Downtown Alpharetta is getting a major facelift, but by the time the last crane finishes construction, you may not even realize the buildings haven’t been there the whole time.
About this article
- This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of 400-The Life, a publication of the Forsyth County News. To read the entire magazine, click here.
It’s Saturday, and the lawn nestled between refurbished square-block buildings looking onto either City Hall or a row of restaurants is speckled with families relaxing as their children run around, friends on a picnic and neighbors taking some time for themselves to lay outside.
Bikes rest by them, borrowed from the bike share program that allowed them to ride from Avalon to the new Alpharetta city center on the Alpha Loop. They even stopped at pocket parks along the way to rest, let their dogs drink water, observe the murals and scattered art pieces along the path.
This vision is not a reality yet, the blueprints not yet rolled away. Red clay is still being graded. Construction cranes still loom over City Hall. Space is still being cleared and laid out for the pedestrian and bicycle pathway.
But it will be.
With Avalon — a vastly popular mixed-use development just off Ga. 400 in Alpharetta — and the city center project — the new downtown being created east of Highway 9 on Main Street — being less than a mile from each other, city officials and planners came up with a grand scheme to connect the two.
“The third side is the Haynes Bridge area with those restaurants, Village Tavern back off the road, Ruth’s Chris. And there’s no connection to downtown,” said Chris Owens, mayor pro-tem on the Alpharetta City Council. “The mayor’s business office is at Main Street and Old Milton, and he walks to Starbucks to get away from the office and for some quiet time. He noticed a path behind the strip center, and an apartment complex has a trail behind it Kathi knew about.”
Kathi Cook is the community development director for Alpharetta. She, Owens, the rest of the council and other city planners are seeing their vision come to fruition in the creation of the new city center and the connection to Avalon.
“That struck the idea of connecting the three, so now we have a concept for an inner loop that’s a 5K, and an outer loop is five miles,” Owens said. “We’re requiring developers to allow for greenway space along 400 with a tree buffer.”
The Alpha Loop concept seems like it takes the best of each similar project and applies it to Alpharetta. There will be bike rental stations. Developers along the path must follow design standards. Pocket parks will dot the path. Resting points will feature gas fire pits, public art and wall murals and maybe even a bakery or refreshment stand.
“What’s fun,” Cook said, “is you can go to downtown and park in the garage there, rent a bike and ride over along the creek and go over to Avalon for a while and go back.”
The Alpha Loop and bike path is not the only refurbishing going on downtown, though that certainly will look the most modern. Buildings being erected in front of City Hall are all designed on aesthetic standards that center around historic buildings and walkable town centers. Ideally, old warehouses and buildings like the ones Krogg Street and Ponce City Market in Atlanta have been re-purposed for are available, but those don’t exist in Alpharetta.
“Everything is being built to look like they were something else turned into a restaurant, for example,” Owens said. “Or it used to be the Old Milton Courthouse, or an old church … It’s meant to be like Savannah or Charleston or any old town, where different property owners would don their own design and buildings right next to each other, but here inside it’s all one building.”
This change, this rebuilding, this grand-scale design that is essentially creating an entirely new infrastructure was not always received with applause and open arms.
People were upset about the change. It’s different. The unknown can be scary. Then, after public input and meetings, some aspects had to be changed because developers caught parts that would not work.
People were also upset about getting a new City Hall 10-15 years ago, Owens said, but now they love it. They love the building. They love the library next door. They love the lawn in front overlooking the building and downtown.
“For years, planners were pushing away from downtowns and toward the suburbs,” Cook said, “and now they’re moving back in.”
And while there will always be push-back to change before the results are known, it seems to be working toward what Cook describes as cautious acceptance.
Developers certainly have bought in. They’re all adhering to the design standards on the loop, and they’re giving more money than required for landscaping.
Owens said The Ivy Alpharetta — the same developer as Krogg Street Market — chose Alpharetta as his first suburban market location because of this grand plan.
Though Ownes and Cook said they haven’t taken one city as an example of what to do, they feel like they know what residents want.
“Roswell is a great example. That Canton street area, it’s a great example of how much people are craving and demanding community,” Owens said. “We call them taxpayers. I call them neighbors. People want to go be with neighbors and they want to share something in common, and it’s hard to rally around the old style of retail … People aren’t going to stop going to the barber and the dry cleaners in some of the strip places we’ve got, but they don’t want to go to dinner with the family in the strip centers. They want a place to go and be around outdoors with each other. I think people are just craving community.”