck? As much as I’d like to see the Prospect Park eyesore disappear, I think our downtown should be the priority here. What do others think?

    (Whose idea was it to clear cut Prospect Park like that anyway?)

  23. Lee August 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    @Eric – I agree with your comment on local businesses. Developments like this (and places like the Forum and the Avenue properties) tend to attract national and regional chain restaurants and businesses. I know NAP has tried to attract local restaurants to Atlantic Station but have not been very successful. As a result, the restaurant scene there stinks.

    I don’t know how you pull it off really. The rent at a new development like Prospect Park makes it cost prohibitive for a mom and pop to open. Their margins are thinner than those of a chain with their economies of scale. The developer could subsidize the rent, but that doesn’t really work out in the long run.

    But at the end of the day, I’m not so much concerned about what kind of retail goes in here, or the facad, looks, greenspace, etc. I simply want the residential density reduced… a lot!

  24. Eric August 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    @Lee, Very much agreed with your comments. To be honest, I believe that the residential density issue will be addressed. I still don’t see in this environment that the developer sees a strong enough housing market to constitute the investment in a high density residential. Now, they could present a plan that desires to leave that in place for future development, but we’ll see.

    @Kim, I do live in Alpharetta having relocated here six years ago. Honestly, downtown Alpharetta’s redevelopment has been a pipe dream that I’ve heard since arriving here and not to be a cynic, but I just don’t see the love affair with downtown Alpharetta. In Roswell, at least there was a good foundation of historic style buildings and homes to spurn a rebirth of the area. I personally don’t find the charm of downtown Alpharetta, but to each their own. Let alone the details that Lee has detailed before about public costs to rebuild a downtown that may never be successful.

    As for parking decks, what’s wrong when they’re done properly with nice theming? I’d rather have a parking deck with countless walking and roaming space in the property, rather than the same old paved jungle that is every other retail development in the area.

  25. Lee August 17, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    Eric said… “I still don’t see in this environment that the developer sees a strong enough housing market to constitute the investment in a high density residential.”

    You would think that, but remember that Metlife got nearly 500 condos approved this year in their Peridot project, even though the condo market here is in the toilet.

    The hopeful me likes to think that NAP will reduce the density at Prospect Park. Then the more realistic me remembers that Prospect Park is already zoned for hundreds of condos. The zoning will not sunset. It really isn’t in NAP’s financial interest to build less condos when they already have the green light from Alpharetta to build a ton of them. I hope they prove me wrong on that aspect.

  26. Kim August 17, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

    @Eric, you are right that Alpharetta does not have charm… but it could. If they had saved the old homes on Canton Street and renovated them a la Roswell, the heavily shaded, quieter and more narrow street would have been more conducive to a shopping district. It also would have provided much-needed backside access to the shops on Main Street. Most all the constituents in the Garden District wanted this but they didn’t put us in charge of planning…

    The well-dressed parking decks look much better but are costly. Four times more than surface lots and that is just the starting price. Build an underground deck and they are twice as much again. Dress up the outside and even more.

    Maybe it is a guy v. gal thing with the parking decks but I’ve always found them creepy and generally avoid going places that have no alternate parking.

    On the residential, don’t get your hopes up. ARC (unelected top-down regional governing body) dictates what we are doing, and so far no reps at the local level have pushed back. All up and down 400 is slated as transit-oriented developments which is just a fancy way of saying high-density multi-family housing.

  27. Kim August 17, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    ….But I agree I don’t want high-density multi-family. I really, really don’t want it. Parents of whatever schools are impacted won’t want it either.

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