Archive - October, 2013

Coro Reality to exercise options in Downtown Alpharetta

A long chapter in downtown Alpharetta’s development history may be coming to a close. Coro Reality is exercising its options to purchase 2.5 acres of prime downtown property. Looking back with hindsight, the deal is a case study in how not to arrange a public-private partnership with developers. Here’s the back-story.

Way back in 1997 Alpharetta’s Community Development Department was looking for ways to spur growth and development downtown. Sound familiar? They crafted a sweetheart deal with Buckhead-based Coro Reality Advisors. Coro was granted a 30 year ground lease on the properties along Roswell Street. They also had an exclusive option to purchase the properties during the life of the lease.

Coro promised they would develop two restaurants, retail and office space on the property. The city thought it was just what downtown needed, a little push to get development moving.

And to Coro’s credit, they did build Alpharetta Town Commons, the property where Corner Deli and Aria Salon now live. It’s a pretty building that fits well into Milton Avenue.

But one of the promised restaurant spaces turned out to be half baked. The suite where Corner Deli now operates was instead designed to be a coffee shop or ice cream parlor. It wasn’t built with a grease trap or restaurant-grade hood. Operating a deli here is pushing the space’s use.

Long vacancies have also plagued Alpharetta Town Commons. Meanwhile Coro’s other local property, the Alpharetta Crossing shopping center, has thrived. The property on Haynes Bridge (currently anchored by Walmart Neighborhood Market) received a lot of attention from Coro over the years, remaining almost fully leased through the recession.

By 2007 Alpharetta has had enough. Lead by the city’s Development Authority who oversees the ground lease, Alpharetta pushes Coro to do more. It was then that the spec restaurant space at 45 Roswell Street was born.

Measuring in at 5,300 square feet with a 1,300 square foot patio, it’s one of the biggest restaurant spaces in town. Certainly a large and thriving restaurant  would bring people downtown?

The restaurant has sat empty the entire time, unmarketable to an industry looking for much smaller spaces like Pure Taqueria down the street. Unfinished on the inside, it’s a beautiful facade on empty hopes.

Coro nearly had the place sold in 2011 to a film production company. The deal fell through. Thankfully the rumor is that Coro may have found a buyer for this space. And this may be the motive behind exercising the options on the property. We’ll keep an eye on who the future tenant might be.

The closure of the Coro story is relevant today. Alpharetta is actively seeking a development partner for the City Center project. The city has left the structure of that deal open, a negotiable detail that should be part of the proposals. Let’s hope there were some lessons learned from Coro that can be applied to City Center. Alpharetta can’t afford vacant and languishing properties in an area promised to be vibrant.

DeRito and Mitchell likely won’t debate

This post was supposed to be an event announcement. Unfortunately I get to write about what’s not going to happen. Alpharetta likely will not see a debate in its only contested Council race.

Mitchell BRAThe debate club at Alpharetta High School invited Donald Mitchell and challenger Doug DeRito to debate on Wednesday October 30th. The club has experience running these sorts of things, most recently hosting mayoral candidates in 2011. I’m told that DeRito accepted but Mitchell did not.

Other groups have also attempted to organize a debate to no avail. It’s disappointing the candidates couldn’t come together.

The result is that candidates will not be put on record for their views on key issues. And there are some biggies facing Alpharetta in the coming years. For example, the proposed convention center, residential density in downtown, and adherence to the comprehensive land use plan and its limits on apartments.

It also means that Mitchell won’t have to answer questions on his Big Rich Atlanta appearance in a public forum.

DeRito’s campaign hasn’t mentioned the reality TV controversy until very recently in an endorsement letter. A former Mitchell supporter wrote the letter and called out the Councilmen for his antics on the show. It was mailed out by the campaign and appeared in the Alpharetta Patch.

I believe it was a mistake on DeRito’s part to wait this long on the reality show issue. Nevertheless Mitchell was ready, blasting the tactic as negative campaigning on his Facebook page.

I disagree. Many have not seen the full episode where Mitchell appears drunk and belligerent. He calls women bitches and whores (excuse the language, it’s not mine).

Is it appropriate for a sitting Councilman to appear on television like this? Does it reflect poorly upon the city? These are questions Donald Mitchell should answer in a public forum during this campaign. And it’s not gonna happen.

BB’s Bagels fails their health inspection, again

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

BBs Inspection 20131017

I drove by BB’s Bagels last night at about 9:00. There was a contractor’s van parked out front and work going on inside. Apparently they’ve been in there all week working to right a terribly low inspection score. If you’ve not seen it, BB’s earned a 47 when inspected last Friday.

A lot of folks have asked for my take. So here it is.

First the good news… BB’s isn’t getting dinged for the biggies – temperature holding violations and cross contamination risks. This is a good thing. I’ve talked before about how you sometimes need to look past the score and dig into the details of the violations.

That being said, there’s no excuse for BB’s to earn terrible scores over and over. Their inspection is rife with repeat violations. At a certain point it comes down to management. There is a well-documented process that needs to be followed. The rules are published and apply equally to every restaurant. Read them, learn them, love them and live them. It’s part of the blocking and tackling of running a restaurant.

BB’s will point to their building as the cause of their terrible scores. No doubt it’s in rough shape. Last week’s inspection cites floors, walls and ceilings as being in disrepair.

But they can’t continue to lean on this excuse. If I had to break down BB’s problems I would give equal weight to: 1) failure to follow basic processes 2) crumbling building and 3) dirty and filthy conditions. The place is just a mess all the way around.

So will I go back? Not for now. I gave up eating in and ordering off their menu long ago because of the dirty conditions. Now I’ll have to find an alternative to my weekly take-out bagel. It sucks because I appreciate the vibe and character of this joint.

We’ll revisit BB’s later on to see if their renovations and training can turn things around. In the meantime, fugetaboutit!

The legend of Booger Hill in Cumming


Today we feature a post from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

It’s that time of year again.  Time for little monsters to come to your door with hands out begging for you to give them something.  No, it’s not tax day, it’s Halloween!  The ghosts and goblins come out when the sun goes down to scare and spook all of us.

Georgia is home to some pretty scary haunted spots.  There are many ghost sightings from Savannah to any one of the state’s many Civil War battlefields and camps.

One particular spot I’d like to mention is one that I accidentally came across this year.  It’s a short stretch of road north of downtown Cumming with the unfortunate name of Booger Hill.  Now the name Booger Hill may strike as many giggles as it does shrieks, but trust me, this place is creepy.

The legend is back in the 1850’s. Two slaves were accused of raping and killing a white woman.  The locals then hung those two men from two oak trees and buried them nearby.  Now, in modern day, a road just happens to pass right between those very two oak trees.  If you park your car between those trees, and put it in neutral, the car will roll downhill.  Eventually, the car will come to a stop, and then start rolling backwards, allegedly pushed by the ghosts of those slaves who want you away from where they are buried.  If you go back far enough to pass those oaks, you are doomed to die on the way home.

This thing really works.  And it’s more than a little unsettling.  Travel north of Cumming on Bettis Tribble Gap Road. Once you pass Dunn Road, start to look for the oak trees.  They are with other trees, but you’ll see them.  It takes a minute or two once you’re in neutral to really get going.  Also, most people do this at night to enhance the scariness.  I would recommend doing it at night to avoid traffic.  I was a chicken and did it during the day and had several attempts thwarted by cars wondering what the heck I was doing.  I finally put on my hazards and let it rip.  My truck stopped and started backwards.  Not slowly, but fast.  Those ghosts must have really not liked me.  I was even having a little hard time steering, I was going so fast.

I’m not much of a believer in the legend, but I’ll admit, I did stop before I got back to the trees.  It’s also said that if you sprinkle flour on your hood that hand prints will appear.  When I tried Booger Hill, I had pollen on my hood, and no hand prints were seen.

If you don’t want to really do it, there are tons of videos on YouTube of folks taking the trip.  One even has a “ghost” or something seen when the headlights came back on.  I won’t go too spoiler alert on you, but there is a scientific reason that Booger Hill works.  Even knowing that, out in the country, in the dark, with your senses heightened, I can see how Booger Hill is a neat, tucked away Halloween treat.

A glimpse into Alpharetta’s restaurant scene 16 years ago

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

wacky world dragon

Last weekend I took the kids to the Wacky World playground at Alpharetta’s Wills Park. If you’ve never been, it’s a terrific playground filled with fun things to do for all ages. And even though the equipment is 16 years old and all made of wood, the city’s parks department maintains it well.

The playground was build by a small army of volunteers from across the community. Signs thanking those involved still hang at the entrance and read like a who’s who of Alpharetta life a generation ago. You’ll find old councilmen and newspaper guys who still get bylines today. There’s long-bankrupt companies that once had offices here. I laughed when I saw Bear Stearns, the investment bank that failed in the 2008 financial meltdown.

And scattered among the list of companies are over 30 restaurants. Then it jumped out at me. This was Alpharetta’s restaurant scene in 1997. These were the places that were active in the community, sending volunteers and money to make Wacky World a reality.

Having first set foot in Alpharetta in 1999, I remember a few of these places. But many I don’t. And it’s mostly the fast food that’s survived. How sad. But it provides some perspective into how competitive this business is and how many restaurants don’t make it.

So without further ado, I present the Alpharetta restaurants of 1997. How many of these do you remember?

  • Amore Pizza
  • Arby’s
  • Blimpie
  • Boston Market
  • Brueggers Bagels
  • Burger King
  • Chili’s Grill & Bar
  • Domino’s Pizza, N Main St
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Fuddrucker’s
  • Hardee’s
  • Hooters
  • Houck’s Grille
  • Houlihan’s
  • Kenny Rogers Roasters
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken
  • Krispy Kreme
  • Lisbon Bakery
  • Longhorn Steaks
  • Low County Barbecue
  • Manhattan Bagel
  • McDonalds
  • Mozzerella Cafe
  • O’Charley’s
  • Papa Johns’s Pizza
  • Picadilly Cafe
  • Ryan’s Family Steakhouse
  • Sonny’s Real Pit BAR-B-Q
  • Southern Skillet
  • TGI Fridays
  • Waffle House
  • Wendy’s

Unprecedented grassroots opposition to density in Forsyth County

My wife and I used to live up Post Road in southwest Forsyth County. It seems like so very long ago. But back in the day we would occasionally get involved in issues like zoning and land use. It was during this time we were introduced to a small community group called The Post Road Committee for Proper Development.

forsyth_hoa_logo

One of the groups behind the Pledge for Balanced Growth.

These guys impressed me. The committee worked with developers to retain the character of that area, limit densities and add common sense zoning conditions. NIMBY was not their gameplan as they understood that growth was coming.

And they were very successful. Over the years the Post Road Committee had a hand in shaping just about every project you see today in this part of the county. If you’ve been to the new library on Post Road, thank the committee. About ten years ago they pushed a developer to donate the land where it currently sits.

Groups like this sat dormant for most of the economic downturn but their contacts remained in place. Fast forward to the summer of 2013 when zoning applications began pouring into Forsyth’s planning department. Not only did the Post Road Committee reconstitute but new groups have sprung up. Their missions are similar – keep densities in check.

But perhaps the most remarkable action came last week when five homeowner advocacy groups, including the Post Road gang, came together to create a Pledge for Balanced Growth. The document (opens to pdf) suggests six changes including throttling back the rate of zoning approvals, limiting setback variances and increasing impact fees. They’ve challenged Forsyth’s County Planning Commissioners and elected officials to sign off on these ideals.

The combined group represents over 10,000 homeowners across 300 neighborhoods. It’s an unprecedented grassroots effort, something this blogger has never seen in his time covering Alpharetta and Forsyth County.

So hats off to those organizing this tremendous effort. And keep an eye on this movement in the coming months. If small groups like my Post Road friends can shape a community, imagine what a combined effort of this size can do!

For more information check out the websites of Forsyth HOA & Homeowners, Fix Forsyth Traffic, Forsyth Citizens for Responsible Growth and Smart Growth Forsyth.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – October 2013

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

This is a delicate story to cover to I’ll stick with just the facts. Draw your own conclusions. The city has received a request to replace the signage on the Azul Agave building on Old Milton Parkway. The new signs will be for “Urban Spice, Indian fine dining and tapas lounge”. Repeated calls to Azul Agave this week went unanswered yet the restaurant is still open. Not wanting the story to go unreported, your fearless blogger ate lunch here yesterday. When asked if changes were coming, my server mentioned that he heard the menu was being expanded. Humm.

Famous Original Coming SoonJust down Old Milton Parkway you’ll find Famous Original Pizza. They’re set to open in the old Mama’s Pizza location near 5 Seasons Brewing. You’ll remember that Mama’s relocated to near the mall over the summer. The buildout is moving along famously so expect an opening pretty soon.

And speaking of openings, next week is jam packed. Salt Factory‘s downtown Alpharetta location is set to open Monday. We first started talking about these guys way back in December.

Opening Wednesday will be Firefly Kitchen Bar on Windward. Check out their new website for information on the concept. Their menu is already available and looks remarkably similar to the Firefly you might remember.

Zoes Kitchen logoZoës Kitchen (with umlauts but no apostrophe) will open Thursday near the mall. Their building-mates Corner Bakery Cafe can’t be too far behind.

And who couldn’t use another fro-yo joint? Gainesville-based Sweet Monkey Frozen Yogurt & Cupcakes will open a store at The Collection Forsyth (fka The Avenue). Expect an opening near Thanksgiving. And across the street Starbucks is planning to offer beer and wine. Aldo Nahed at the Forsyth Herald has a story on it this week. It’s just like the alcohol concept they have at their Mansell store in Roswell.

The Midway community of south Forsyth has two new empty restaurants. Blu Bay Seafood closed about three weeks ago. And on Monday drive-in joint Sonic hung up their roller skates.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Collet French Pastry - Opening in early November on Old Milton Parkway near Sabri Guven Jewelry.
Myzenes Indian Coastal Cuisine – I’m told it will be south Indian vegetarian cuisine. Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth.
Rosati’s Pizza – Chicago-style pizzeria taking over the former Buckhead Pizza near The Collection Forsyth. Expect an opening this month with a large craft beer selection.
Great Harvest Bread – Mid-November is their target opening date on Windward Parkway.
Main Street Kitchen – Coming to the old 52 Bistro space on North Main Street.
Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe – Alabama-based chain coming soon to Windward Parkway.
Jose’s Mexican Grill – The sign is up and the menu online for this new joint on North Point and Webb Bridge.
Tower Burger – South Main Street in a former Sonic Drive-in.
Dunkin Donuts – Building two new Forsyth locations; McFarland at Hwy 9 and Peachtree Parkway near Dutch Monkey Doughnuts.
First Watch – They will be in a new strip mall on North Point and Old Milton. 2014 opening.

Breweries in Roswell, hooch in Forsyth, hard soda in Alpharetta

It’s been fun to watch the booming craft beer business in this area. From growler stores to breweries, this business is going gangbusters. Local municipalities are having a tough time keeping up. Alcohol ordinances are being updated all the time. There are yet a few more to report on this month.

Spirits USA logoRoswell is considering an ordinance to allow breweries. That city’s planning commission will hear the matter next week. Passage may come as soon as mid-November. No word yet on who might be interested in opening shop.

And Forsyth County continues to stay a step ahead in their alcohol laws. They are moving forward with plans to allow for distilleries. The proposed ordinance would allow for samples but not retail sale.

With deep roots in moonshine and bootlegging, Forsyth would be the perfect place for a craft moonshine distillery. I had secretly hoped someone would consider a business like this. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Cumming Patch reports that Spirits of the USA is behind this effort. Spirits makes a handful of liquor brands, many of which are flavor-infused vodkas. The company has operations in Florida and South Carolina but the founders have ties to Forsyth.

Back in Alpharetta, the folks behind Blind Murphy are branching out. Watch out Boone’s Farm! They’ve started making hard sodas under the banner of Naughty Soda. Their theme seems to be that of the naughty pin-up girl. Customers can expect a line of fruity-flavored drinks spiked with 5% alcohol. I guess the idea is to dizzy up your date if she doesn’t want beer?

Cafe Caribe – South Forsyth

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

In suburban Tampa, where I grew up, there’s a family-run Cuban restaurant in just about every shopping center. It didn’t take long for my family, re-los from North Carolina, to get hooked on this cuisine. The food was always bursting with flavor, the prices low and the portions generous.

Caribe lechon asado 1

A $7 lunch portion of Lechon Asado.

Perhaps that’s why I like Cafe Caribe so much. This new restaurant opened about a month ago on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth. They’re a lot like the Cuban restaurants I remember from my childhood. The restaurant is simple, unpretentious and the food remains true to the traditions of Cuban cuisine found in south Florida.

Papas rellenas stand out on their appetizer menu. These mashed potato balls are filled with beef, breaded and fried. They are perfectly cooked to a golden brown color and offer a nice contrast in texture. A dipping sauce unfortunately was missing and would have complemented these well. You also can’t go wrong ordering their ham croquettes. Delicious.

Caribe’s picadillo stood out. It’s ground beef chunks braised with olives and raisins. The flavor is complex with some sweetness from the raisins.

If there’s one thing Cuban chefs can do it’s roast pork. Cafe Caribe’s take on Lechon Asado is spot on and will keep me coming back for more. They roast pork shoulder and serve it sliced, not pulled. Prior to serving the slices hit the griddle for a quick sear. On the plate it looks like a pork chop, but it’s so much better. The meat, delicately tender under the caramelized sear, easily yields to gentle pressure from a fork. Complemented with onions and a garlic mojo sauce, it is delectable. Pair it up with some robustly-flavored black beans with yellow rice and you’ve got a stick-to-your-ribs meal.

A few items can be a tad on the greasy side. Arroz con pollo, served with a large leg-thigh quarter, leaves a good bit of fat on the rice. My wife didn’t enjoy this entree. Ropa Vieja, braised flank steak served shredded, is also a tad greasy yet still flavorful.

Cuban sandwiches are made the traditional way and with their own roast pork. Also on the menu is media noche or midnight sandwich. This Cuban sandwich variety is popular in Miami and features a sweet bread. It’s certainly not something you’re likely to find elsewhere around here.

Lunch specials come with rice, black beans and maduros (plantains). Lachon Asado is available as a lunch special and the portion is enormous. Small appetites could make two meals out of it.  And priced at only $7, I felt like I was stealing this meal.

There’s enough left on Cafe Caribe’s menu to keep me exploring. The sandwich list is vast. I also see paella. Maybe I’ll give it a try if I can pull myself away from the roast pork.

Cafe Caribe on Urbanspoon

Cafe Caribe is a winner, a welcomed addition to Peachtree Parkway’s blossoming new restaurant scene. Their kitchen is cranking out some seriously good Cuban eats. Just show the front of the house some patience as they work out the new restaurant kinks.

Slow start to Alpharetta campaigns

The September 30 campaign finance disclosures have been filed by both of Alpharetta’s fall candidates. The results are a bit of a snoozer, especially for this armchair campaign follower.

Incumbent Donald Mitchell raised a little more money in recent months and currently sits on approximately $15,000 in his warchest. Earlier this year he seeded his campaign with $20,000 of his own money, half of which came in the form of a loan. He’s since repaid that loan to himself.

Contributions from downtown interest continue to trickle into Mitchell’s coffers. Thus far he’s received checks from the folks behind children’s boutique Alex n Sis, cigar shop Tinder Box and Larry Attig.

Mitchell also collected a small contribution from Penn Hodge, Alpharetta’s king of strip malls. Mitchell campaign signs are being deployed at properties managed by Hodge’s firm. It’s an interesting endorsement.

Hodge seems to have a new-found interest in downtown Alpharetta. He was appointed to a small committee tasked with bringing a college to the old Milton High School campus. His firm also has a new real estate project in the historic district. It makes good business sense for him to financially support Mitchell at this time.

So here at Roots we’ll be keeping an eye on the cozy relationships being forged downtown. It’ll make for good blog fodder someday.

Challenger Doug DeRito has yet to raise outside funds as of September 30th. He’s kicked in $3,000 of his own money but that’s it. Don’t count him out though. DeRito’s done this a time or two.

Neither candidate has paid a consultant at this time. Expect these relationships to be revealed in the last campaign filing due just before the election.

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