Alpharetta’s new beginnings

Story by H.M. CAULEY/Photos by JASON GETZ

Downtown Alpharetta’s spectacular transformation has made it a go-to place for nearby residents and a sure destination for many others.

To start with, it’s larger. The new Alpharetta City Center has increased the downtown historic district by six blocks, thus expanding on its quaint charm. In all, it spans 26 acres with 100,000 square feet of new retail and 36,000 square feet of office space.

The mixed-used development wouldn’t be complete without residential living and green space. One- and two-bedroom luxury apartments and townhomes, named Amorance, create a picturesque scene above boutiques and shops.

Separately, new single-family homes have been built just a short stroll down Haynes Bridge Road from City Hall.

“Move-ins are happening now,” says builder Pam Sessions of Hedgewood Properties. “When finished, we’ll have about 30 houses with 2,000 to 2, 8000 square feet priced in the high $500,000s to more than $1 million.”

There are also seven acres of parks. It’s all anchored by the domed City Hall that opened in 2015.

Creating downtown Alpharetta as a destination had been on the minds of city leaders for years, but the Great Recession provided the chance to make it happen.

“Previous plans and attempts had gone on for several decades, but the recession allowed the city to acquire more property,” says Mayor Jim Gilvin. “The difference between this plan and the previous iterations was that they didn’t incorporate as much property. They were on a much smaller scale.”

The project is a public-private partnership. “We’ve intermingled public and private spaces,” says developer Cheri Morris of Morris & Fellows. For instance, Alpharetta’s town green park is set on private land owned by Morris.

Morris & Fellows developed restaurant and retail for the new city center. In addition to Hedgewood Homes, the private partnership team includes South City Partners, who are the builders of Amorance; and MidCity Real Estate Partners, who created the office space for DataScan corporate headquarters.

Locals have seen Morris & Fellows’ mark on city centers before. The firm redeveloped downtown Woodstock.

For Alpharetta, Morris envisioned a downtown that blends past and present.

She designed a replica of the 1850s Milton County courthouse to house Highland Bakery on the first floor and offices above. Next door, where Never Enough Thyme bistro is located in The Mercantile Building, Morris came up with a re-creation of a classic general store that she saw in a picture.

Nearby, flanking either side of the town green, are two white-frame structures that Morris calls “Jewel boxes,” created to mimic the look of a turn-of-the-last century train depot, with transom windows, green metal roofs and wrought-iron window panes. Morris’ jewel boxes will be restaurants: Cheringa, providing the energy of a Spanish beach bar; and Botiwalla, adding to its Ponce City Market location selling Indian Street Food.

“This whole project has inspired developers and builders to do the same style of architecture that looks like an old city,” Morris says.

A structure that can claim original status is the 1914 Jones House on the corner of South Broad and Main streets. Ninety-seven-year-old George Jones, who grew up in the home that his father built, is happy to see it transfigured into Holmes restaurant, led by Taylor Neary, former executive chef of Atlanta’s Marcel and St. Cecilia eateries.

“This is my first place as owner,” says Neary, who grew up in Roswell. “I’m looking forward to serving small plates and dishes from the wood-fire grill.”

Holmes is a family moniker and Neary’s middle name.

A Holmes highlight is the spacious porch and accompanying patio that overlooks a pocket shade park dominated by a 53-foot oak tree that experts have guessed to be between 80 and 100 years old. While removing the tree would have made building around it easier, keeping it was more in line with the vision for the project, Morris says.

“We even nursed it back to health, and now we’ll have three restaurants with patios around it,” she adds.

One of those is a new white-brick, one-story building that will be home to Citizen Soul with healthy, vegetarian-type dishes and owned by Phillip Cooper of Vin 25 in Roswell. The restaurant stands beside land that was owned by the late Hard Bailey, an African-American blacksmith, who operated his business there in the early 1900s.

“But even though it’s new, it was important to amplify the historic fabric of the location,” says Morris of Citizen Soul. “So the big glass windows and the brick reflect what might have been here.”

The abundance of new restaurants is expected to support the 200-plus employees anticipated to staff the retail spaces in front of City Hall and fill the 400 new residential units at Amorance, which sit atop the shops.

Already, the lineup of stores includes Mountain High Outfitters, a Natural Body spa and a mix of furniture and fashion outlets.

As the new businesses have slowly begun to open for business, Morris says their mere presence has spurred development close to the city core. A new boutique hotel, the Cotton House, is going up on Milton Avenue near Old Canton Street, new and refurbished projects are shaping up along Main Street, and more than 1,250 new homes are slated to be built nearby.

“People want different choices, and they want a downtown that’s the heart of the city — the place where business deals used to get done, where games were played on the sidewalks and people played checkers in the park,” she says. “With Atlanta being the poster child for sprawl, giving a city back its downtown makes sense.”

Mayor Gilvin says Alpharetta didn’t have an ideal downtown space until now.

“One of the reasons we had to create a city center is because there really wasn’t one before,” Gilvin says. “Cities that have been around 150 years or so were typically built along the railroad, the river or another major transportation lines. Most small towns in Georgia have remnants of buildings from those days. But Alpharetta didn’t. It was all farmland. We had a few small buildings and a few old homes along Main Street, but that was all.”

He expects the new city center to be a magnet for visitors well beyond the city limits.

“If you draw a circle about 30 miles across with Alpharetta in the center, the demographics are astounding,” he says. “Certainly, there will be people living downtown, but they’ll also be coming from all around. It’s not even finished, and we’re seeing a renewed energy. Downtown is now a place where people want to be.”

insider Tips

Voysey, the new residential development by Hedgewood Homes, is named for English architect Charles Francis Annesley Voysey, noted for his designs in the Arts and Crafts architecture.

Bikers, get ready to pedal farther! Part of the City Center plan calls for extending the Big Creek Greenway about 5 miles from Alpharetta to Avalon.

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