Convention center negotiations should be public

I handle rejection well. It’s a valuable trait for a blogger that occasionally writes about government. But in this case my attempts shouldn’t have been rebuffed.

This week the City of Alpharetta turned down my open records request to see documents pertaining to negotiations for a convention center at Avalon. City officials are negotiating in private a deal that could result in a public/private relationship financed by debt paid for with increased taxes. That fact alone should result in a public process but it isn’t the case.

So today I offer two more compelling reasons Alpharetta should come out of the dark and be more transparent in this process.

Avalon Phase 2 – The proposed changes in Avalon’s phase 2 are complicated. It need not be that way. North American Properties’ application, which goes before Council on Monday, hinges on what happens in these closed door meetings for the convention center. The public and members of the Planning Commission have been put in an uncomfortable position. How do you consider a zoning request that is conditional on a private negotiation that no one know anything about? It doesn’t make sense.

Cobb County Braves Stadium – My rejected open request request was written similar to the one AJC attorneys made of Cobb County in the wake of the Braves Stadium controversy. That story is still developing and has Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee in very hot water.

Like Cobb County, Alpharetta is negotiating in private for a public/private deal that involves floating public bonds financed with tax dollars. Unlike Cobb, we at least know this is happening as Cobb residents were completely unaware the negotiations were happening at all. But the similarities end there in my opinion.

Alpharetta has the opportunity to do the right thing. They have the opportunity to set a high bar for transparency and ethics, especially in the wake of the Cobb County fiasco. It’s time for the convention center meetings to take place in public and not in executive session. The city should release documents pertaining to the negotiations. And all this should happen prior to considering changes to Avalon Phase 2.

11 Responses to “Convention center negotiations should be public”

  1. mrbuttox October 22, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    You hit the nail on the head. They are keeping it secret because of the fiascos with braves and falcons stadiums. They know the public won’t go for a convention center..people live in the burbs for a reason ya know..

  2. Eric October 22, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    When living in Florida, I recall Sunshine Laws and Georgia could use some of those rays. How public officials feel that they have the right to do business in private with the use of public funds continues to fuel distrust of our officials.

  3. A October 22, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    Transparency in government, what a concept! Yes, that was sarcasm. Alpharetta needs to be more open about anything that involves the public or its tax money. I for one don’t care if they’re putting in a convention center at Avalon. I plan to avoid that place and its traffic like the plague. They seem to have gotten off to a rocky start with Whole Foods, and I don’t see it getting any better.

  4. Tom Miller October 22, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

    It’s too bad that the City of Alpharetta is hiding what they are doing. I expected better, too. City Council has held an unprecedented 13 Executive Sessions since March, and the citizens have no idea what is going on.

    On Monday night the City Council is prepared to approve a major rezoning of the Avalon mixed use master plan for a conference center and to turn the project into the City of Apartments by approving 276 more apartments on in addition to the 250 apartments in Avalon Phase 1. It will become the second largest apartment complex in the City. What other mixed use community relies 80% on transient renters? Other Atlanta mixed use projects have condos and townhomes, too.

    Are the apartments being approved as part of a private agreement to put the conference center at Avalon? The 526 City of Apartments could generate over $1.5M in revenue PER MONTH.

    In the Avalon file, many major Alpharetta employers submitted letters of support for the conference center. Why do the major businesses know more about the conference center than the citizens do?

    Also NOT in the Avalon file: There was not one letter of support from anyone for the City of Apartments that City Council is ready to approve on Monday night. There is no compelling case for more apartments, nor is there community support.

  5. Red October 23, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    I agree with Tom Miller. There is no compelling reason for the City to finance an unneeded conference center. If Avalon is foolish enough to build the conference center, then Avalon needs to undertake the entire risk including financing.

    We already have enough apartments in Alpharetta. New units do nothing to enhance the value of my home or community. They can be sources of additional problems as they are at Atlantic Station, and will create even more school burdens and congestion at the GA 400 interchange.

    The Council should look at Avalon, not for the façade and hype now; but what Avalon will be in five to ten years. Atlantic Station is a prime example of what can happen – junk yard architecture and security problems are at the top of the list. The Council seems hell-bent on the high density urbanization of Alpharetta which is completely unnecessary for improving the quality of life for its voters or the economic health of the City.

    Today’s fashionable urban development is tomorrow’s slum when the economy turns down.

  6. Jen October 23, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    I agree that the opening of whole foods has really let people see apartmentville. It’s very similar to perimeter. Avalon is ok (I don’t love it or hate it, I’m just neutral on the project). just not sure what the vision really is for the city anymore. I do know rents are very high right now in Alpharetta. I guess more apartments will increase inventory and lower overall rentals in older apartment complexes. I live a very fiscally conservative lifestyle (no mortgage, no credit card debt, small home, drive a paid used card and cook at home). I probably won’t be spending too much money at Avalon, but will enjoy watching big spenders shop there.

  7. Julie H October 24, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Lee, I would be interested to hear more about this. I encourage you to keep digging for information.

  8. Jen October 24, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Red: I totally agree with you. It’s sad and I hate to be snobbish, but the reality is when young people or families move to the area for a home they look at Roswell, see the apartments, and move north to Alpharetta or Cumming (that’s what we did; we just really hated all the apartments in Roswell and wanted an Alpharetta address). Avalon really confuses me as I’m not sure how Alpharetta will be able to suport such high end stores (especially the furntiture stores like Arhaus) when places like Bassett furniture and Z-gallery moved out of North Point a few years ago. I admit that I make a pretty good living and would categorize myself as upper-middle class, but I probably won’t be shopping or dining at Avalon (as I’m more of a Clark-Howard, Suze Orman spender); but I trust that the developers did their homework and hope Alpharetta-ans will spend their money there to keep it from becoming run down

  9. Kim October 28, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    Red is right.

  10. Parker October 28, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

    If the secret deals with Avalon are good, then they should be good enough to be discussed openly.

    As Lee has documented in the past, several council members refuse to acknowledge clear conflicts of interest. When you look at this council, there is too much coziness with developers, too many ethics questions, and of course the criminal behavior. We deserve better and we can do better.

    We need more people on council who will commit to openness and transparency. Just remember that these men on the city council are usually running unopposed.

    Next time we come around to electing council members, let’s get some chlorine for the gene pool.

  11. Other Jen November 3, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    Maybe you should try filing an open records request with North American Properties? If it’s ok to link, here is a copy of a guide to Georgia’s Sunshine Laws:

    From the guide “Records prepared or maintained by a private entity in cooperation with public officials, or contemplating
    the use of public resources and funds are considered public records and are subject to the Open Records Law.”

    I get that there may be reasons for a lack of transparency for a certain period of time, but would hope that the information would be made available to tax paying citizens prior to an “inked deal” or a City Council vote. I’m sure NAP is aware creating animosity with residents might hurt their business, a little transparency might go a long way in encouraging faith from the community.

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