On Monday Gwinnett Technical College announced plans to purchase a 25 acre parcel in Alpharetta for a north Fulton satellite campus. This is a terrific win for Alpharetta and the technology scene in this area.
Unfortunately the local media’s coverage of the event has been somewhat lacking. Many stories have been near-verbatim reprints of a press release with perhaps a few comments from Mayor David Belle Isle from Monday’s Council meeting. Here’s how Alpharetta managed to hook this big fish.
Interest in a Gwinnett Tech campus in north Fulton dates back to 2009 and 2010. The school observed a growing number of students with north Fulton addresses enrolling at their Lawrenceville campus. School planners believed enrollment at a north Fulton campus could eventually approach 10,000 students.
By 2011 several entities began lining up to submit bids for the campus. At this point Alpharetta’s primary location was the Milton Center, site of the former Milton High School. It was also around this time that Sandy Springs pushed for a bid. But very much unlike Alpharetta, local opposition to the campus was immense. A divided Sandy Springs council approved their bid by a 4-3 vote. By the time spring rolled around, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta were among eight proposals for the campus.
But the project was nearly killed by the pen of Governor Nathan Deal. At the end of the 2011 General Assembly session he line-item vetoed funding for the north Fulton campus. The future of a campus here seemed bleak.
2012′s session in Atlanta showed more promise. The Georgia House passed funding for the campus but the Senate didn’t include it in their budget. It was saved in conference committee and managed to survive the Governor’s veto pen.
Gwinnett Tech wasted no time this year. The bidding process began almost immediately with proposals heading to Lawrenceville by early summer 2012.
Alpharetta’s proposal may have looked a bit different than the competition. The city favored no particular parcel in their offer but rather lifted up several that were available in the market. Included on the list again was the Milton Center and also a bit of land on Webb Bridge Road. But unlike in 2011, North American Properties now had a presence in Alpharetta. Their 25-acre parcel south of the Avalon project was included among Alpharetta’s pick list.
The package gave Gwinnett Tech leaders a choice of locations within the city limits of Alpharetta. So rather than favoring one particular location, the city could focus on other appealing aspects… like moolah! Alpharetta’s offer included an incentive of $4 million in cash.
On Monday Gwinnett Tech selected Alpharetta and NAP’s parcel. We won’t know of all the factors that lead to the decision, but here are a few that likely contributed:
Alpharetta’s financial position – Let’s face it, Alpharetta is a wealthy city with a strong tax base. And with a triple-A credit rating, it should be no trouble for the city’s Development Authority to sell bonds for this incentive. And while all bidders were asked to sweeten the deal with cash or land incentives, Alpharetta was best suited to this.
North Fulton’s newer cities simply lack the means to keep up in this regard. On top of that, Johns Creek and Milton are hamstrung by their charters which may limit their ability to float bonds.
Milton Center was undesirable – Even though the size of the parcel was far bigger than the NAP land, the Milton Center was never really in contention. According to sources close to the deal, Fulton County Schools may have imposed unreasonable conditions on the transaction. The school was also a greater distance from GA-400.
Salesmanship of Mark Toro – Don’t underestimate El Toro in this deal. His direct salesmanship played a part in Alpharetta’s win and the selection of the his parcel. Certainly this is more than a real estate transaction to Mr Toro. How will Gwinnett Tech’s campus complement the Avalon development across the street? It will be something to watch.
At the end of the day, Gwinnett Tech’s selection of Alpharetta is a great thing. It will create enormous opportunities for tech workers to sharpen skills and ambitious high schoolers to earn college credit. It will also be yet another tool to recruit and retain Alpharetta’s top-caliber technology companies.