Suwanee seeks votes to win grant for treehouse

Since February, Rosalie Tubre has dreamed of a tricked-out treehouse at Suwanee's White Street Park.

The 70-year-old resident envisions it being two stories and hexagon-shaped, with railings around the side for special needs children. The treehouse, near the city's community garden, would have computers for studying butterflies and an observation deck for watching birds, she said.

"I can envision children waving to me from the upper deck," said Tubre, who also teaches a junior master gardening program to special education students at Peachtree Ridge High School. "I think about the dream a lot."

Now Tubre hopes to make that dream a reality. She has enlisted the help of Suwanee city and community leaders to win a $250,000 grant to construct the eco-friendly, handicapped-accessible treehouse at the park off Buford Highway.

The grant is through a $20 million charitable effort called the "Pepsi Refresh Project," through which the company gives cash to programs and causes picked by fans through online voting. Pepsi allows a maximum of 1,000 applications per month, and the treehouse will be among those up for a 30-day nationwide vote starting Sept. 1.

The program runs from February through December. On the first day of each month, Pepsi announces the 32 ideas from the previous month that received the most votes across four grant levels: $5,000, $25,000, $50,000 and $250,000. Up to $1.3 million is awarded each month.

Since the project began, there have been three finalists from metro Atlanta, according to Lindsay Anthony, a company spokeswoman for Pepsi.

For its part, Suwanee city leaders will launch a massive get-out-the-vote campaign, using Twitter and Facebook, video and old-fashioned word-of-mouth at community events and area high schools, city officials said. To aid in the cause, Suwanee is asking stars like Justin Bieber and Ryan Seacrest to work their networks. Some Suwanee residents have connections with Bieber and Seacrest, and the two are known for successfully using social media.

"The only way we're going to win this is to gets tens of thousands of votes, if not hundreds of thousands," said Jessica Roth, assistant to the city manager. "This project is bigger than Suwanee. There's nothing like this around here. It's going to be a regional draw."

On Tuesday afternoon, Suwanee Mayor Dave Williams promoted the project on a Korean talk show.

"We're sharing this message with everybody we can," said Williams, adding that Suwanee has a history of success with online voting ventures. "We're optimistic. We don't like to lose."

If Suwanee is selected, Roth said design work will get under way, with the city-owned treehouse holding at least 20 students.

In addition, the treehouse likely will be a communitywide building effort similar to PlayTown Suwanee, Roth said. Over five days in June 2004, more than 1,200 volunteers worked nearly 10,000 hours to turn two tractor-trailer loads of materials into a playground on Main Street.

Tubre, the resident who came up with the treehouse idea, says she believes the citywide campaign will be successful.

"We're going to get it," Tubre said. "I just feel it."

To vote (starting Sept. 1), go to