Former State Farm campus in Johns Creek could see Avalon-style redo

Views of the former State Farm Campus in John”s Creek on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. The vacant complex is the site of a proposed redevelopment plan for an Avalon-style shopping area. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Views of the former State Farm Campus in John”s Creek on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. The vacant complex is the site of a proposed redevelopment plan for an Avalon-style shopping area. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

‘Unique’ project to fit broader Johns Creek Town Center vision, and won’t be simply ‘Avalon 2.0,’ developer says.

Johns Creek, the affluent northern Fulton County suburb of stately homes, manicured lawns and cloistered office parks, for years has wanted a destination that defines the community of about 83,000.

The city, incorporated in 2006, last October published a plan laying out its vision to turn nearly 200 acres of underused land within Atlanta Technology Park and a former State Farm office complex along McGinnis Ferry Road into a new downtown. That vision could be closer to reality with a proposal announced this week to transform more than 40 acres of the vacant State Farm campus into a mix of apartments, townhomes, offices, retail and a “civic facility.”

Toro Development Company is proposing 800 apartments, 150 townhouses and 200,000 square feet of retail that the company would incorporate with 110,000 square feet of existing office space, according to a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) filing published Tuesday by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The development timeline is through 2027, the filing states.

Combined ShapeCaption
An empty parking lot on the former State Farm Campus in John's Creek on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. The vacant complex is the site of a proposed redevelopment plan for an Avalon-style shopping area. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

An empty parking lot on the former State Farm Campus in John's Creek on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. The vacant complex is the site of a proposed redevelopment plan for an Avalon-style shopping area. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
An empty parking lot on the former State Farm Campus in John's Creek on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. The vacant complex is the site of a proposed redevelopment plan for an Avalon-style shopping area. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Johns Creek would join other suburban cities and counties in attempting to create walkable town centers in the midst of car-centric suburban landscapes. The project would join a wave of developments like Avalon in Alpharetta, Halcyon in southern Forsyth County, The Battery at Truist Park near Smyrna and High Street in Dunwoody near Perimeter Mall.

Mark Toro, principal and chief vision officer of Toro Development, said suburban office parks are dying and the pandemic will only accelerate their demise. The office space of the 1990s and early 2000s catered to the desires of the suburban-dwelling CEO. Now, he said, executives realize their office space must attract, engage and retain workers who have more power than ever before.

Residents of communities like Johns Creek, meanwhile, want a “third place” beyond home and work where people gather “to do life together,” Toro said.

“Johns Creek doesn’t have that place today,” he said.

ExploreNew Johns Creek mayor says he’s prioritizing Town Center, improving civil discourse

The $350 million project would be part of the long-range vision for a broader 192-acre Johns Creek Town Center to be anchored by City Hall, the developer says. Johns Creek City Council in October unanimously approved design principles for the future district, which would also include property in Atlanta Technology Park, after 12 months of study and planning sessions.

Toro is a longtime Atlanta real estate executive who recently launched his own company and the Johns Creek project would be its first. At his previous firm, Toro and much of his new firm’s senior leadership spearheaded Alpharetta’s popular $1 billion Avalon mini city at Ga. 400 and Old Milton Parkway. During Toro’s tenure with North American Properties, the company also redeveloped Atlantic Station and Colony Square in Midtown.

Toro Development plans to buy 43 acres of the 54-acre State Farm site from a fund managed by U.S. Realty Advisors of New York, which acquired the site in 2013 and has been seeking a buyer to redevelop it.

Johns Creek spokesman Bob Mullen said the State Farm property is currently zoned for offices and the developer would need to obtain a rezoning and go through regional review as part of the DRI process. DRI filings are aimed at alerting the Atlanta Regional Commission and neighboring governments and other state agencies of large projects that may affect traffic, schools and other services.

In a statement, Mayor John Bradberry said “Our Town Center is generating a lot of interest and excitement. We are looking forward to reviewing the proposed development plans.”

In its news release, Toro Development said the company will engage with residents and plan a mix of uses that fits Johns Creek’s Town Center Vision and Plan.

Combined ShapeCaption
Mark Toro.

Mark Toro.

Combined ShapeCaption
Mark Toro.

Site planning has started, and much like Avalon, Toro Development will craft a plan incorporating a “resort-level concierge program,” street-level retail and dining with residential stacked above an event plaza that includes a stage and live entertainment, the company said.

Toro said food and beverage and live entertainment and events will be a trademark.

‘We’ll be ready’

State Farm exited the Johns Creek campus in recent years for a new office complex in Dunwoody. The Johns Creek site has been seen as a prime redevelopment candidate given its location in the affluent north Fulton County suburb.

Johns Creek has not seen the same level of major corporate relocation activity as other northern suburbs like Sandy Springs, Alpharetta and Dunwoody.

Unlike Avalon, the Johns Creek project will feature a smaller office component, reflecting a changed reality in corporate demand, Toro said.

Development would likely not start until the third quarter of next year following rezoning and permitting processes, Toro said.

Many economists fear a recession is possible amid simmering geopolitical tensions and rising inflation and Federal Reserve action to tame it.

Toro acknowledged potential economic headwinds, but said “this volatility will settle out at some point” and when it does “we’ll be ready.”