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Alpharetta Mayor Moves Too Quick for Council on Conference Center

The City Council pulled in the reins before giving permission for staff to arrange a feasibility study for a convention and conference center for the city.

Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle had to slow down just a bit with his plans to study a possible convention and exhibitors center for the city, with the rest of City Council voting to table telling staff to start the study.

Belle Isle had been working with City Manager Bob Regus since his term began on the idea, having traveled to Athens to visit the on a fact-finding mission on Jan. 19.

But City Council received nothing more than an email from Regus, and that was sent only a few hours before Monday night's meeting. Belle Isle had included the idea in his State of the City Address made on Feb. 21. The Monday email was the first "official" communication to City Council, according to what Councilman Chris Owens said.

"I'm disappointed we got this information at 3:15 this afternoon after you've been talking about this" to people since January, Owens said.

Owens said he thinks a feasibility study is a great idea, but the timing was disappointing to ask council to take action. He also asked the mayor if his Technology Advisory Commission had met yet, suggesting that group ought to have  a say in what the tech community it's intended to represent wants and needs to include in the study.

 Regus said the request for a permission to do a feasibility study for a convention and conference center culminated 45 days or more of prep work, "snce Mr. Belle Isle was first elected."

The ideas was one of the mayor's first initiatives, to explore a place where vendors for the technology industries in Alpharetta and the surrounding area could have conferences, exhibits and exchange information.

Paul Cramer of the Classic Center told Regus and the mayor that location is important to the success of a center. The Athens center has a convention center, conference center and a performing arts center.

Money makers at the center usually include events using the exhibit hall. Weddings, family reunions and church gatherings tend to break even, Regus said they learned. And theater events usually get corporate sponsorship for support.

So with that, we were duly impressed by what we saw," Regus said.

Many centers around metro Atlanta don't offer everything. Regus said the Cobb Energy Center is mainly a big theater with some space around it that can be used for a conference hall or exhibit space. Clayton County's conference center lacks and exhibit hall.

The North Fulton Chamber has to go downtown to find a place for an event, as the two main sites don't seat enough people, Regus said: the , and the on Edison Drive east of the Marriott. He said neither seats much more than 250 people. His own State of the City address was held in a tent next to that maxed out at 115 people.

Janet Rodgers, who heads the Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau, was asked for help and she provided feasibility studies done for other communities as examples of studies and the companies that perform them.

The mayor stressed the 900-plus technology companies, attracted by the fiber along North Point Parkway and Windward Parkway, which he said has led Alpharetta to "capture more technology jobs certainly per capita than any other city in Georgia," though he said Atlanta gives the city a run for its money.

Belle Isle emphasized the timing of the study also, saying Alpharetta is facing increased competition from its neighbors and other cities in other states for these tech jobs. Companies considering relocation to Alpharetta want to know what the city is going to do for them, he said.

Council will have to vote to take the item "off the table" before discussing it again, or voting on the feasibility study proposal.

Kyle Tripp March 09, 2012 at 09:00 AM
Why isn't this suggestion included in the Downtown Development plans? Not the right location?
James Drinkard March 09, 2012 at 08:44 PM
One of the components of the feasibility study would be the identification of one or more sites within the community that would make sense for this type of facility.

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