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.

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – June 2013

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

Don’t have a ton of new stuff to report. But there’s some restaurant news out there that’s sure to generate some conversation. Let’s get right to it.

Legendary breakfast joint BB’s Bagels announced this week that they have closed their second location on State Bridge Road. According to posts on Facebook and Twitter, the restaurant thought the karma of this location was off and that they were jeopardizing their brand. I agree that this location didn’t quite have the same vibe as their original McFarland store (which thankfully remains open).

BB’s continues to talk of franchising plans. Will a franchise store be immune from the karma issues that doomed their second corporate-owned location?

Also closing is the Johns Creek location of the Tilted Kilt. The “breastaurant” chain continues to operate a location on Windward. Could it be at risk of closure as well? A few years back the television show Undercover Boss was filmed here.

Replacing Tilted Kilt in the Medlock Crossing Shopping Center will be Hurricane Grill. This will be the first Georgia location for the Florida-based chain of wing joints.

Fish House Seafood Kitchen has opened in Boga Taqueria’s old space in Milton. Missing is the promised lunch buffet. I was also able to confirm that this is the same family that owned The Shrimp Basket just around the corner. Some Milton gastronomes will be able to draw an opinion based on this fact alone. So that’s all I’m going to say about Fish House!

Chill Restaurant and Lounge is now open for dinner only. The restaurant will offer upscale Mediterranean cuisine. Look for them in the enormous old Rainwater location on Haynes Bridge.

Also opening is Kitchen of Atlanta down in Johns Creek Walk. This is a small little restaurant offering sandwiches, burgers, pastas, chicken wings and a little of everything.

And just when we thought they weren’t gonna make it, OVR Coffee Cafe has opened in Forsyth’s Vickery Village. Look for the vegan bakery and coffee shop in the old Mommy Francis space.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Branchwater – Concept from Todd Hogan coming to Vickery Village in Forsyth.
Salt Factory – Their sign still says “February 2013″. Looks like the buildout has hit a few snags.
Main Street Kitchen – From the folks behind Roswell’s Nine Street Kitchen. They will be at 52 North Main.
Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe – Alabama-based chain coming soon to Windward Parkway.
Hop Alley Brew Pub – Brew pub coming to downtown Alpharetta.
Draft Beer Market – A growler store to open on Jones Bridge in Johns Creek.
Casa Del Sol Mexican Bar and Grill – Mexican joint in Forsyth near 141 and highway 9.
7 Tequilas Cantina – Mexican restaurant replacing Smokejack in Forsyth’s Midway community.
Jose’s Mexican Grill – Opening soon next to Zaxby’s on North Point and Webb Bridge.
First Watch – Breakfast concept building at Northpoint and Old Milton.
Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical, Zoe’s – Making quick progress building on Haynes Bridge near the mall.

Retail Coming Soon

Walmart – You’ll see construction starting soon at GA-141 near Brookwood/Mathis Airport.
Costco Wholesale – It’s big news in Cumming. The land is cleared along GA-400 and exit 15.
AMC at Northpoint – The new theater is taking shape behind the mall. Expect a fall opening.
Aldi – Coming soon to Johns Creek where Ace Hardware used to be.

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.

Copper River salmon in Alpharetta

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

Many years ago I traveled to Seattle for business. It was June and the height of the wild salmon season. I wasn’t real fond of the fish at the time but locals insisted I try it. I’ve been hooked ever since.

There’s a tremendous difference between wild-caught salmon and the farm raised garbage that’s available year-round. The texture is more firm and the flavors much more rich and intense.

The salmon fishery at Alaska’a Copper River always starts the wild salmon season. There’s is short season but they produce the best product. You may only have a few weeks to enjoy this fish before it’s gone for the year. But wild salmon from other parts of the Pacific northwest will be available for most of the summer and early fall.

Here’s where you can find this delectable fish in Alpharetta.

Rays on the Creek – They’ve been promoting their Copper River salmon on Facebook quite a bit recently. Yesterday it was pictures of a pineapple and jalapeno salmon topping being smoked on a big green egg. If you want Copper River salmon at a restaurant, Ray’s is likely your only choice.

Vinny’s – They usually offer wild caught salmon as specials throughout the summer. Chances are this isn’t from the Copper River but it’s nonetheless delicious.

Want to make it yourself? Don’t be intimidated! I usually marinate my fish for an hour or two in a citrus juice and soy sauce along with an aromatic veggie like onion or garlic. Pat it dry and pan-sear to medium rare in a touch of olive oil. It’s simple and really brings out the flavor of the fish.

A handful of fishmongers will carry Copper River salmon this year. Expect to pay $25-30 per pound.

Whole Foods/Harrys – Each will carry Copper River fish as well as other wild-caught salmon throughout the summer. Prices are steep.

Kathleen’s Catch – I’d buy from her. Prices will be about the same as Whole Foods or maybe a dollar or two cheaper. The difference is that you’ll get better service with Kathleen.

Other wild-caught salmon is available at Costco. Selection is always hit or miss with your best chances of finding something in the morning after they open. Prices will be good of course.

Grocery stores may also carry wild salmon including Publix and even Kroger. They usually don’t completely remove the tiny pin bones from the grocery store fish so be careful!

The Mediterranean invasion of Alpharetta

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

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe is coming to Alpharetta. This growing chain out of the Birmingham area will open their second Georgia location on Windward Parkway next to Ichiban Steak and Sushi.

But this blogger keeps forgetting to mention their opening! It might be easy to do. Taziki’s is just one name on a growing list of Mediterranean restaurants setting shop in our area. We like to talk food trends here on Roots and this is one that’s caught me completely, and pleasantly, by surprise.

I’m going to lump Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants into the broader category of Mediterranean for the sake of this article. We could split hairs I guess.

In the time I’ve been writing about Alpharetta’s restaurant scene more than ten Mediterranean restaurants have opened. It’s staggering. They outnumber Indian joints. Can this area support so many? Do you have a favorite? Let’s run through a few.

Main Street Alpharetta – You’ve got four options for gyros along this short stretch of road. Mac Meals to the south is small and overlooked. Seven Seas on Devore Road is very good with friendly folks. Cafe Efendi is an Alpharetta institution. I like their new digs on North Main. And don’t forget Gyro King up closer to Windward.

Cubicle dwellers can hit Papoulli’s on Windward or Jerusalem Bakery on Old Milton. Jerusalem’s chicken shawarma sandwich is among my favorite things to eat for lunch in Alpharetta, in any genre of food.

Mediterranean food near the mall is lacking. Fast-casual chain Extreme Pita open and closed in a short time. Close to that was Dalia’s Grill, a rare gem on North Point before they went under. The newly opened Chill Restaurant and Lounge will offer higher-end Mediterranean food in their cavernous space on Haynes Bridge.

Johns Creek shouldn’t be left out. 1001 Nights opened recently on Medlock Bridge offering Persian cuisine. Also doing Persian food is Noosh Kitchen on Douglas Road. On the fast-casual side, try Grecian Gyro in Johns Creek Walk. The portions are huge here. They’re also on Scoutmob for 50% off.

And south Forsyth even figures into the mix. Shiraz Cafe is a beautiful little restaurant that’s hidden from drivers on McGinnis Ferry Road. And don’t forget Baba’s Gyro and Kabob on Ronald Reagan. This gem next to a gas station took Cumming by storm a few years ago once word got out.

Do you have a favorite Mediterranean restaurant? Who’s making the best gyro in town? Let me know!

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?

Alpharetta’s Food Truck Alley

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today we feature a guest review from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

I’ll admit it, I’m pretty late to the whole food truck thing.  Really, this whole area is just becoming fertile ground for these mobile restaurants.  The city of Alpharetta has embraced food trucks and have gathered numerous ones of them for the weekly Food Truck Alley in downtown Alpharetta. The event is held every Thursday from 5-9 PM on Old Roswell St behind Smokejack.  There’s a rotating schedule of food trucks along with live music.  The idea is to get folks into downtown for some community fellowship. It’s worked.

There were several problems I noted the first week, but I wanted to see how the event changed and evolved over a few weeks to hopefully get better.  The lines at the various trucks were agonizingly long.  It took me nearly 45 minutes to actually get to the truck to place my order.  As I stood in line, I wondered how long it would take the average person standing in line to decide that it wasn’t worth it and head to a restaurant.  In the successive weeks, the crowds have died a little, but lines are still hefty.  The city has also added more trucks, nine trucks was the last count up from six the first week.

Another issue I discovered the first week was the lack of bathrooms.  I looked all over the place.  Not a Porto potty to be had.  The next week, I saw several signs labeled “restrooms” pointing the way to the Porto potties.  Two to be exact, way across a parking lot.  Maybe they were there the first week, but certainly no one could have found them.  The week after, there was one more added a little closer to the event.  There wasn’t enough seating either.  A half-dozen tables were set up, which wasn’t nearly enough for the hoards of hungry folks.  People would take over a table and set up camp the whole time.  Most people were either sitting on curbs trying to handle their fare, or were taking a hike to the park across the street for the benches.  There have been more tables added over the last few weeks but not enough to handle the crowds.

The variety of food to chose from is excellent.  Trucks ranging from burgers to sandwiches to meatballs to Vietnamese to tacos to cupcakes give everyone something to like.  I visited several trucks including Happy Belly, Mighty Meatball Mobile, W.O.W., Ibiza bites, Pressed for Time (paninis), and Yum Yum Cupcakes.  Entree prices range from $7-10 with fries $2-4 extra.  Oh yeah, drinks are $2-4 also.  So you’re looking at nearly $20 a person at the end of the day.  Try several trucks and it really adds up.

Smokejack also had a table set up selling food and drinks.  Up the hill from the event, La Casa had a gigantic sign advertising beer and wine for sale.  $4-6 for a beer or glass of wine. There was a family at a table with a growler of beer.  That’s an idea I can support!

I’m not really swept up in the whole food truck thing.  The food is good, not great, and really pricey.  What I like most about Food Truck Alley is the sense of community.  Families, kids, pets; they’re all there.  It’s practically Norman Rockwell.  The space is really nice, with one large tree and several smaller ones.  Shops like Sis & Moons are open for visitors.  There are several buckets of sidewalk chalk out for the kids, and me (I couldn’t help it).

The live music is one of the best aspects of Food Truck Alley.  And the best part is, the bands are composed of 12-16 year olds.  They’re really good!  They jam hits from Led Zeppelin, the Who, Bush and Aerosmith. I was impressed.

Downtown Alpharetta is a really great place to be.  I overhead someone say on the way to the Porto-potty, “I didn’t even know this was back here”.  I think that’s the idea behind the Food Truck Alley – feed people and get them to come downtown and hang out.  Hopefully, the city will address a few of the nagging problems to make this a great event for years to come.

Alpharetta incumbents in 2013

We’re in the calm before the storm. It’s that period of time before municipal elections when everything is happening behind the scenes. Potential candidates are gathering support but doing so privately, holding their cards close. But come August it’s game on for local politics.

This blogger predicts challengers for all three of Alpharetta’s incumbent councilmen facing re-election this year. I’ve heard a few names mentioned but don’t imagine any will announce their candidacy until filing begins. In the meantime, here’s how I see the incumbents going into the Fall.

Mike Kennedy and Chris Owens

These two are thick as thieves. They sit next to each other and vote with each other almost every single time. And after four years of serving they can probably complete each other’s sentences. Yet they have two very contrasting personalities.

Kennedy can be sarcastic at times, almost to the point of being abrasive. He’s gotten better about it recently. But particularly in years past he was known to trade barbs with residents online.

Owens is the salesman of the bunch. How he choose engineering as a profession is beyond me. The guy could sell ice to an Eskimo. It’s a skill that’s come in handy in recent years. He’s often dispatched to speak with homeowner groups and others who are unhappy with something. It might be a zoning in their backyard or concerns over a changing downtown plan. He’s smooth and puts people at ease.

Expect both Kennedy and Owens to lean on positive development trends during their campaigns. They will tout projects like Avalon and Center Center. However they will be very careful not to mention residential components in the City Center project. Even the city will not speak of it until after November.

But the two may have offended small groups of constituencies this past year. Homeowners in Academy Park were not happy about the shrinking park and city hall location in the Center Center plan. And neighbors around the Sharp zoning in the northwest part of the city left that process with an unpleasant taste in their mouths. Will they take out their dissatisfaction at the polls?

Donald Mitchell

I would have put money on a Mitchell re-election had you asked me before March. He’s a super friendly guy and probably the best retailer campaigner Alpharetta’s seen in quite some time.

But then the reality show came along. To say his appearance on Big Rich Atlanta made him vulnerable is an understatement. There’s blood in the water and opponents can smell it. If his antics on the show become a campaign issue (and you can bet they will), then he’s likely to blame bloggers for the attention and not himself.

Yet Mitchell’s vulnerability may be his best chance for re-election. How so? It could draw multiple challengers. Alpharetta’s asinine plurality voting rules would come into play, possibly propelling him to victory. Those concerned about his behavior may split their vote among his opponents. If he can garner 40-45% of the vote then he’s in like Flynn.

Michael Cross

No, he’s not up for reelection this year. Cross is counting his lucky stars that he chose to run for Jim Paine’s old seat in 2011 and not the seat Mitchell got. He’ll need the extra two years to deal with his DUI charge before facing the voters again.

How do you see incumbents going into the 2013 city elections? Leave a comment!

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – May 2013

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

There’s not a lot of new restaurants to report. We continue to chip away at our “coming soon” list. The first to open from that list is BurgerFI. I was initially critical of this chain for opening in a challenging location on west Windward. Three competitors operate within a mile. But FI had a strong first week. Their burgers are easily the best on Windward. Smash and Five Guys are on the ropes.

Also opening in late April was Rio Balsas Taqueria on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth. This is a second location for the restaurant started in north Forsyth.

Also in Forsyth, Indian restaurant Zafraan is changing names. The eatery on 141 will now be called OM Hyderabadi Indian Restaurant. I’m told that “om” is the Hindi word you say during yoga. This is strictly a name change, the ownership and menu of the restaurant will remain the same.

And to wrap things up in Forsyth County… a Mexican restaurant called 7 Tequilas Cantina will open on Post Road in the Midway Community. This will be the third location of this growing chain out of the Woodstock area. Look for them in Smokejack’s old space.

North Point Mall announced two new additions to their food court. Charleys Philly Steaks and Moe’s Southwest Grill will open this summer. With The Collection at Forsyth (nee The Avenue) and Avalon both striving for top-caliber restaurants, it’s strange that North Point continues to lease to the same type of eateries.

The only new restaurant to report in Alpharetta (outside the mall) is Jose’s Mexican Grill. They will take over the space formerly occupied by TRE Vietnamese. Look for them at Northpoint Parkway and Webb Bridge Road.

Relief may be on the way for shoppers at Windward’s Costco Wholesale. The city of Cumming approved plans for a new location at exit 15. Cannibalizing their stores is probably a smart move for Costco. The Windward store packs people in like sardines.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Fish House Seafood Kitchen – Seafood buffet coming to Boga’s old space in Milton.
Branchwater – Concept from Todd Hogan coming to Vickery Village in Forsyth.
Salt Factory – Coming to Tifosi’s old space on South Main Street.
Main Street Kitchen – From the folks behind Roswell’s Nine Street Kitchen. They will be at 52 North Main.
Chill Restaurant and Lounge – Coming to the massive Rainwater space on Haynes Bridge.
Hop Alley Brew Pub – Brew pub coming to downtown Alpharetta.
Crafty Draught – This growler store’s second location is coming to Old Milton Pkwy.
Draft Beer Market – Another growler store to open on Jones Bridge in Johns Creek.
Kitchen of Atlanta – Coming to Johns Creek Walk.
Casa Del Sol Mexican Bar and Grill – Mexican joint in Forsyth near 141 and highway 9.
First Watch – Breakfast concept building at Northpoint and Old Milton.
Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical, Zoe’s – Making quick progress building on Haynes Bridge near the mall.

Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today we feature a guest review from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

The wave of craft beer continues to wash over Alpharetta and surrounding areas.

Nick Tanner founded Cherry Street last year along with Dan Reingold and Jonny Bradley in Vickery Village in south Forsyth.  Nick was born and raised in Alpharetta and attended college at Colorado State.  It was out in Fort Collins, the Napa Valley of brewing, where Nick received a well rounded education in all things brewing.  He became a close family friend of the son the family who runs New Belgium Brewing.  The son had come back from beer schooling in Germany when Nick moved in with the family and was immersed in the brewing industry.

Nick started brewing beers after a friend of his brewed a blueberry porter in a Home Depot bucket.  It was a “if he can do it in that, I can do it too” kind of thing.  In 2007 Nick helped form a brewing cooperative in a garage on Cherry Street in downtown Fort Collins.  The goal of the club was to gather with other home brewers and brew together, sharing equipment and saving money by purchasing ingredients in bulk for the club.  If someone wanted some beer for an event or party, they were invited to come in and brew it themselves, rather than just buying it.  It lent a deeper appreciation for where the beer came from.

In 2009 Nick’s father Rick Tanner called and needed Nick to come back to Alpharetta to help run two new restaurants.  Nick and his father had the idea of opening a brew pub for a few years after one closed in Fort Collins.  The plan was to buy it but those plans never came to fruition.

Nick submitted the paperwork for Cherry Street in January 2012 and was finally approved to brew December 12, 2012.  Cherry Street has been growing ever since.  Beers are distributed exclusively through Tanner’s. Currently there are ten beers on draft.  There are plans to expand to twelve full time beers by summer.

Cherry Street brews in small batches of 100 gallons at a time.  Small batches mean more variety and less waste if a style doesn’t sell well.  Expect styles of beers like Irish Red and cream ales that can’t be found readily in the area.  Also look for Cherry Streets beers in growler stores, most notably Crafty Draught.

They are also currently adding equipment to keep up with demand.  Nick is hoping in the future to expand into the next door space and open a beer bar.  The goal is to become a public house of sorts, a community gathering place.

Community is very important to the guys at Cherry Street. Cherry Street hosts a beer bash on the last Tuesday of each month.  It coincides with a new beer debut and it ties in with a local charity. So far they’ve raised money for cancer charity Paint Georgia Pink, the West Forsyth lacrosse team and charity that provides clean drinking water in Haiti.

Not everyone can brew with these guys, but they will have contests in the future for home brewers to win a chance to have their beers on tap at Tanners.  Cherry Street also use a type of crowd-funding to assuage some of the costs of the brewery.   Called the Mug Club, fans can join for prices ranging from $100 to an eye watering $850. Currently there are 48 members.

Cherry Street has a strong social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  They offer brewery tours every Saturday at 2:00 PM and more events are planned for the future.

Brewing is not only a job for these guys, it’s a passion and obsession.  They won first place people’s choice in the cask category at the Classic City Beer Fest in Athens.  Come on by Tanner’s at Vickery Village and have a glass of a locally brewed, hand crafted beer.  And if the guys are in the brewery, knock on the door and say hi.  Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative wants to be your brewer.

Cherry Street Brewing Co-op and Rick Tanner’s Grille and Bar are located at 5810 Bond Street in Forsyth County’s Vickery Village.

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