Making sausage at Avalon

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

Avalon logoWe’ve talked a lot about Avalon over the past two years. This is the 21st article I’ve tagged on this blog as being related to the mixed-use development. Hopefully I’ve brought you a lot of the back story of the development.

We talked about the project’s zoning and the showdown over apartments. We mention campaign contributions from North American Properties. Then I took Progress Partners to task for supporting the zoning.

Then there was the apartment swap and Alpharetta’s Ellman tract. And most recently we talked about the lucrative and controversial tax abatements North American Properties quietly received.

And the back story of this development probably isn’t over. Alpharetta is considering partnering with Avalon to build a convention center on the site. If the city decides to move forward with this then we’ll debate the use of public bond funds in this development and how appropriate that may or may not be.

And then there’s the talk about the restaurants and retailers at Avalon (This is my Friday column after all). I stopped keeping up with the changes a few months ago. It was difficult to tell who was in at Avalon, who was out and who was merely being kicked around in conversation.

Hopefully I’ve brought my readers a narrative of what it takes behind the scenes to put together a huge project like this. And I’ll admit that through it all my opinion of Avalon soured. A lot of this process was ugly.

But in the end, the product that’s likely to emerge will be a great one. Avalon’s restaurant list right now is amazing. Three in particular stand out.

First is spin-off concept restaurant Bocado Burger Bar. The Howell Mill restaurant makes a burger that tops many lists as one of the best in Atlanta. A burger-only concept from these guys should considerably raise the bar over the mediocre options we have in Alpharetta.

Second is a yet-to-be-named Mexican concept from Ford Fry. The celebrated chef and restauranteur will be making his first OTP venture here at Avalon.

And finally there’s Antico Pizza Napoletana. Never has a restaurant received as much hype as this one when it first opened in Midtown. Antico will be interesting to watch. They’ll be a formidable challenger to Campania Pizzeria Napoletana on Main Street (who recently made the cover of Atlanta Magazine).

Last week blogger Eli Zandman wrote about Antico’s expansion strategy. It’ll be hard for them to recreate the vibe of their Midtown location. There’s a certain backalley, hidden gem aspect to Antico that I don’t think can be replicated at Avalon. But their pizza knocks everyone’s socks off so who knows.

The rest of Avalon’s restaurant lineup isn’t too shabby either. All in all, North American Properties has done a superb job assembling this collection.

It takes a lot to get a project like Avalon going. It can be ugly. And we don’t know what other incentives NAP had to make to get these tenants to sign on the dotted line. Will they even be there on opening day? How about a year later? Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, knowing that Prospect Park failed at about this point in the process. Then again, I’ll believe it next year when the grease of a Bocado burger is running down my chin.

This Avalon thing hasn’t been pretty, but it’ll be great.

22 comments on this post.
  1. Alan:

    I’d be interested to see how putting a convention center in Avalon would disrupt what the city is attempting to do downtown. I’m not sure Alpharetta can meaningfully have a thriving downtown (which I’d prefer) and such a huge development a mile down the road, but who knows.

  2. Greg:

    Seems like I recall an announcement way back that Grindhouse Killer Burgers was going to locate there? I’m I miss-remembering that, or is there going to be some competition?

  3. J:

    Greg I believe several restaurants have been announced and later changed.

  4. SCSA31274:

    It seems that everytime a restaurant is even considered by Avalon, they report it. Lots of the them just kinda disappear and are never mentioned again. Avalon jumps the gun a good bit.

  5. Kim:

    @SCSA – I’ve quit reading their press because of this very reason. Mark Toro has proven to not be a credible source of information. I’ll believe what I see with my own eyes. Call me cynical but I even wonder if the earth movers will stop once the election is over.

    Regarding the convention center, read this abstract from UT in the Economic Development Quarterly
    http://edq.sagepub.com/content/16/3/195
    Convention Myths and Markets: A Critical Review of Convention Center Feasibility Studies

    When I think of the convention centers I’ve been to, there is horrendous traffic and the area around it tends to decay over time. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

  6. Parker:

    There is a lot of empty retail space in the area now. The demand for space is not high enough to support the Avalon aspirations. The only ways the Avalon can work is either to wipe out much of the existing space, leaving even more empty strip malls around town, or have tons of new customers travel to Alpharetta just to go to Avalon.

  7. Glen:

    Parker, that is an interesting idea. What type of attraction could be built to draw people from outside the Alpharetta area to Avalon? Ongoing festivals, Art galleries, small theater(so Verizon does not get hit), speakers, cooking demo’s? I vote for resort Casino that would have all the above and more!

  8. Scsa31274:

    Glen, you are a beautiful man. Casino, although my legal would be awesome! Avalon seems overly ambitious, but lets see what shakes out in the end.

  9. Parker:

    @Glen – I don’t know of anything big enough to bring in the number of consumers required to drive this level of density. Avalon says that they are building 570,000 sq ft of retail space. That’s a little more than half the size of the NP mall. Actually it’s more than that since some of the mall is becoming theater space. Is there actually demand for that space? How much impact will that business have on existing retail space in the area?
    Avalon is also adding about 750000 sq ft of Class A office space. There is already a lot of empty office space in the region. Who is going to occupy that new space?

  10. Mala:

    I think it will just be another giant strip mall. Nothing special. Would love to see city leaders develop alpharetta in a way that is completely different from the other burbs in atlanta. I would love to see a great dedicated bike system that connects the city and windward so workers can ride to their offices and kids and moms can ride their bikes to school. Would love to see the city connected by side walks so we don’t have to get in a car to drive a 1/4 mile for a coffee or to get groceries. Would love to see a cool trolley that runs during work hours and special events for local residents and have it NOT connected to Marta. Alpharetta is young enough and undeveloped enough to really create something special and unique from an urban/suburban development. It’s sad how developers are just looking for a quick buck. Lost are the visionaries of architects that created great cities like Paris and Prague.

  11. Mala:

    If we made alpharetta a lovely outdoor walkable and bike city, we would attract al lot more fun young and hip families and bells isle would probably even get a statue dedicated to him.

  12. Parker:

    @Mala – When you look at the last few years of street rebuilding around Alpharetta, there has only been a token effort at including bike lanes. The politicians are only interested in big money projects, not doing work that actually makes for improvement.
    The combined resources of the N.Fulton cities could make our communities international models for livable cities. Don’t hold your breath.

  13. Mike:

    @Parker – I would actually submit that the vast majority of streets that have been built or “rebuilt” over the past few years DO include bike lanes. Please elaborate.

  14. Parker:

    @Mike – the lanes that have been constructed are far too narrow and they usually only run for short distances where recent projects were done.
    We need a comprehensive strategy and plan – the stuff that our elected leaders are supposed to handle. It is not as if bike lanes were only invented a few years ago.
    Look around Alpharetta at all the short stretches of sidewalks that are not connected. It’s because the politicians only think in terms of the next re-election cycle. “Let’s cut taxes, that will get us re-elected!” I’d rather get better value out of the taxes that I’m already paying, but instead we see the big-time developers collecting property tax kick backs.

  15. Nate:

    @Glen, What type of attraction could be built to draw people?
    Within 2 miles of Avalon there will be an Amphitheater, a TopGolf Driving Range & Entertainment complex, an Ice Rink, and in the old Home Depot Expo Center a bowling alley, laser tag and rock climbing complex. Also over at North Point behind Bahama Breeze will be another bowling alley. You already have Willis Park for public recreation. And then throw in a new City Center. I am pretty sure things will be different a year from now.

  16. S Lee Guy:

    @Parker – Alpharetta has done this. Check out this article:
    http://alpharetta.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/bicycle-trails-what-do-you-want-from-alpharetta

    The city engineering staff worked closely with Bike Alpharetta and others to come up with this. There was also a public survey last year. So I disagree, I think Alpharetta has a comprehensive plan for bike routes and sidewalks within the city.

    Now with that being said, I don’t think bike routes provide meaningful traffic reduction. I drive Windward Parkway everyday and have yet to see a single bicycle in the lanes the city added a few years ago. Trails like the greenway are nice but citizens treat these as park amenities, not avenues for commuting. I cringe when I see GDOT money going towards them.

  17. Julie Hogg:

    So, I’m gonna take this conversation in a slightly different direction. Wonder if the Avalon thing is hinging on the MARTA conversation? Not trying to beat a dead horse…in fact, it’s not dead at all. The MARTA conversation is in fact just beginning in earnest.

    Here are some things to think about. MARTA is holding a public meeting in Alpharetta. NAP manages properties at Atlantic Station. Avalon could be a a facsimile of Atlantic Station.

    I moved to Alpharetta for the bucolic pastures and horse properties. That’s gone, but I’m holding on to the dream that Milton will stay bucolic. Will MARTA ruin all that?

  18. A:

    @Julie Hogg, I seriously doubt Milton will stay bucolic with horse properties when the city council has rezoned property and approved denser building. Case in point is the Beazer site “Glenhaven” located on Hopewell just north of Vaughan. They are squeezing 24 homes in that slice of land next to an assisted living facility, an established neighborhood and new townhomes that are coming up on Vaughan even though the planning commission recommended denying the petition. If the council is willing to do this, who knows which piece of land is next?

  19. Parker:

    @Lee – I get your point, however the city’s strategy has been to insert narrow pathways on the roadway shoulder, and only in places where there is reconstruction already going on. The greenway linear parks are nice, and while their recreational purpose is not likely to contribute to bike commuting, they do encourage bike culture. What will have more impact on bike commuting is putting in bike lanes that are intentionally designed as part of the transportation grid. That means wide lanes, independent from sidewalks, that are consistent over distances and build into the intersections. To go that far requires commitment, courage, and vision – a lot more than we’ve seen from recent political leaders whose vision is usually provided in a developer’s proposal.

  20. Parker:

    @Julie – What would it look like to break that down into smaller pieces?
    1 – Based on all that we know and can project about growth, business, etc., what are the public transportation solutions needed for the greater N Fulton/South Forsyth/Cherokee region?
    2 – Once we’ve got some understanding on #1…What role (if any) does MARTA fit into?

  21. Greg:

    Julie, I’m not sure if I get that. MARTA doesn’t come anywhere close to Atlantic Station.

  22. Mark Toro:

    Lee,

    As always, I read your post with great interest. I’m delighted that you feel that “the product that’s likely to emerge will be a great one.” We wholeheartedly agree.

    I’m always interested to see what Alpharettans have to say in your comment section and, whereas many of the comments do not warrant a response, I’m compelled to share my thoughts with some of your readers, as follows:

    To Kim, who wonders “if the earthmovers will stop after the election”, all I can say is…stick around.
    To Mala, who thinks “it will just be another giant strip mall”, all I can say is…stay tuned.
    To Julie, who wonders “if the Avalon thing is hinging on the MARTA conversation”, all I can say is…no.

    To all, thank you for engaging in the conversation. Avalon will be an extraordinary experience, one that we will all be very proud of. We are happy that the North Fulton community has embraced us and we look forward to seeing you all on October 30, 2014.

    Thank you,
    Mark Toro
    Managing Partner
    North American Properties – Atlanta, Ltd.

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