It’s never enough in downtown Alpharetta

This year Alpharetta has had a singular focus on downtown. For the most part helping this struggling section of town is a good thing. The city has spent money on landscaping and plantings. They’ve created more parking along streets. Facade grants are available for downtown property owners. The city’s event department hosts all manner of functions and festivals downtown. A lot has been done and it’s working.

But it doesn’t seem to be enough.

That’s the impression you get from reading this article in the Revue and News last week. It takes a certain amount of bravado to be on the receiving end of so much generosity yet still ask for more. I’m describing a particular downtown property owner who’s in the paper, figuratively pictured with his hand out.

Don’t get me wrong. Helping downtown is a good thing. But at some point will it cross a line? Alpharetta is taxing property owners from Windward, North Point and elsewhere to create incentives for a small handful of businesses downtown. When does this go from being helpful to something that violates conservative principles?

It’ll probably happen when other business and property owners stand up and ask for their incentives too. Maybe it’ll be when Windward businesses ask for the city to host a festival in front of their shops. Something like this could  happen sooner than you might think. Later this week I’ll write about a portion of Alpharetta that could struggle with business closures and empty storefronts in the years to come.

And then there’s housing. Remember, it’s never enough. This property owner wants high density residential downtown to create foot traffic to his property. Is this article paving the way to high density residential above city center? Probably. This is an issue Alpharetta’s Council has been too gutless to address and likely won’t before November’s election. But rest assured it’ll be all over the news early next year.

It’s never enough. Eventually weaning has to take place. Let’s work towards creating a thriving and self-sufficient downtown, not one that’s dependent on others.

19 Responses to “It’s never enough in downtown Alpharetta”

  1. Kim June 10, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    Lee, maybe you could publish the line item budget items for signs, lightpost banners, banners for festivals, urn acquisition, urn maintenance, advertising, cost of festivals, etc. People might like to see these things published to see the totals, where everything is allocated, and just how quickly the nickling and diming adds up.

    Also how much was that gazebo that was just recently built and now torn down? I don’t think any homeowner would be so careless with their own money, so city, please don’t be so careless with our money.

    Reasonable expenditures are appropriate but please don’t be wasteful, extravagant, and extend favors to only certain businesses. Your job is to steward OUR money well.

    Of course then there is the $29M bond referendum that was just passed. The answer doesn’t lie in giving other businesses their subsidy but to stop such heavy subsidization downtown. And I say this as someone who lives on the fringe of downtown where it could benefit me. But principally, this is just wrong.

    Picking winners and losers is not a conservative government’s role. If you offer a product people want, they will come on their own. We see this in other nearby communities.

    People of Alpharetta, do your research to see who voted for what and when election season comes and they knock on your door, make them defend their votes.

  2. Kim June 10, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    Also publish WHO is awarded the contracts for these various expenditures happening downtown.

  3. J June 10, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    If there are good restaurants and stores people will come to them. How much traffic goes through downtown Alpharetta on highway 9 and Roswell St each day? I would say more than enough to support decent restaurants and shops. I don’t believe spending more and more tax dollars are needed to support businesses. If they can’t survive on their own why should the government be able to say a business located in downtown alpharetta deserves tax dollars to support it over a business in another location of Alpharetta. Will the tax payers have to fund enhancements at Avalon when it opens as well? Where does it end?

  4. Jen June 11, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    The article in the Revue and News last week was a direct counter to the “denial without prejudice” of the CUP vote on the Vaughan Drive townhome application. “A motion to approve narrowly failed”, I guess I will have to watch the video to see who voted for it since it was not published in the paper. Mitchell, of course, voted yes-his backers have businesses within walking distance of the proposed townhomes. By the way, if Fulton County approves NAP’s request for tax abatements we will be funding Avalon for 10 years. Interesting that Toro tweeted last week making it sound like they had already approved the tax abatements, yet I can’t find confirmation of that anywhere.

  5. Kim June 11, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    @Jen,
    There is something not quite right about the Toro/Avalon story. Are we being played?

  6. A June 12, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    I will not believe Avalon will happen until I see businesses up and running over there. It just all sounds very fishy and it doesn’t look like a lot of work is actually happening.

  7. Jen June 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    I definitely sense some spin going on. I sincerely hope it is real “signing” and also hopeful that Fulton County will exercise due diligence in confirming how much “signing” has happened before agreeing to any tax abatements.

  8. Lee June 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    Avalon’s tax abatements have already been approved by the Development Authority of Fulton County.

  9. Kim June 12, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    Is it common to acquire tax abatements this far along in the process? It seems like that is something NAP would have obtained and/or made conditional to getting Alpharetta’s approval of the project? I thought the story was that they were self-financed or at least had their financing in place already? No? It sounds like something happened along the way. We don’t seem to have the whole story here.

  10. A June 13, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    I’m still very wary of Avalon. It looks like a lot of smoke and mirrors right now and not a lot of action happening out at the work site. The huge new RaceTrac gas station is coming up, and they will benefit from the new Westside Pkwy traffic, but if Avalon goes under and never materializes, are we stuck with that eyesore of a dirt pile forever?

  11. Lee June 13, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    I see no reason to think that Avalon won’t happen. Permits have been issued and grading is happening now. The old parking deck is finally gone (hallelujah). Construction is supposed to begin in September.

  12. A June 13, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    I want to be optimistic, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

  13. Mike June 13, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    I think you make some good points Lee.

    First off, Kim, you act like the city council of Alpharetta has some big conspiracy going on against you. I’m sure they do (sarcasm). To the main point…

    As a conservative/libertarian so to speak one thing I’m against is corporate welfare. Although the downtown area is not a corporate entity, just a collection of small business, the concept still applies.

    I’ve lived in the area for 25 years and one of the biggest areas of disappointment and opportunities exist in downtown Alpharetta. I’ve seen more done in downtown in the last two years than the past 23 years. It good to know that they have a governing body that sees this as an opportunity for the city’s success.

    From what I understand and have seen in the years is that you have a group of “old-timers”(not making fun of age, just people who have held property in the downtown area for a long time) want to have a large amount of say in the direction in downtown. I think that’s fair. But, these owners since the last two years have done nothing to help themselves. In fact, I have never heard of these peoples names since the last two years and I would consider my self to be somewhat politically astute. They have catered to businesses that most North Fulton shoppers have no interest in and have shown no vision or desire to improve themselves.

    I may not be articulating my point as well as I would like Lee, but I hope you can get the jist of it. Furthermore, the city council and mayor in years past, particularly the last mayor, were part of the problem. From 1990 to about 2007, we had the greatest expansionary period of our time, Alpharetta included. Yet nothing happened in downtown development. I’m not placing blame, but those councils and mayors had poor vision.

    I hope downtown Alpharetta flourishes, I think the people of Alpharetta would be proud of a vibrant, beautiful downtown

    These business owners in downtown have done very little work themselves in making downtown a better place for the last quarter of a century(long time). Since its been the citizens outside the downtown area and a more progressive city council and mayor driving it the last two years, I think they should be the largest stakeholder in the development and say of downtown. From reading the papers, message boards, and your blog, I see more good ideas from them then these “downtown owners.” I would tell there council to remember who you work for and not give in to people who feel they are entitled to something.

    Good topic!

  14. Kim June 14, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    “First off, Kim, you act like the city council of Alpharetta has some big conspiracy going on against you. I’m sure they do (sarcasm).”

    Not sure how you got that impression but something I said evidently hit a nerve.

    “As a conservative/libertarian so to speak one thing I’m against is corporate welfare. Although the downtown area is not a corporate entity, just a collection of small business, the concept still applies. …. I’ve seen more done in downtown in the last two years than the past 23 years. It good to know that they have a governing body that sees this as an opportunity for the city’s success. “

    You contradict yourself.

    “From what I understand and have seen in the years is that you have a group of “old-timers”(not making fun of age, just people who have held property in the downtown area for a long time) want to have a large amount of say in the direction in downtown. I think that’s fair. But, these owners since the last two years have done nothing to help themselves. In fact, I have never heard of these peoples names since the last two years and I would consider my self to be somewhat politically astute. They have catered to businesses that most North Fulton shoppers have no interest in and have shown no vision or desire to improve themselves.

    The insinuation is South Main. There is some irony in not being able to control that family even after “gifting” them a generous rezoning on another property — a rezoning that went against the Comprehensive Plan, the Planning Commission’s recommendations, and a well-organized group of nearby property owners. It was all about the land owner’s property rights then. Why not when it applies to South Main? And BTW, I do patronize a few of those businesses on a regular basis.

    “From 1990 to about 2007, we had the greatest expansionary period of our time, Alpharetta included. Yet nothing happened in downtown development. I’m not placing blame, but those councils and mayors had poor vision.”

    I don’t think it is necessary to malign prior Councils and Mayors who may have had a small-town vision as opposed to the current urban vision. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason people flocked to this area is because it still had a small-town feel? There is some irony in that the current mayor actually campaigned on the previous mayors’ vision. He only Rubio’d us once elected.

  15. Kim June 14, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    For the record, I’m all for a thriving downtown that would benefit my own property value. I would be stupid not to. My vision of the downtown (quaint) is much different from “Mike’s” and of the current sitting Council and mayor (urban), but I’m all for a successful, small-town downtown that happens organically via the free market. My original point, and the point of Lee’s post, had to do with unjust excessive downtown welfare.

  16. Julie Hogg June 15, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Lee, I am confused about your wording on one sentence. You ask “Is this paving way to high density residential above city center?…..Do you mean ‘above’ city center as in high-rise condo’s? Do you mean geographically ‘above (north of) city center? ….I just don’t know what you mean by ‘above’. Could you clarify?

  17. Lee June 15, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    Julie, I’m talking about the four pods in the City Center master plan that everyone currently calls “future development.” I believe the floors above ground level will be high density residential. It could be condos but given current market conditions I wouldn’t be surprised to see a developer make a play for apartments. They’ll say it’s necessary for a “vibrant” downtown.

  18. Julie Hogg June 17, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    @ Kim – the gazebo was funded through private donations – not the city. Not sure what will become of it.

  19. Jon July 2, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    The issue at hand with downtown is the speed of traffic. Slow traffic down and you can have a walkable downtown. No one wants to pull out/park with cars doing 45mph. 25mph, a tree’ed median and decent downtown amenities and downtown would be the new Roswell. As someone looking to move here, the lack of support is rather disturbing.

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