Potential sites for a convention center in Alpharetta

Alpharetta has received two proposals from private developers that may pave the way to bringing a convention and conference center to town. The city seeks a public/private partnership that would pair a city-owned and operated convention center with a privately built hotel.

The details of the proposals are not yet available but the names of those who participated in the process is. Those submitting an indication of interest are…

Avalon – North American Properties

Avalon’s site plan includes a full-service hotel with development in a future phase. It probably wouldn’t be hard to modify the site plan of the eastern half of the development to include the convention space the city requests. Access to a parking deck is already in place and close proximity to GA-400 is a plus. NAP’s hotel partner Stormont Hospitality Group participated in the bidding process.

Northwinds Land LLC

The second proposal came from this firm along with Duke Reality and Pope & Land. It isn’t clear exactly which parcel they are interested in developing. Chances are good that it’s the 20 acre undeveloped parcel at the northeast corner of Haynes Bridge and GA-400.

It’s interesting to note who chose not to participate in the bidding. Worthington Hyde Partners and Penn Hodge attended meetings but did not submit a bid. They each have ties to the massive Windward Mill project. Its zoning includes a hotel.

The architecture firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart attended a Q&A meeting for the project. It’s not clear who they were retained by. Coincidentally this same firm is working on Alpharetta’s downtown plan.

Also missing is Cousins Westside. A 20 acre parcel adjacent to Encore Park was originally set aside in their master plan for a similar convention or performing arts center. However this idea appears to no longer be viable. An attempt was made earlier this year to amend the master plan to allow residential use in this pod. The attempt failed. The city’s request for proposals suggests that the project should be close to and visible from GA-400. Encore Park is neither.

It’s interesting to contrast this convention center project to that of the amphitheater. Encore Park came to fruition without a heavy commitment from the city. Alpharetta and Fulton County each chipped in $1 million towards the project. The rest of the construction costs and ongoing operations belong to the Atlanta Symphony and the Woodruff Arts Center.

Under the current proposal, Alpharetta would sell bonds to build convention center and would also operate the facility. The private developer would donate land and build/own the adjoining hotel.

The scale of this potential public/private partnership is pretty large by Alpharetta standards. Past partnerships considered by the city have not fared well. Alpharetta’s first downtown development plan had similar trappings and thankfully failed to launch. Then there’s the partnership with Coro Reality to development in downtown. It been successful only in creating vacant buildings.

So the proof will be in the pudding with this deal. The public won’t know specifics of the two proposals until Alpharetta’s council considers them in an open meeting. The two biggest questions remain… Will a convention center be viable in Alpharetta? Is there political will to make such a public/private partnership a reality?

11 comments on this post.
  1. Christoph:

    A convention center? In Alpharetta? Am I missing something? Do they expect people to ride over an hour from the airport in zero traffic?

  2. J:

    Lots of large businesses that would use a place like this based in North Fulton/South Forsyth. I believe the Cobb Galleria has been very popular in Cobb at 75 and 285.

  3. Michael Hadden:

    Not sure this one is a good idea… Here are a couple quotes from an Atlantic Cities article published last year titled “Is It Time to Stop Building Convention Centers?”

    “Over the last 20 years, convention space in the United States has increased by 50 percent; since 2005, 44 new convention spaces have been planned or constructed in this country alone. That boom hasn’t come cheap. In the last ten years, spending on convention centers has doubled to $2.4 billion annually, much of it from public coffers.”

    “There aren’t really enough conventions to go around. The actual number of conventions hosted in the U.S. has fallen over the last decade. Attendance at the 200 largest conventions peaked at about 5 million in the mid-1990s and has fallen steadily since then.”

    I’m sure there is some sort of market for it but I doubt it will be enough to cover the cost in the long run.

  4. Travis Allen:

    My first response is to agree with Christoph, but doesn’t the Gwinnett Arena act as a convention center as well, or have a separate wing for such things at the same facility?

  5. Lee:

    @Michael – I tend to agree with you but I’m willing to hear the proposals. Alpharetta’s consultant said that a performing arts center is not viable. A convention center only made sense to him if it was paired with a 300+ room hotel.

    If there was a market for such a facility in Alpharetta then I’m sure a private developer would be talking about it. So I’m guarded about using public money. I also think there may not be the political will in Alpharetta’s council to make this a reality.

  6. Greg:

    What kind of size are they talking about? I agree that there are many local offices that would take advantage of space for, say, a regional meeting or such. But the Marriott already has a fairly big space available for that.

    Is Alpharetta trying to attract large national conventions?

  7. ccastro:

    There’s also the Forsyth Conference Center located on the campus of Lanier Tech just off GA400 exit 13 behind “The Collection”. Great facility for events and meetings.

  8. Kim:

    I’m fine with the idea if it is a private gig. No public money should be used for this. There is too much literature out there to show these are largely boondoggles. People are struggling with rising costs and a slow economy. We have a huge national debt that will eventually catch up to us. It would be irresponsible for our local politicians to mimic DC and pry more money our of our hands for something unnecessary.

  9. Lee:

    @Greg – One document I read from Alpharetta’s consultant suggested that the conference center should be about 50,000 square feet total. That would include a 12,000 sqft ballroom, meeting rooms, banquet facilities, etc. I’m not sure how this compared to the Marriott or the Metropolitan Club.

  10. B:

    Would be much more excited if it were a center for performing arts.

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