Archive - Affluence RSS Feed

RocaPoint seeks to bring mixed-use project to McFarland Parkway

What promises to be the largest mixed-use development in Forsyth County may come to McFarland Parkway. The yet unnamed project from RocaPoint Partners would mix residential, commercial and hotel uses at the southwest corner of GA-400 and McFarland Parkway and hopefully elevate this neglected portion of the county. But the project certainly isn’t without concern.

RocapointThe development would sit on 134 acres, 43 of which are unbuildable thanks to being in wetlands near Big Creek. 430 apartments are planned, some of which are senior living. 92 single family homes and 168 attached homes are also included bringing the total residential component to 690 units. The amount of commercial footprint varies from a minimum of 250,000 square feet up to a max of 550,000. Two hotel properties are included but will likely be suite products and not full-service.

Six years ago this parcel was zoned mixed-used (or MPD in the Forsyth UDC parlance). The plan was largely a strip mall concept with big-box retailers and apartments. A few years ago the plans were amended to permit apartments to be built without a commercial component. Today you can see these large and undesirable garden-style apartments along Ronald Reagan Parkway. Commercial development remained elusive.

RocaPoint’s concept is promising and unique for a few reasons. First, it potentially pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into McFarland Parkway. This is desperately needed.

Second, the developer would pay for a short extension to the Big Creek Greenway. The new path would extend behind the residential portion of the development and end at a newly constructed trailhead on Ronald Reagan Parkway with more parking and a new bathroom. But more important than this, it links the trail system up to a commercial development, something akin to the Atlanta Beltline. This is certainly more forward than Alpharetta’s near-term plans for its greenway.

The project is promised to be upscale. They’ve inked partnerships with noted mixed-use architect Lew Oliver and homebuilder Monte Hewett. In a public meeting Oliver made the bold claim that this development will be “more sophisticated than Avalon”.

And that gets into the concerns on the project. While this blogger would love to see an Avalon-like development in his backyard, comparisons to Alpharetta’s crown jewel are certainly premature and probably overly optimistic. Here’s why.

First, the commercial development is anemic compared to Avalon. RocaPoint is way too heavy on residential, in particular on the southern end of the property. Forsyth’s planning staff agreed and suggested a smaller residential footprint, a suggestion the Planning Commission unfortunately ignored this week when they signed off on all 690 residential units.

Second, the property is awkward in layout. The developer couldn’t get the Wendy’s restaurant and gas station properties under contract so the project wraps around them. The entire development is bisected by Ronald Regan Parkway, a four-lane divided road that isn’t exactly a walkable road to traverse.

Third, the hotel properties are lower end and not full service. They are some distance away from the commercial core. Office space is also less than Avalon.

RocaPoint lacks experience with projects of this significance. It poses a risk that the deal could fall through, something that weighs heavy on the minds of those concerned about granting more apartment entitlements on McFarland. A great deal of effort was expended to condition the project’s residential component to be high-end, appealing to rich empty nesters. Hopefully, like at Avalon, the price point will be high enough to discourage residents with children from moving in and adding to already overcrowded schools. But if RocaPoint skips town or goes belly up, all bets are off.

And finally, this project is flying way under the radar. By the time Avalon was at the Planning Commission stage, the North American Properties PR and branding machine was in full force and everyone was talking. There has been scant coverage in the media for RocaPoint. The derelict reporting in this Forsyth County News article last week was embarrassing and lacking of detail. Is there a reason this is being considered and approved in a vacuum?

Nevertheless, the principals at RocaPoint have been pleasant and professional to this concerned citizen, even when pushed hard in negotiations. They’ve not resorted to name-calling like their counterparts at North American Properties. That goes a long way. And while they don’t have mixed-use experience, these guys have worked in the restaurant development business. The potential restaurant lineup here is very promising, something we’ll write about tomorrow.

While there is a lot to be concerned about in the RocaPoint development, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of McFarland Parkway. That can’t be all bad.

Show Me the Money – Alpharetta’s most expensive steak

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

I recently received a $100 gift card to one of Atlanta’s fine dining establishments. Reading the menu online made me realize that a hundred bucks wasn’t going to cut it. It got me thinking, where in Alpharetta would a sawbuck not be enough? Continuing on that line of thought lead me to want to find the most expensive single menu item in Alpharetta.

oak steakhouse logoThere aren’t a ton of “$$$$” priced places up here. As expected, most of them are steakhouses. If you want a prime slab of cow, you’re gonna pay for it. Cabernet, Ruth’s Chris, and Viande Rouge in Johns Creek all are candidates. Keep in mind, the steak joints are all al a carte, which is French for “You ain’t gettin’ nothin with that”. All sides are extra, so we’re just talking the price for one steak.

So, who’s steak will cause your wallet to cry for mercy? The most expensive menu item in Alpharetta isn’t in any of the above mentioned places. The distinction belongs to none other than Avalon’s Oak Steakhouse. Its “Master Purveyors of NYC 24oz. Dry Aged CAB® Prime Bone-In Ribeye” is far and away the most expensive steak I’ve ever seen at $85. You read that right. In fact, three of the five steaks offered are $50 and over. I’m sure the Millennials will be lining up to drop that kind of cash on dinner.

Ruth’s Chris and Cabernet barely touch the $50 mark and Vinny’s on Windward isn’t even in the discussion. Oak’s got them all beat. I’m sure the steak is good, but really, who’s going to fork over that much money? That’s a “I earned my PhD” or “I was just elected President” or “I really want to sleep with my date so I’ll try to impress her” kind of a meal. Would even an expense account justify that price? Maybe it’s one of those menu items like the Ol’ 96er or the 10 pound burrito where no one really orders it, but the restaurant has bragging rights. Well, go ahead and brag, Oak Steakhouse, you’ve got the most expensive menu item in Alpharetta.

Where are the millennials at Avalon?

I liked this article from the Revue & News the other day about the residential development at Avalon. It was written like your standard economic development fluff piece they are so experienced in writing. But there are some interesting tidbits tucked away in the story.

First, only about a third of the apartments at Avalon have been rented. That came as a bit of a surprise to me considering how awesome North American Properties billed them. During the phase two proposal they talked of “unprecedented demand” for the apartments and long waiting lists.

The more interesting part of the article is the average resident age. An anonymous source reported to me that the average age of the Avalon renter was pushing 50 years old. The Revue & News article seems to confirms this citing an average in the mid to high 40′s.

Where are the throngs of millennials?

Remember that we have to build these dense mixed use developments to attract them, right? Alpharetta will die if they don’t move here and millennials don’t like the tired old suburban life we have. They will never buy a house or have children so we have to build apartments, apartments and MORE APARTMENTS! Apartments stacked on top of apartments!

Baloney.

Avalon is attracting rich empty-nesters. There’s nothing wrong with that as Avalon is very attractive to those who want to downsize yet still live the Robin Leach lifestyle.

So let’s call it what it is. Despite what you might hear during land use discussions, millennials are simply not moving to these developments in large numbers.

Alpharetta’s March gambling madness

I play in a monthly poker game. It’s hosted by a co-worker and frequented by friends and acquaintances. After the news of this week I’d rather not comment on much else about the game. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the players have concealed carry permits. And who knows, maybe a few of them have prior convictions.

Shocking huh? Hardened criminal this blogger must be.

So when news of the Pepperoni’s Tavern bust hit this week, guys like me uttered a collective “what the…?” Comments on the Alpharetta Public Safety Facebook page suggested that the SWAT bust was excessive, a misuse of resources and heavy-handed.

In my mind there is a vague and unclear line between a friendly game among co-workers and a large, organized gambling enterprise. Certainly Alpharetta’s police are not going to kick in the doors at McKesson because Bob from Accounting is collecting five spots for the March Madness pool. At least let’s hope not.

So I attempted to ask Alpharetta’s police this very question and got promptly ignored on every call I made to them. It still isn’t clear where this line is or at what point they wire up an informant and infiltrate your neighborhood poker game.

But by yesterday afternoon the story became a little more clear with a new press release from the city. Pepperoni’s game was large, with six figures in the kitty. It crossed that line and probably needed to be busted. Overkill on the SWAT team? Yeah.

In the end, Alpharetta isn’t really any safer. A handful of regular dudes are feverishly stacking books at the library, quickly earning those community service hours to get their arrest records removed. The owners of Pepperoni’s, who no doubt were stupid, may lose their restaurant in the process. It remains closed at this time.

Stories like this are interesting to follow for another reason. Alpharetta’s Public Safety Department is very careful to control the crime narrative in this town. News of this bust was quickly pushed to every media outlet in metro Atlanta. Perhaps it fits the mold and image of this city. The biggest crime problem we have is affluent people with so much money they can gamble big bucks on college basketball, right? Yet when a meth lab blows up an apartment, you won’t hear a peep.

In the meantime, I’ve got Kansas going all the way. Wish me luck. Daddy needs a new pair of shoes.

Reflections on Avalon’s opening

Avalon opens today. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you already knew that.

Avalon logoFrom the point of view of my writing interests, Avalon is in my sweet spot. It combines nearly every theme I ever wanted to blog about, from restaurants to politics to affluence, all into one neat little project. I couldn’t have asked for better writing material.

We here at Roots provided what I believe (and hope) has been the best, most comprehensive coverage of this enormous project. From the time the property went under contract to this opening week and beyond, we’ve written about it all. We’ve gone well beyond printing press releases and the stories spoonfed to editors from PR departments. We’ve tried to dive deep into the issues and discussions of this complicated and multifaceted development.

Comprehensive I believe our coverage has been. Impartial? Certainly not as this is an opinion blog after all. Many parts of the process have turned me off, in particular the back-room deal making and politicking. The sausage making analogy was one I used last year and it still holds true.

And then there’s Mark Toro. The guy is a character and at times has a snarky attitude on social media. “El Toro” was a name I once called him, a moniker he probably relished in a narcissistic kind of way.

But I’ll say this about Mark Toro… he’s delivered on what he promised.

Prospect Park

Photo credit: ajc.com

It’s this kept promise that’s resonated with political and community leaders alike in Alpharetta. Even the apartment opponents I know respect Mr. Toro for what he’s put together. After all, the memories of Prospect Park, Stan Thomas, an incomplete Westside Parkway, the mud pit and broken parking deck are not forgotten in this town. Toro’s kept promise resonates loud in Alpharetta right now, so much so that some on Alpharetta’s council were willing to go against their own past campaign promises and approve more apartments on Monday night.

The first few weeks at Avalon may tick some people off. The crowds will be relentless, traffic will suck, parking will be a mess and service kinks will have to be worked out. But in the end, Alpharetta will treasure Avalon. It is a beautiful development with outstanding restaurants and activities run by people who know what they are doing.

The  process that got us here was downright ugly at times. Hopefully we here at Roots chronicled it well. But at the end of it all, we’ve got a gem. Congrats Avalon on the opening. Welcome to Alpharetta.

Harry’s Farmers Market to close after 27 years

Harrys logoLongtime Alpharetta grocery store Harry’s Farmers Market will close their Alpharetta store on Upper Hembree Road on Sunday. The closure comes after being open for nearly 27 years. The grocery store was a pioneer in many ways.

The store’s namesake is founder Harry Blazer. The jazz musician and business man first had his hand in the DeKalb Farmers Market before going solo. Alpharetta was his first Harry’s location, announced in October 1987. The concept featured exotic fruits, vegetables, meats, breads and prepared foods made from scratch in-house. The offering was vast, much more so than you’d see in the store today.

The concept was ahead of its time, especially considering the proliferation of organic grocers today. The idea took off in growing Alpharetta, bolstered by the affluent and diverse residents who moved here during that time.

Two more stores would open in Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Another store in Clayton County opened and closed, its failure attributed to the lack of affluent customers to sustain such a concept. They would also roll out a smaller concept called Harry’s in a Hurry.

Good Eats at Harrys

Alton Brown filming episodes of Good Eats at Harry’s

Blazer took the company public in 1993 selling shares on the NASDAQ exchange. But by the time the late 90′s rolled around the chain began to struggle.

Whole Foods came along in October 2001 and acquired the company. They took the three north metro Atlanta stores but not the Harry’s in a Hurry concept. The acquisition was an important one for Whole Foods who at the time only had two Atlanta-area stores. It propelled the store’s expansion into the southeast. They’d keep the Harry’s name on the stores but their offerings were decidedly Whole Foods.

In spring of 2012 Whole Foods announced they would open a store at Avalon. Shortly after Avalon’s approval the company was granted a conditional use permit from Alpharetta to operate an office and distribution facility at the Upper Hembree Road site. This blogger suggested that Harry’s would close upon Avalon’s opening but was asked to print a retraction by Whole Foods’ corporate office. At that time they said they were exploring their options with the Upper Hembree location. But the writing was on the wall.

The company will indeed close the Alpharetta Harry’s, its last day being this Sunday. They will continue to make prepared foods here for sale in other stores. It will also house their seafood and regional offices.

Many Harry’s employees will move to Whole Foods at Avalon. That store will be unique in many ways. For example, it will be the only business in Alpharetta to hold a liquor license for package sales as well as consumption on premises. This allows for wine and beer to be served in cooking classes. They also have a growler permit.

Whole Foods at Avalon will open two days after the Harry’s closure. They’ll welcome guests well ahead of the official grand opening of Avalon on October 30th.

What will you miss the most about Harry’s Farmers Market? What memories to do you have from the store?

TopGolf – an inside look

We sent Mike Christensen to hack a few golf balls at the TopGolf media event. Here’s his report. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

We’ve all been watching.  Watching the progress on a lonely stretch of Westside Parkway.  The clearing of trees, the building of the structure, the erecting of the (oh my God) massive poles and nets.

TopGolf rangeOn May 20th, TopGolf will open its doors to the public and to Caddyshack quotes everywhere.  I got an inside preview of Alpharetta’s newest entertainment complex recently and what I found was a little surprising – and pricey.  But this is Alpharetta, so maybe not so surprised at the costs.

TopGolf, boiled down to its basic skeleton, is a driving range.  In all it’s fanciness, it’s a three story, semi-climate controlled, super high-tech, full bar, don’t skim on the materials and food… driving range.

The place is massive.  102 total bays to play a variety of golf-centric games.  The view from the tee-box  is impressive.  You’ll notice several holes of various sizes all over the yard.  In each hole are nets to catch the balls.  The object of the majority of the games is to hit the balls, equipped with GPS, into the different holes.  The computer will then calculate the distance and award points.  Pretty fancy, huh?

Each bay has seating and a touch screen to control the action.  And of course, there are TV’s all over.  You could watch golf, while playing golf.  Mind blown.  Don’t have any clubs?  No problemo.  Each bay has a selection of both men’s and women’s clubs to use.  Wave your club in front of the infrared sensor and a ball is deposited out onto the green for you. Very nice.  I never play golf, but I had a great time whacking away for over an hour.  There will be table service available when you’re playing so don’t worry about having to venture inside for refreshment.

If you do however you will be greeted by a very nice space.  There’s a full bar with seating like most high end restaurants.  Industrial stainless steel meets wood is the predominant theme with billions of TV’s scattered about.  The bar has a comprehensive inventory of local beers, which I was very happy to see.

top golf logoAfter you’ve played a few rounds of golf, you’re going to be hungry.  I tried a sampling of several miniature versions of items from the upcoming menu and was completely blown away.  The food was fantastic.  According to the presentation, 95% of the menu items are made from scratch.  There were little cheeseburgers with a green chile mac n cheese patty on top, house smoked brisket tacos with ancho chile sauce and slaw and shrimp and grits.

I asked the chef about the pickle fried chicken.  She said they take the chicken and brine it in pickle juice with jalapenos for six to eight hours.  Then they toss it with a rub and fry it in a pressure cooker.  It’s much like KFC, but KFC never made anything like this.  It was outstanding.  Juicy and not greasy.  A big hit.

The brisket tacos were spicy, but not too bad with the slaw offsetting some of the heat.  The burgers were my favorite.  The green chile mac n cheese adds a ton of flavor and texture to the burger and soft bakery bun.  I know the menu will have full-sized versions, but they should keep those burgers as small.  It was the perfect satisfying bite.

Looking at everything, the one question that kept nagging me was, how expensive is all this going to be?  Would this be a place where people can afford to go on a regular basis to hang out?  To be honest, it can be pricey.  The bays work on an hourly rate.  It’s cheaper in the morning at $25 an hour, and more expensive during prime time at $45.  That’s pretty steep.  Throw in the cost of food and drinks and your tab could run upwards of $100.  Of course, the more people in a bay will offset the hourly rate.  There are also monthly memberships that are claimed to be helpful with the cost.

I’ve seen the menu, and most of the food items are in the $9-14 dollar range.  Not terrible for the quality of food I tasted.  The beer is reasonably priced with even local brews in the $4-6 ballpark. The menu itself is 16 pages long with 7 of those devoted to beer, wine, sodas, and cocktails.  I wonder where they expect to make the most money?

Will the folks in Alpharetta get over their anger about the towering nets to give TopGolf a try?  Probably.  The space is huge, the games are fun and the food is out of this world.  But you do pay a price for all that fun.  Time will tell if prices will level out or will they keep people from coming back.

Disclosure: We received freebies from this business as part of a media event. You can read our disclosure policy on the about page.

Branding consultant nails it for Alpharetta

The inspiration for my blog’s name came from a 2005 New York Times article on Alpharetta called The Five-Bedroom, Six-Figure Rootless Life. Author Peter Kilborn later turned the idea into a book called Next Stop, Reloville.

The focus of Kilborn’s stores were these nomadic suburban gypsies who would follow jobs around the country, never sinking deep roots in any community. Kilborn also talked about the affluence here in Alpharetta. They are topics I’ve not written about recently. Maybe the economic downturn put the breaks on corporate relocation. Or perhaps I got distracted with other things to write about.

But this topic came crashing back on me recently. Tonight Alpharetta’s Council will receive an update on the city’s branding effort. Their consultant has finished an exhaustive interview process in an attempt to understand this area. And in my opinion, they’ve pretty much nailed it. If you have some time, read their report here (opens to pdf).

The report talks a lot about issues like downtown redevelopment, Avalon, and potential controversial topics like bars and nightlife. It also touches on that topic of reloville. One respondent spoke of Alpharetta’s transient population saying, “You move here to become the boss somewhere else.”

Another spoke of the affluence here, saying “life is not real” in Alpharetta. It was a blast from blogging past for me.

I don’t have time to get into it all today. But there are potentially dozens of tasty blogging morsels in this report. I don’t know where to begin. So I’ll put it to my readers. What in this report stood out to you? Where did they get Alpharetta right, or what did they miss? Do you think this consultant will create a brand that truly captures Alpharetta?

Donald Mitchell, on a trashy reality show?

Alpharetta Councilman Donald Mitchell is a reality television star.

Mitchell has appeared on multiple episodes of Big Rich Atlanta, a reality TV show on the Style Network. The show follows a group of wealthy women and their daughters who do whatever it takes to be at the top of the local social scene. If you’re thinking Real Housewives or Jersey Shore then you’re probably not too far off-base.

I’ve not watched the show but episode guides are online in addition to a few clips. It seems that Mitchell made his way onto the show as the interior decorator and friend of one of the stars. He bristles and overreacts when another designer threatens to steal one of his clients. And in typical reality show fashion, the drama boils over.

One episode guide talks of a drunk Donald using derogatory language towards women in the show. His antics earn him a drink to the face.

In the clip above we again see an inebriated Donald Mitchell at costume party dressed as a cowboy. He manages to crawl under a woman’s dress. Those on the show call it awkward and inappropriate.

Another scene was filmed at Sis and Moon’s in downtown Alpharetta. In it Mitchell’s friend scolds him for calling another woman a name for the female anatomy.

As is typical for a show like this, fans on social media sites either love or hate Mitchell. Some call for him to have a bigger presence in the show.

So it comes as a bit of a shock that Donald Mitchell would place himself in the middle of a nationally-broadcast and trashy reality TV show, with all the drama, drinking and embarrassing situations that go with it. How will his new-found stardom play in Alpharetta?

It’s likely to be a boon for his interior decorating business. Talk about exposure!

How will constituents view his antics? A sitting member of Alpharetta’s City Council is drunk on television with his head up a woman’s dress. Is this unbecoming of an elected official or good-natured fun?

And how will Alpharetta’s business community view this? They are very careful to protect the city’s image and reputation, particularly when it comes to business recruitment. This kind of exposure can’t be good for that.

Let me know what you think. In the meantime, I’m setting my DVR to record Style Network on Sunday at 9:00.

Home invasions in North Fulton are tough cases to solve

Over the past three years cities in north Fulton have witenssed six home invasions. As of the time of this writing arrests have been made in only one case. It’s an unfortunate reality of this growing crime in the affluent burbs. Let’s review the six cases.

January 2009 – Roswell

The owner of a pawn shop and his family were the victims of a home invasion in the Horseshoe Bend neighborhood of Roswell. He was pistol whipped and tied up with the rest of his family. The criminals made off with cash but were apprehended a few days later.

January 2009 – Johns Creek

Father and son business owners were tied up at home and robbed. The perps didn’t let a fence and card-swipe gate keep them from getting to the home. They targeted the victims based on the possibility of cash being in the home and made off with over $13,000 and some jewelry. No arrests have been made.

January 2010 – Johns Creek

Five or six men wearing ski masks invade a home in the Colony Glen neighborhood of Johns Creek. They tie the family up and assault them before kidnapping one victim. They drive him to Dunwoody before releasing him, making off with his car.

The victims of this crime were believed to be themselves involved in illegal activities. They moved away from Johns Creek within weeks of this crime. And despite offering a cash reward, police have been unable to make arrests in this case.

March 2010 – Johns Creek

Criminals targeted a family running a business out of their home. The family was zip tied while criminals ransacked the home. No arrests have been made.

September 2011 – Alpharetta

Men with ski masks and semi-automatic handguns storm a home in the Glen Abbey neighborhood of Alpharetta. They tie up the family and threaten them, making off with jewelry.

November 2011 – Alpharetta

On the eve of Thanksgiving bandits raid a home in the Park Glenn neighborhood. The crime is similar to Alpharetta’s previous home invasion. The perps make off with jewelry, cash and other valuables. Police are still investigating.

Thanks to Rosemary Taylor in Johns Creek for providing updates on some of these cases.

Photo Credit: SieBot (creative commons)

Page 1 of 41234»

Switch to our mobile site