Thoughts on Alpharetta Avalon

I did some research into what North American Properties is proposing to build and here are my conclusions.

I’ve been thinking about Avalon - Alpharetta Avalon.  I admit, having just typed those two words together for the first time, it does roll alliteratively off the tongue in a nice way.  

It’s been pitched to us by North American Properties as a potential lifestyle center in the style of Santana Row.  I did my research on both the lifestyle center concept and the place, Santana Row.  To be sure, the lifestyle center is a kind of Disneyland for consumers with the goal to get you to spend money, linger a little, spend more money, and then linger a little to think about how you can spend more money.  Hey. We all have to make a living so I get that goal.  And I get North American Properties trying their darndest to identify the next best shopping moment.  But having followed their advice to take a look at Santana Row, I must admit I’m coming away from my look at it with the thought that it’s not that unique and certainly not very organic, and no, I don’t mean organic veggies organic.  I mean organic in the sense that something springs from the metaphorical soil of the place; the location, the people, the history, the current residents.  Santana Row apparently is meant to be a fun replica of both Broadway and the linear plaza of Las Ramblas in Barcelona.  I don’t usually associate Silicon Valley with Broadway and, even though I appreciate that California is full of Spanish architecture, San Jose is hardly Barcelona.  The question is, does Santana Row feel like it belongs to San Jose and to Silicon Valley?  Even shoppers have a certain territorial pride that stems from their vocations and how they spend their Saturdays.  

All this begs the question - will North American Properties try to replicate some “other place” at Avalon in Alpharetta?  I can’t help but to imagine in my mind’s eye slightly tudor-esque buildings and a faux Thames running through the center of the town green and climbing roses on all the buildings.  All this preceding vision stemming from the name “Avalon” of course, and its associate historical images - King Arthur, Britain and all that.

But what about Avalon will express this place – this town of Alpharetta?  This place - scarcely 30 or 40 years this side of being a cotton farming community.  This place – with our technological build-out, our call centers and our Fortune 500 companies and their awesome corporate campuses that are themselves mini-parks.  This place – with all the families that live here, mostly people who are not from here and quite of few of them from locales that are not stateside.  And let’s not forget this place - with a population extraordinarily concerned with park space, walking trails, trees and all things green.  Indeed, my own research indicates that may be one of the most pervasive sentiments of our Alpharetta residents and I suspect its power has been grossly under-estimated, both by North American Properties and by local politicians.   

What if you were to take those elements I mentioned above and blend them together?  Wow me with some high tech wonder that sits among LEED certified buildings, and LEED certified parking decks and site-certified grounds and is so awesome that it makes the covers of both WIRED Magazine and Landscape Architecture Magazine.  Tempt me with walking paths and bike paths and mesmerize me with tree canopy like Cousins did along North Point Parkway 20+ years ago.  And since Alpharetta is only a 3 season outdoor-enjoyable experience go learn why Opryland Hotel's indoor 9 acre Garden Conservatory works.

The site formerly known as Prospect Park is not tabula rasa because it exists here in this community and in this day and age, but the clay of this place and our history and residents and businesses is so good, so varied and so rich, there is much that can be sculpted from it without depending upon gimmickey theme park shopping experiences. 



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Mark Toro February 26, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Julie, Thank you for sharing your thought provoking perspective on Avalon. We are confident that you, and the entirety of Alpharetta, will be proud of what The Avalon Experience will mean to the community. Please continue to share your thoughts with us as we develop the next great American mixed use environment. Thank you, Mark Toro Managing Partner North American Properties P.S. Avalon will most definitely not be a "lifestyle center".
Lee at rootsinalpharetta.com February 27, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Awesome article, Julie. Probably the best commentary on Avalon I've read. I appreciate your opinion and perspective on the issue. On the whole I think Alpharetta's land use plans don't reflect the attitudes of suburbanites.
Rob Forrest February 27, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Mark and crew already have a list to pick from of some of the best retailers and restaurants in the country. It needs to be truly mixed use that's why residential and hotel uses are needed there to really make it a success. Alpharetta has its 900+ tech companies because of its land use maps and vision over the years. In order for Alpharetta to continue its success it will need to grow and change much like Buckhead and Perimeter have done not turning its back on it like Roswell and Dunwoody and even inside 285 down to Buckhead did.
D Smith February 27, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Thank you Julie for your article. It was very insightful. I agree that we are a multicultural, family, suburban and modern community who appreciates a green environmental landscape. Since we are in the heartland of the South, it only makes sense to be true to the community's roots while growing and developing the future. I'll give NAP the benefit of the doubt that they understand that as well. Thank you for sharing your comments and thus ensuring that they do get it. Many years ago, I witnessed a downtown revitalization effort in Greenville, SC. Albeit a much smaller town, it is very similar. It also a diverse population given it's the headquarters for BMW (German company), Michelin (French company) and more. Their vision was very hard to communicate initially because it was new, unique and different. At the time, there wasn't anything to compare it to which would paint a clearer picture. In the end, it was a huge success because the community and local history was well represented and incorporated. I am hopeful that NAP has a listening ear (and it appears they do) and that their proposal is such a new concept that it's difficult to give an example. Please keep us updated as I am excited about this development.
Bob Pepalis February 27, 2012 at 07:31 PM
The commenting system was not working for Paula Milliard, so here's some thoughts she asked me to make sure were posted: "Thank you Julie, for expressing a similar view 61 people have posted in the forum on the Alpharetta.ga.us website for the proposed Avalon development. I think it is entirely possible to incorporate our design concerns. The developer for our downtown did and the design is beautiful. Paula Milliard"


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