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Legal ads and local news reporting

Legal ads. They’re the mice-type blocks of legalese in local newspapers that most ignore. If you’re brave enough to read them you’ll find foreclosures, meeting notices, liquor licenses and bid invitations. Recently while perusing these I found a legal ad inviting newspapers to bid on providing legal ads. Crazy huh? Actually I found two of these. Both Roswell and Alpharetta are currently considering bids from newspapers to become each city’s legal organ.

A legal ad seeking bids for legal ads

Are legal ads still necessary or even relevant in this age of the internet? Municipalities are becoming much more transparent on their web pages and social media campaigns. Forsyth County and the city of Alpharetta in particular are very transparent online. I can get far more detail on what’s going on than I can with a legal ad in a weekly newspaper.

Nevertheless municipalities will spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on this slow and antiquated way to disseminate information to citizens. But don’t blame them. State law requires the selection of a legal organ. Alpharetta, Johns Creek and Milton all use the Appen Newspapers for their legal ads. Roswell currently uses the Neighbor Newspaper (owned by the Marietta Daily Journal). Forsyth County and Cumming used the Forsyth County News.

Legal ad contracts create a relationship between municipality and newspaper that isn’t directly disclosed to readers. Effectively the municipalities are customers of the newspapers. And even if a paper doesn’t have a legal ad contract with a city, in the future they might bid on the business.

It’s these same newspapers that report on the happenings at city hall or a candidate. And like any article a paper writes about a client, the story is almost always going to be positive. It would be extremely unwise for a newspaper to report negatively on a city, a city employee or politician when these same people decide who receives lucrative legal ad contracts.

Most stories that are critical of local governments are first reported by either bloggers or media from Atlanta (the AJC, WSBtv, etc). That should come as no surprise.

I’m not leveling criticism at any particular newspaper. I know several local journalists and think they do tremendous work bringing compelling news to their readers. But readers need to understand when there is a financial consideration happening behind the story.

Independence Day in Alpharetta

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

July 4, 1776, the date that America declared its independence from Britain.  America has been onward and upward ever since.  It’s the freedoms we’ve earned since that day that allow me to write this article, although it’s the freedoms allowed by Lee to let me have this article published.

Independence Day is my favorite holiday, mostly because I can celebrate in the fashion that Americans love – by blowing stuff up.  Growing up in Atlanta, I had no access to personal fireworks due to Georgia laws.  Imagine the sadness of a ten year old boy standing in the driveway holding a lowly sparkler craning my head to the sky longing for more.

The fireworks laws in Georgia have turned most of the citizens into interstate traffickers.  When I was able to drive, my friends and I made the short 90 minute jaunt out I-20 to the first exit inside Alabama, where there was nothing except half a dozen fireworks stores.  We would load up and head back, risking fines and possible jail time.  That’s how much we love this country.  Today, the laws have relaxed a bit.   Fireworks tents have popped up in most large parking lots offering all kinds of sparking, flaming, exploding bits of freedom.

There are tons of other options for fireworks in Atlanta other than the “where are my fingers” do it yourself  variety.  I spent many a night asleep in the backseat while my parents fought traffic for hours trying to leave Stone Mountain after the display ended.  I’ve been to Lenox and Roswell.  Lenox was insanely crowded.  I ended up sitting in a bush in the Lenox mall parking lot.  Not the most comfortable experience.  It felt like I had Black cats going off on my rear end from the thorns.

I love Alpharetta’s Independence Day celebration at Wills Park.  Highway 9 is lined with families tailgating in their folding chairs and kids running about with the classic sparkler.  In addition to the fireworks, there is food, live entertainment and bouncy houses inside the park itself from 5:00 PM on.  My wife and I discovered a special secret place to view the fireworks – the parking deck at North Fulton Hospital.  It’s free on the weekends, but you will have to pay during  the week.  Drive to the top, park your car and wait for the magic.  As the fireworks roll on, look to the South. You will see numerous other displays from around the city – Roswell, Canton and maybe even Lenox.  It’s very peaceful.  Plus, it’s easy to get out and get home once everything is over.

So everyone have a safe and fun July 4th.  We want you around on July 5th to continue to celebrate the freedom of America.

Photo credit: bayassa (creative commons)

Could movie theater relocation sink Alpharetta’s Mansell Road?

In the next two years both of Alpharetta’s movie theaters along North Point Parkway are likely to relocate. The result could leave gaping retail holes along the city’s southern-most corridor.

The first to go will be AMC at Mansell Crossing. The chain is building a new theater up the street in the former Parisian anchor space at North Point Mall. It’s expected to open this fall.

While the chain hasn’t formally announced the closure of the Mansell Crossing location, it certainly wouldn’t make sense to operate two theaters in such proximity. The Mansell Crossing theater space measures 51,000 square feet.

Adjacent to AMC Mansell Crossing is a Barnes and Noble book store.The book store benefits from theater foot traffic. It’s a great place to kill time before a movie starts. This customer base simply isn’t there when the theater moves up the street.

The retail book business isn’t doing well. Barnes and Noble announced recently that they would close 200 retail locations over the next decade. Might this Alpharetta location make that list? The store here measures 25,000 square feet.

Regal theaters is building at the Avalon project on Old Milton Parkway. Their small eight screen theater on North Point will close once that move happens. That leaves 34,000 square feet vacant.

Two large spaces are already vacant along Mansell Road. The former Home Depot Expo Design Center, across GA-400 next to Sam’s Club, has sat empty for years. It measures in at a massive 87,000 square feet.

Also vacant is the old Champps Americana restaurant space. This 10,000 square foot restaurant is fully equipped yet the broker marketing the place can’t seem to find a tenant.

That’s over 200,000 square feet of retail space that could go vacant along or near Mansell Road over the next two years. It’s an alarming statistic that should keep political and business leaders up at night. Could the rash of vacancies cause a closure domino effect? Might Mansell’s restaurant row be next?

What incentives should the city consider to attract new business to this area? And there are uses that might work in these enormous vacant spaces? Leave me a comment!

Photo credit: Alonzo Jeter

It’s never enough in downtown Alpharetta

This year Alpharetta has had a singular focus on downtown. For the most part helping this struggling section of town is a good thing. The city has spent money on landscaping and plantings. They’ve created more parking along streets. Facade grants are available for downtown property owners. The city’s event department hosts all manner of functions and festivals downtown. A lot has been done and it’s working.

But it doesn’t seem to be enough.

That’s the impression you get from reading this article in the Revue and News last week. It takes a certain amount of bravado to be on the receiving end of so much generosity yet still ask for more. I’m describing a particular downtown property owner who’s in the paper, figuratively pictured with his hand out.

Don’t get me wrong. Helping downtown is a good thing. But at some point will it cross a line? Alpharetta is taxing property owners from Windward, North Point and elsewhere to create incentives for a small handful of businesses downtown. When does this go from being helpful to something that violates conservative principles?

It’ll probably happen when other business and property owners stand up and ask for their incentives too. Maybe it’ll be when Windward businesses ask for the city to host a festival in front of their shops. Something like this could  happen sooner than you might think. Later this week I’ll write about a portion of Alpharetta that could struggle with business closures and empty storefronts in the years to come.

And then there’s housing. Remember, it’s never enough. This property owner wants high density residential downtown to create foot traffic to his property. Is this article paving the way to high density residential above city center? Probably. This is an issue Alpharetta’s Council has been too gutless to address and likely won’t before November’s election. But rest assured it’ll be all over the news early next year.

It’s never enough. Eventually weaning has to take place. Let’s work towards creating a thriving and self-sufficient downtown, not one that’s dependent on others.

Bear sightings on Windward Parkway

If you ever need a reason to be on twitter, this is it.

At about 8:00 Friday night my twitter feed for Alpharetta lit up. A bear crept out of the woods near the intersection of Windward and Deerfield Parkways. Traffic at this busy intersection snarled drawing the attention of many hipsters leaving BurgerFI across the street. iPhone cameras whizzed away!

This comes a day after a similar sighting off McFarland Parkway in south Forsyth. No twitter pics were posted from this encounter.

So far none of our local media outlets have covered the story. But bear with them as I’m sure the story is coming.

What’s drawing bears to Alpharetta? I’m told they have an appetite for salmon.

Potential sites for a convention center in Alpharetta

Alpharetta has received two proposals from private developers that may pave the way to bringing a convention and conference center to town. The city seeks a public/private partnership that would pair a city-owned and operated convention center with a privately built hotel.

The details of the proposals are not yet available but the names of those who participated in the process is. Those submitting an indication of interest are…

Avalon – North American Properties

Avalon’s site plan includes a full-service hotel with development in a future phase. It probably wouldn’t be hard to modify the site plan of the eastern half of the development to include the convention space the city requests. Access to a parking deck is already in place and close proximity to GA-400 is a plus. NAP’s hotel partner Stormont Hospitality Group participated in the bidding process.

Northwinds Land LLC

The second proposal came from this firm along with Duke Reality and Pope & Land. It isn’t clear exactly which parcel they are interested in developing. Chances are good that it’s the 20 acre undeveloped parcel at the northeast corner of Haynes Bridge and GA-400.

It’s interesting to note who chose not to participate in the bidding. Worthington Hyde Partners and Penn Hodge attended meetings but did not submit a bid. They each have ties to the massive Windward Mill project. Its zoning includes a hotel.

The architecture firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart attended a Q&A meeting for the project. It’s not clear who they were retained by. Coincidentally this same firm is working on Alpharetta’s downtown plan.

Also missing is Cousins Westside. A 20 acre parcel adjacent to Encore Park was originally set aside in their master plan for a similar convention or performing arts center. However this idea appears to no longer be viable. An attempt was made earlier this year to amend the master plan to allow residential use in this pod. The attempt failed. The city’s request for proposals suggests that the project should be close to and visible from GA-400. Encore Park is neither.

It’s interesting to contrast this convention center project to that of the amphitheater. Encore Park came to fruition without a heavy commitment from the city. Alpharetta and Fulton County each chipped in $1 million towards the project. The rest of the construction costs and ongoing operations belong to the Atlanta Symphony and the Woodruff Arts Center.

Under the current proposal, Alpharetta would sell bonds to build convention center and would also operate the facility. The private developer would donate land and build/own the adjoining hotel.

The scale of this potential public/private partnership is pretty large by Alpharetta standards. Past partnerships considered by the city have not fared well. Alpharetta’s first downtown development plan had similar trappings and thankfully failed to launch. Then there’s the partnership with Coro Reality to development in downtown. It been successful only in creating vacant buildings.

So the proof will be in the pudding with this deal. The public won’t know specifics of the two proposals until Alpharetta’s council considers them in an open meeting. The two biggest questions remain… Will a convention center be viable in Alpharetta? Is there political will to make such a public/private partnership a reality?

Julie Hogg on politics, gardens and the “right to sell it”

The following is a guest post from Julie Hogg. You can read Julie’s work at the Alpharetta-Milton Patch.

When it comes to local politics, I’ve been known to carry on a bit.  Sometimes I just get riled up.  I can’t not speak about issues meaningful to me.

One thing that is meaningful to me is Alpharetta and saying that holds some irony because I didn’t choose to live here – circumstances just converged to bring me here.  I wasn’t happy here for the longest time, but then I had the opportunity to actually DO some things for this city; you know, get involved.  And I got involved with the thing I care the most about:  getting people into the garden, whether that be the Alpharetta Community Garden or the Alpharetta Arboretums at Webb Bridge, Wills Park, Cogburn Road Park, all of which I’m honored to say I had a part in creating.  I believe with my whole heart that if folks would get out of the house and connect with that great mysterious, wondrous, beautiful place – nature – that we would breath, hear, see, eat, sleep, and think better.  And most importantly to me, I think if we would calm down and release ourselves from electronics and the pressures of life to just ‘be’ in the garden or in the woods at a park, we might  find clarity in our souls.

And so, when local Councilpersons flippantly talk of changing the tree ordinance or chopping down 66 trees for City Center or building houses right next to a flood plain (in 2013!)  or squeezing in more subdivisions, which, regardless of the zoning, IS in and of itself, creating more density, I get upset because they’re messing with my garden – our garden.

Of concern to me at present is the potential sell-off and development of 13 acres of land on Rucker Road that contains flood zone and flooding potential.  I blogged about this last Monday on the Alpharetta-Milton Patch.  Since the 13 acres of land on Rucker are adjacent to my neighborhood, I attended a neighborhood meeting about it. Present at this meeting were residents, an attorney, a city councilman, a city staff person, and representatives for the builder/developer.  But that is all I can say as I was requested not to write about the specifics of said meeting in a blog (well, specifically, a blog on the Alpharetta-Milton Patch, but I’m being extra sensitive here).  Was this meeting THAT super secret and scintillating?  You’ll never know, my friends.  But what you can know is that I was asked not to write about it.   Interesting, huh?

There is a statement that sellers and their representatives often say in these situations.  “It’s my land.  I have the right to sell it!” Well, let’s clarify this idea a bit.  Thanks to our Constitution we have the right to own and dispose of private property.  But.  We do not have a guaranteed right to a sale.  Sales are not about rights.  They are about market forces.  And market forces are reined in by common sense, local ordinances, and the well being of the people at large – which is what makes eminent domain possible, but that’s another story.  Our Alpharetta City Council is proving that they believe that all medium to large parcels with a ‘for sale’ sign should be sold to developers no matter what the impact on nature or the larger community, both now and in the future.  I call that government intervening in market forces.  I also call it irresponsible. There are some other words that come to mind but that I can’t prove.  You can draw your own conclusions.

Jekyll Brewing – Alpharetta

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

There has been a beer renaissance in Georgia over the last couple of years.  Thanks to the relaxing of alcohol laws and policies there has been a boom in growler stores, home brewing and smaller craft breweries in Georgia.  There have been several craft breweries that have opened recently including Monday Night, Red Hare, Jailhouse, Red Brick and of course Sweetwater.  2013 will mark the opening of Alpharetta’s first brewery, Jekyll Brewing.

Jekyll Brewing is run by founder Mike Lundmark and co-owner/brew master Josh Rachel.  Mike, a former pilot, came to Atlanta 10 years ago.  He’s had the idea of opening a brewery for several years.  The changes with Georgia alcohol policies made this the time right to move ahead with his plans.

Josh grew up in Alpharetta and attended Chattahoochee High School.  He got his passion for beer and brewing from his father who is a home brewer and brewing judge.  Josh returned to Alpharetta after graduating from West Georgia College with a degree in marketing.  With the economy in the toilet, Josh took what was supposed to be a temporary job at Brew Depot, a home brew supply store.  He met Mike who would shop there for his home brew supplies.  They struck up a friendship through their mutual love of beer, which lead Mike to ask Josh to become Jekyll Brewing’s brew master.  Josh has been competitively brewing since 2009, winning several contests with his IPA and German style beers.

A sense of community made Alpharetta the perfect location for Jekyll.  Mike and Josh are eager to have the opportunity to improve the community by giving back much like other Atlanta breweries such as Sweetwater.  The idea is that beer’s changing from the stigma of just drunks to community involved small companies. Mike and Josh feel that being integral to the local area is just as important as the beer they will make.

And speaking of the beer, the goal is to start brewing late in the spring.  Licensing permits have been submitted and they are waiting on the approval to move ahead with the installation of the equipment and to start the first batch.  The plan is to start with two styles of beer and then expand to several other types down the road.

The build out is well underway at their location on Marconi Drive off of Windward Parkway near the entrance to the Big Creek Greenway. The brewery will occupy 5,000 square feet with the option of expansion into an additional 50,000 square feet as the need arises.

Jekyll will supply beer through a distributor first to local Alpharetta stores and restaurants, then to Atlanta and eventually the state.  The idea is to start as small as possible and grow organically through family, friends and the community.

Mike and Josh have a Kickstarter page in order to raise funds from the community. These funds will pay some of the bills and overhead costs that have been incurred.  The idea behind Kickstarter is crowd source funding.  In Jekyll’s case, someone can donate any amount. In return, Jekyll is offering prizes or “kickbacks”.  The type of prize depends on how much is donated.  They range from t-shirts to brewery tours to private parties at the brewery.  Visit their page for more info.

If they do not reach their goal by this Saturday they don’t get any of the money raised so far.  Mike and Josh have been out in the community spreading the word to help with the fundraising.  They have signs posted in various restaurants such as Taco Mac and in growler stores like Blind Murphy.  Blind Murphy donated $1 from every 64 oz growler sold last weekend to Jekyll’s cause.

There will be tours and tastings once they are up and running this summer very much like what Sweetwater and Red Brick offer.  They aren’t allowed to sell beer onsite, just tastings.  Down the road there might be events and gatherings held at the brewery.  It’s still very early in the whole process so plans might change.

Beer and brewing are a passion of Mike and Josh.  Both are very excited to bring that passion to Alpharetta with Jekyll Brewing.  If you want to help them out, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/41362897/jekyll-brewing-alpharetta-ga-hop-dang-diggity to donate before this Saturday. You can find them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @jekyllbrewing.

Alpharetta is thriving despite the naysayers

There’s a certain vibe out there in Alpharetta right now. We’re riding a wave of positive news about this area. It’s a fun ride. This is a cool place, despite the naysayers. What’s been going on?

Forbes magazine made local news a few weeks ago when it named Alpharetta as one of the friendliest towns in the country. It was an awesome distinction, one that certainly will be used by civil leaders for years to come.

Remember that this “suburban experiment” isn’t supposed to be working. Our neighborhoods with their inward designs and cul-de-sacs don’t promote a sense of community, right? At least that’s what opponents of suburban living have been saying for years.

Then there’s economic news. Unemployment continues to remain low throughout the northern suburbs of Atlanta. We’ve got the lowest numbers in the state.

That’s because of the jobs! General Motors is going to open a huge new facility on Mansell Road right where Alpharetta and Roswell come together. It will create over a thousand new IT jobs. It’s a huge deal.

Yesterday the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that HP will add 200 new jobs to their Windward Parkway campus. Last year they finished another burst of hiring at this facility that brought in a few hundred more.

Remember that our ability to attract large employers will be hurt if we don’t dramatically increase taxes and fund billion dollar transportation projects. That’s what TSPLOST advocates told us last summer. All these companies will move to Charlotte or Texas or somewhere, right?

Or how about the hip and creative 20-something generation. Remember that they hate Alpharetta. They desire apartments and urban living. If we don’t change our land use plans to welcome them, their creative jobs will move to Atlanta and this place will die. Remember all that talk?

Alpharetta is a tremendous place. Alpharetta is thriving. We’re blessed to live here. Remember this whenever a real estate developer, urbanist, politician or business leader tries to tell you otherwise.

Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB (creative commons)

Parental Guidance, filmed in Alpharetta, opens Christmas day 2012

It’s about time! Parental Guidance, a movie staring Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei, was filmed way back in the fall of 2011. It hits the big screen on Christmas Day 2012.

The film features Crystal and Midler cast as grandparents. They assume the role of parents of a misfit five year old who tends to wreck everything. Hilarity ensues.

Unfortunately early reviews of this movie are not good. This seems to be a common theme of movies filmed in the Atlanta area. But Parental Guidance is worth a watch to look for Alpharetta-area scenes. This is the biggest movie filmed in our area since the 2009 film The Joneses staring Demi Moore and David Duchovny.

The filming crew set up a base in Dunwoody while filming in Atlanta and north Fulton. Here’s a rundown of Alpharetta-area filming locations.

165 Pebble Trail

This ranch-style home near downtown Alpharetta was commandeered by the production company for two full days of filming. On-screen this will be Billy Crystal and Bette Midler’s home in Fresno, California. Look for mostly interior shots.

Shortly after filming ended the house was put up for sale. Of course the listing hyped the movie in a big way. It was reminiscent of a home in south Forsyth that sold after The Joneses was released in theaters. That home was used by Demi Moore during filming, a fact that no doubt influenced the sale of the property.

The Country Club of Roswell

Marisa Tomei was featured during scenes filmed here. They used the club’s ballroom and golf course. Look for country club staff and members as extras during these scenes.

Ocee Park

Little league scenes were filmed in this Johns Creek park. Skateboard legend Tony Hawk plays himself during scenes filmed here.

Independence High School

Filming occurred at the former Milton High School in downtown Alpharetta. No additional details are available.

Other Metro-Atlanta filming locations

  • The former Bloomingdales at Perimeter Mall
  • Piedmont Park
  • Atlanta International School
  • Gwinnett Braves Stadium
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