When a North Carolina town wanted a vision of its future it looked south to Alpharetta.

The north Fulton city is catching the attention of midsize towns such as Cary, North Carolina, and others where planners want to know what local leaders are doing to create high-quality development.

Rob Wilson, a planning manager for Cary, North Carolina, said Fenton, a $1 billion mixed-used shopping development that opened there in June, has “distinct similarities to (Alpharetta’s) Avalon” on Old Milton Parkway.

Cary staff visited Alpharetta in 2017 before approving the massive upscale project and again in 2019, Wilson said during a call with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We were soaking in details that would be important to achieve and get a look and feel,” Wilson said. “… It was very clear (we needed to figure out) how do you get that level of quality?”

Alpharetta has worked with developers to attract high-end retail, residential and office space while also connecting the destinations via biking and pedestrian trails including Alpha Loop which connects Avalon, City Center and the North Point Mall area. The upcoming Alpha Link project will connect the loop to the Big Creek Greenway's nine-mile trail.

Credit: City of Alpharetta

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Credit: City of Alpharetta

Alpharetta officials said the success of the city has evolved over decades but in 2010 no one thought that the city would be where it is today. Alpharetta residents have seen two districts redeveloped into live, work, shop and play neighborhoods in less than 10 years. Avalon, an 86-acre development of high-end retail, restaurants, homes and office space opened in phases starting in 2014. Located in the Ga. 400 corridor on Old Milton Parkway, the center also includes a hotel and a movie theater.

A remodeled City Center opened in the heart of downtown in 2018 and introduced similar amenities and luxury.

A third district is North Point. Neighborhoods surrounding North Point Mall and Haynes Bridge Road have become a draw for such corporations as Jackson Healthcare and Equifax. And a developer received a recommendation of approval from the Planning Commission for a $500 million redevelopment of North Point Mall at a Thursday meeting.

“A lot of people think it was an overnight occurrence but it wasn’t,” Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin said of the city’s growth. “A lot of things had to come together for the city to evolve the way it has.”

Alpharetta saw tremendous growth in the ‘80s and ‘90s when corporations and tech companies moved into northern parts of the city and North Point Mall opened, but the downtown area “devolved,” Gilvin said.

“The leadership of this city for 15 years, at least, had been trying to come up with a plan to revitalize our downtown area,” he added.

Alpharetta acquired 21 acres of privately owned land and residents approved a $29 million bond referendum in 2011 to create City Center, he said. City Council has approved requirements on how mixed-use developments are constructed including a policy that the residential portions of projects must be 68% owner-occupied.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in and want to learn about City Center or Avalon,” said Kathi Cook, director of community development.

In addition to Cary, representatives from Huntersville, North Carolina and Franklin, Tennessee said they have visited Alpharetta. Locally, Roswell and Dunwoody have consulted with Alpharetta’s community development department.

Anthony Roberts, town manager of Huntersville, said he and other staff visited Alpharetta last year and came away with ideas to revitalize the city’s downtown as well as an aged shopping center, Birkdale Village. Birkdale and Avalon are both managed by North American Properties.

New shops have opened at Birkdale and it’s beginning to resemble Avalon, Roberts said, with a brewery and new restaurants along the center of the main road. And now a hotel and conference center are being considered, he said.

Closer to home, Roswell City Council recently approved rules requiring apartments and condominiums to be part of a mixed-use development. Critics say the change can make housing less affordable, but Roswell officials believe it helps the city attract better projects similar to Alpharetta.

“Even with mixed-use, you have to look at what makes sense,” Cook said. “If you have a big mixed-use development beside an existing office development, does it really make sense to include office in the new project?”

Morrison Park, a 26-acre project of retail, restaurant and residential located in Alpharetta’s North Point Overlay District, was approved by City Council last summer for mixed-use rezoning without the required 25% of office space. A condition for the project requires the developer, Brock Built, improve connections to the millions of square feet of office space located nearby, Cook said.

“I think that’s a lot of the part of our success,” Cook said, of the city’s willingness to veer from requirements if it fits with Alpharetta’s vision.

Officials have pressed developers when doubtful of project plans. During a July meeting, the Planning Commission was critical of Trademark Property Company’s plans for the massive redevelopment of North Point Mall saying key elements proven to work for Alpharetta were missing.

The mixed-use project is a priority for the city and would seal North Point as a sister destination to Avalon and City Center. Trademark made a second presentation to the Planning Commission on Thursday that was well-received and the officials sent recommendation of approval with conditions to City Council.

Years before the pandemic taught people the value of outdoor spaces, research was showing Alpharetta the need for walkability and multi-use trails around dense mixed-use, Cook said. It reduces traffic and provides wanted amenities to residents and office workers.

The city’s Alpha Loop trail, a $51 million linear park has been partially funded by builders of projects along the multi-use path. When completed the park will link the downtown City Center, Avalon and Northwinds, a 258-acre office park near North Point Mall. It includes a 3-mile inner loop and a 5.25-mile outer loop. Both loops feature wide paved paths for walking, jogging and biking.

Developers have paid less in impact fees when agreeing to build trail sections, Cook said.

“We recognize that developers are our partners,” Cook said. “But ... instead of writing a check where they don’t know which other public project that would go to, they’re very happy to create it on their property for the public.

The city is creating an additional 1.2-mile trail called Alpha Link to connect the Alpha Loop and Big Creek Greenway, a nine-mile path, to the North Point area.

Dunwoody has a similar approach to connecting its park trail system after consulting with Alpharetta about redeveloping its Village area, said Richard McLeod, community development director for Dunwoody.

“We have some of the commercial developers do their portion,” McCleod said.

A planned mixed-use development announced by Grubb Properties in June will be located in another part of town between the new park currently being constructed by the city and Perimeter Mall. Dunwoody negotiated with the developer to build a portion of the trail, McLeod said.

The secret to Alpharetta’s ongoing success, Gilvin and Councilman John Hipes told the AJC, is the collaboration between residents, business and city leaders.

“There is an enormous amount of pride, almost a puffed up pride, amongst people who live here,” Hipes said. “We just hope we can to continue to instill that pride and be good stewards of the community.”

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