North Point Mall’s massive mixed-use plan is another suburban trade-off

This is a rendering of the redeveloped North Point Mall entrance from Dwell Design Studio. (City of Alpharetta)

Credit: City of Alpharetta

Credit: City of Alpharetta

This is a rendering of the redeveloped North Point Mall entrance from Dwell Design Studio. (City of Alpharetta)

To live in the suburbs is to live with trade-offs: Dealing with Ga. 400 for better schools; having fewer hip restaurants in exchange for a backyard.

On Monday night, another suburban compromise was made.

Alpharetta’s City Council voted to approve a 24,000-square-foot mixed-use development that is essentially a cyborg enhancement to the once-glitzy, now-dated North Point Mall. It’s a move meant to save the mall from the slow drain of tenants and shoppers that has gutted many suburban malls.

North Point owners Brookfield Properties promised the Council a bicycle-friendly system akin to the Beltline and amenities like a play fountain inspired by Centennial Olympic Park, plus 300 apartments and new greenspace.

The only wrinkle is that another Alpharetta development already beat them to it — Avalon.

READAlpharetta OKs huge mixed-use North Point project set to rival Avalon

The much-anticipated Avalon opened in 2014 — bringing half a million square feet of upper-end retail, Whole Foods, a 12-screen movie theater, 250 apartments and a luxury hotel. It was built on a muddy hill overlooking Ga. 400 that for years stood as a failed development. Experts quickly declared it the darling of metro Atlanta development.

But even when council members were voting in 2012 to approve Avalon, their minds were two miles down the highway at North Point.

Two malls, one city

During the Monday vote on North Point, Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin said the Council knew at the time that Avalon would hurt North Point, which opened in 1993. “Every one of us that made that vote … knew that we were going to have to be proactive in watching that (North Point) corridor,” Gilvin said Monday.

This is a rendering of the redeveloped North Point Mall entrance from Dwell Design Studio.

Credit: City of Alpharetta

icon to expand image

Credit: City of Alpharetta

Gilvin said they discussed protecting North Point from Avalon poaching its tenants.

Mark Toro, managing partner of Avalon’s development company, “assured the Council he has no intention of cannibalizing the mall. However, he said requiring his company to reject offers from North Point tenants would be ‘unfair, unconstitutional and un-investable,’” according to a story from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the Avalon vote.

And so council members made no protections. Then Apple and Pottery Barn left for Avalon.

Management at Avalon did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

READSouthlake Mall in Clayton County sold to New York owners

Just last year, Alpharetta adopted a formal plan for the future of the North Point Parkway corridor.

A version of plan document summed up the tension between the existing mall and Avalon: “North Point has served as the center for retail and dining in North Fulton County, attracting thousands of visitors every week. Recently, new competitors have emerged and begun to capture the attention of consumers by creating a shopping experience less characterized by the automobile and sprawling parking and more by experience, walkability, compactness, and pedestrian-friendliness.”

From 1997: Some people come to Alpharetta's North Point Mall just because of the carousel. (Richard D. Fowlkes/AJC)

Credit: Richard D. Fowlkes/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Richard D. Fowlkes/AJC

But for Alpharetta residents, North Point Mall has been more than an economic driver. It's a sentimental favorite. A city planning commission member took time out of a meeting earlier this month to get the developer's word that the merry-go-round inside the mall would stay because it held such fond memories for her and her children.

But both Avalon and the North Point project show how malls struggle to keep up with changing consumer tastes. The ease of ordering goods online has ravaged retailers who still pay rent on stores. Retail experts say consumers now need new experiences to draw them to retail stores.

READForsyth County's Halcyon part of wave of suburban mini-cities

The North Point development will be built on land that used be a Sears, which declared bankruptcy in fall 2018 and closed the North Point store.

“The anchors have just lost their (retail sales) volume because of the internet, big box (stores) and outlets,” said Jim Bieri, a national retail expert based with Stokas Bieri Real Estate in Detroit. “… For North Point, it cut at the center.”

From April 2018Braves set to sell Battery apartments a year after opening

Competition builds

The trend for developments like Avalon — and now North Point — where people can “live, work and play” isn’t going anywhere, Bieri said. “Planners are trying to figure out how to create lifestyles where people can walk everywhere and I think that trend will continue.”

The housing at North Point will have 175 one-bedroom apartments starting at $1,400 a month and 125 two-bedroom units for a monthly cost of $1,900.

Many suburban developers struggle to convince residents that dense housing won’t clog roads. Throughout the process of pitching the North Point redevelopment plan, few residents spoke against it. North Point developers pointed to studies that show the project will bring a net reduction in traffic to the mall now that the failed Sears is gone.

READ | Have opinions on $1.8B Ga. 400 express lanes? GDOT wants to hear them.

This is a rendering of the redeveloped North Point Mall from Dwell Design Studio.

Credit: City of Alpharetta

icon to expand image

Credit: City of Alpharetta

Conversations about traffic in the city were intense even before August 1991 when Alpharetta Mayor Jimmy Phillips rumbled a bulldozer across the red dirt and broke ground on North Point to the sounds of a live Dixieland band.

The mall later spurred roads and peripheral retail, built by the former owners of the mall land, to prepare for the “power center” effect North Point of drawing outlets and discount stores. As one councilmember said at the time, the mall “lit the fuse on an explosion.”

This aerial photo from 1997 shows the sprawling North Point Mall in the background. The area around Ga. 400 would continue to grow and grow into one of metro Atlanta's most important arteries. (John Spink/AJC)

Credit: John Spink/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: John Spink/AJC

It did, but now many of those strip malls near North Point are at risk for the same reasons as the mall. Alpharetta now sees repurposing retail developments as a way to stay relevant in the suburbs.

North Point general manager Nick Nicolosi said this new project has been in the works for two years. Mall owner Brookfield, which boasts 161 American retail properties, claims this project is one of its five or so major remodels taking place to adapt to changing retail consumer trends.

When asked about Avalon’s effect on North Point, Nicolosi offered: “Competition comes online, competition goes offline, things change.”

“We have to reinvent ourselves to remain relevant with the consumers,” he said.

Like North Fulton County News Now on Facebook | Follow on Twitter

In other news...

Here's Severe Weather Team 2's Brad Nitz with a look at your Wednesday afternoon forecast.