Will $100 million downtown project cost Roswell its charm?

Plans for a sprawling $100 million mixed-use project are being applauded for reviving a stagnant strip shopping center in downtown Roswell.

Many business leaders, elected officials, and residents say they are looking forward to the improvements. However, some worry the project will push out some small business owners and change the quaint character of the heart of this North Fulton city.

“Our challenge is how do we maintain a sense of authenticity and identity of who we are while embracing this forward momentum,” said Ryan Pernice, owner of Osteria Mattone and Table & Main restaurants located on Canton Street, walking distance from the proposed Southern Post project on Alpharetta Street. “The nurses, teachers, policemen, firemen, servers, cooks, dishwashers - all these people who make our world go round. We’ve got to make sure they have options as well.”

S.J. Collins Enterprises’ development will include 70,000 square feet of office space; 50,000 square feet of retail space; 128 apartments; a parking deck; fitness facilites; and a grocery store, said Jeff Garrison, a partner at S.J. Collins.

Townhomes at Southern Post will cost between $650,000 and $850,000, he said.

The project is expected to be built by mid-2021 and will cost close to $100 million, Garrison said.

“What we’re trying to do is be a part of the community that’s already been created,” he said.

Southern Post is located a short walk away from the Canton Street entertainment area, a bustling stretch with cottage-style homes that have been converted into restaurants and shops.

The area is a gathering place for Roswell’s 95,000 residents, hosting numerous festivals, art shows and other community events.

“It’s a nice community and we have a good core base of regulars,” said Dallas Bond, the owner of The Standard Roswell restaurant on Alpharetta Street. “The potential for business growth here is wonderful.”

For several years, elected officials and residents have wanted some type of redevelopment at the proposed Southern Post location. The strip mall once housed the Southern Skillet, a well-known country breakfast restaurant that closed in 2011.

"We're taking a dilapidated building and starting over," said Ryan Schultz, chair of the Roswell Downtown Development Authority.

Some in Roswell are concerned that the small businesses there, which primarily cater to the Mexican community, will be displaced.

“For anyone to lose a righteous way of living because of other powers with more money pushing them out, I feel as though it’s wrong, and it’s unjust,” said Malik Wilder, the owner of Vintage Frozen Custard Ice Cream Parlor, also on Canton Street.

Wilder called on the new property owners to offer an incentive that would allow the exisiting businesses in the plaza to lease a space in the new development.

City Administrator Gary Palmer said city leaders are “respectful of some of [those business owners’] needs, and we’re working with them on the transition.”

Danielle Clark has been a resident of Roswell for two years. She lives near Canton Street, and frequently visits the shops and restaurants there. The employees at The Downtown Pooch even know her dog by name. Clark welcomes the Southern Post.

“Anything that will support the small businesses in Roswell, I’m all for,” she said.