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New city of South Fulton considers massive City Hall development

Councilwoman Helen Zenobia Willis (left) and Mayor Bill Edwards react during hearing to remove them from office at the South Fulton City Hall, Dec. 30, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Councilwoman Helen Zenobia Willis (left) and Mayor Bill Edwards react during hearing to remove them from office at the South Fulton City Hall, Dec. 30, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

A consulting firm has suggested that the city of South Fulton build a massive town center complex with City Hall, housing, retail, restaurants, a hotel and office space on hundreds of acres of land the city does not own.

The firm, BAE Urban Economics, was paid $80,000 for the plan, which was presented in a 170-page analysis last week to the South Fulton City Council.

The report says the best spot for City Hall is a 600-acre parcel along Camp Creek Parkway near Enon Road — a tract of land that features the 32-acre Vandiver Lake and sits near Wolf Creek Amphitheatre, which the city seeks to purchase from Fulton County for $1 million.

The proposed land is owned by a holding company named Vandiver Lakes LLC, which is registered to a DeKalb County real estate company that did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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South Fulton Economic Development Director Christopher Pike said the city hasn’t talked much with the property owner, but said he expects the city center project to take five to seven years.

When asked about the price possibly increasing now that the owner knows South Fulton is interested, Pike said: “We had always anticipated that this would be a public-private partnership. I don’t know that the city would acquire the property out right.”

BAE’s vice president Mary Burkholder told South Fulton’s elected leaders that the city’s vast amount of under-developed land makes it special in metro Atlanta.

“You have more of a blank slate here than in other places,” she said.

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Pike said the City Hall project would be part high-end residential, retail, and hotel development found at Avalon in Alpharetta combined with Sandy Springs’ government hub that also features retail and cultural space.

Sandy Springs government center, known as City Springs, cost $229 million. Pike said that South Fulton’s development is “going to be more than that, but it’d be premature” to speculate further.

Beyond location, the big details — like price, financing and components of the development — are not clear. But what is obvious is that the project would be a titanic deal for the 2-year-old city.

Consultant: Recruit tech firms

The consultant surveyed more than 650 residents, 100 people in the business community and held several public input sessions. In general, people were concerned about the perception of crime, the quality of schools, trash along the roads and the lack of restaurants and retail.

Pike said none of that was a surprise. He said the city needs help attracting restaurants, adding that the only sit-down casual chain in the 85-square-mile city is an Applebee’s on Cascade Road.

“You got to crawl before you walk,” he said.

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The consultant made other suggestions, including: working with the state to recruit technology firms; wooing a major hotel to build a convention business; and developing “African-American tourism” in the majority-black city by creating an educational attraction or heritage trail.

The analysis also suggested eight other sites to develop, from Chattahoochee riverfront property to under-developed Old National Highway.

Like others new cities, the South Fulton government has had a bumpy ride. City Council spent more than $90,000 on an unsuccessful attempt to oust a councilwoman and the mayor. The city fired its first municipal court judge under allegations of bullying. And a council member was accused of threatening a fellow council member with a Taser.

The city has not built any municipal buildings, instead running meetings out of Fulton County’s South Service Center. The city recently moved its meeting to the newly-acquired South Fulton Arts Center.

Pike said he expects the Council to approve a plan in late March.

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