This article was written by Forsyth Central High School journalism students in partnership with the Forsyth County News.
By Jake Gant
In the bustling suburbs of Atlanta, visiting a mall is one of the most common things to do. When many people think of a mall, they think of one building that contains shops, candy machines, a food court, maybe a movie theatre and other services. However, this image is slowly vanishing.
Avalon, one of the most popular spots in the north Atlanta area, is a mixed-use development in Alpharetta, 13 miles south of Cumming. It includes 500,000 square feet of retail space, 105,000 square feet of Class A office space, 101 single-family residences, 250 luxury rental homes, and a 12-screen Regal Cinemas theatre.
This mixture of homes, shopping and recreation is leading developers to rethink the American mall and could become a model for the future of our shopping experience.
Indeed, North Point Mall, which opened in 1993 and has been one of Atlanta’s most popular malls, will be undergoing future changes to compete with Avalon’s new image of outdoor shopping and clean, modern designs.
The City of Alpharetta has approved 80 acres of mall property to be rezoned to fit 24,000 square feet of new apartments and retail. According to current plans, the area that was formerly occupied by Sears will be redeveloped into apartments and greenspace.
The project would include a multi-use trail wrapping around it on North Point Circle. There would be much more focus on a pedestrian-friendly environment by reducing parking to make room for parks, a playground, water features, and a rock wall. This is on top of opening the redeveloped mall to the rest of Atlanta via public transportation, by including a MARTA bus station.
“We all understand the importance of [the] North Point Mall, it has been the crown jewel for Alpharetta and our region for 20 years,” Alpharetta Councilwoman Karen Richard said. “The entire dynamic of malls are changing. Business plans need to change for mall owners. This plan brings features that are lacking in the area and enhance greenway activity.”
Not only is this project supported by the Alpharetta City Council, but it also easily picked up the support of the city’s mayor.
“We don't want just another development in Alpharetta,” Mayor Jim Gilvin said. “This is a community that deserves better, and this proposal reflects that.”
According to a local Facebook poll of Forsyth County residents, 92 percent of the 76 respondents supported the renovations taking place at the North Point Mall, while in a separate poll of 133 respondents, only 59 percent supported the idea of more mixed-use developments being built.
“I’d be OK with more mixed-use developments,” said one Cumming residents, who wished to remain anonymous. “As long as infrastructure is also consistent with developments: streets that accommodate the extra traffic, school sizes, and do not add to any existing or known congestion.”
The transformation of the American mall will be relevant for the future of Forsyth County development too. A brand-new mixed-use development called Halcyon Forsyth is expected to open this summer. Halcyon Forsyth is aiming to be “a new mixed-use village,” according to its website, with a focus on nature.
“We are building too much too fast,” said Matt, a student at Forsyth Central High School. “We need to work on all of our infrastructural needs before we can consider more development. What’s the point of building more of these [mixed-use developments] if we’re sitting in tons of traffic everywhere we go? Let's make what we have better.”