Joining the recent “town center” movement, Johns Creek is considering the development of a 728-acre central business district for the 8-year-old north Fulton County city. The proposal’s advocates predict it will rival Midtown Atlanta and dwarf the efforts of Alpharetta, Sandy Springs, and other town center projects.
Johns Creek’s concept could really have an impact on the city’s budget; currently, property taxes are primarily paid by homeowners. The plan would transform Technology Park along Medlock Bridge Road into a densely packed office, retail, residential, and entertainment district, triple the size of downtown Charlotte, NC. The city’s tax base would be substantially broadened and jobs would be created, while protecting the city’s residential neighborhoods, which have attracted many of its residents. Mayor Mike Bodker says that “a walkable, urban, vibrant area and all the amenities that come with that can be created in a suburban community without destroying its character.” Others have expressed skepticism along with excitement; it is difficult to envision just how the plan will work.
Nearby Sandy Springs is building a $100 million city center with government offices, retail shops, a performing arts center, and residences. The recently-opened Alpharetta city hall is just part of a $30 million-plus undertaking which includes a new library and mixed-use development in the future. Smyrna and Suwanee have new “downtowns.” A Georgia State University economics professor says that commercial developments often generate tax revenue to more than offset additional public service costs that may be required. David Sjoquist also states that the opposite is often true concerning new home construction: providing services to new homes often exceeds the revenue they produce in taxes.
Mayor Bodker points out that according to data from the state Department of Revenue, nearly three-quarters of the city’s tax base is from residential property accounts with less than 20 percent coming from industrial and commercial property accounts. Johns Creek has nearly 83,000 residents and a budget of about $69 million. Comparatively, Alpharetta has about 62,000 residents and a 2015 budget of about $86 million; about 53 percent of Alpharetta’s tax base is commercial/industrial and 42 percent is residential. Bodker states that in the future, Johns Creek’s tax base may not keep up with the rising costs of services as the city will need $130 million for aging roads and other infrastructure in the next decade. If revenue falls short, difficult choices must be made: raise taxes, reduce services, or expand the tax base.
The Technology Park area concept would include commercial development, new streets, a hotel, and possibly a new city hall among the existing office buildings. It might begin with a man-made waterfront, a “Canal District,” with the city hall, a performing arts center, private offices, and restaurants. Bodker says that this first phase could be done within five years as development continued over two or three decades. While the city would have to provide roads and other infrastructure, much of the future development would be built by private companies.
The chairwoman of the city’s chamber of commerce and president of the arts center, Susan Grissom, says she is in favor of a walkable downtown which would serve as a central arts district and attract residents and visitors. Not everyone is excited, however. Resident Cathy Eads questions the location, which is not transportation-friendly.
Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh has been hired by the city to develop more specific plans based on feedback from the public and the city. The City Council may consider the firm’s plans this summer. A town hall meeting on the proposed central business district is scheduled for May 12 at 7 p.m. at the City Council Chambers of City Hall, 12000 Findley Road.