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The Forum has new owners, a new rezoning applicant for multi-use [Podcast]

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This episode talks about The Forum on Peachtree Parkway being sold to North American Properties, an upcoming rezoning request for multi-use along Peachtree Parkway, a town center playground update, and more. Join your host Rico Figliolini and guest City Manager Brian Johnson on Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager.

Timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:01:35] – Purchase of the Forum
[00:07:19] – The Push for Residential
[00:14:56] – How Peachtree Corners is Growing
[00:18:13] – Israeli Consul General Visiting
[00:20:20] – New Playground Updates
[00:26:58] – Closing

“We know that the Forum’s a critical part, and its success is the City’s success. It helps generate a lot of revenue that we in turn can use to provide services back to our stakeholders. Whether it be streets or multi-use paths, or even keeping a zero millage rate. And we are excited about working with the North American Properties, trying to take the property and  take it to the next level. And so we’re rolling up our sleeves, getting ready to get that started.”

Brian johnson

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life and today’s Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager. Hey, Brian, how are you?

[00:00:38] Brian: Rico, good. How are you?

[00:00:40] Rico: Great. It’s good to have you on. This particular episode, we’re going to be talking a little bit about the new purchase that’s finally closed this past Friday, with the Forum of Peachtree Parkway. And Brian’s going to help us out with some detail on that. The new owners, North American Properties has taken it over. They are a company that is well-known for working with Avalon and Atlantic Station. They run and own those areas as well as others. So they found, obviously, an opportunity here that they believe they can take and invest in and actually grow the Forum into a great product. And a great place for us, a great space for us to live in, if you will. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that and a little bit about progress on the playground that’s going on, being built across the way at Town Center. And just a couple of other things, but let’s start off with the Forum purchase. Bryan, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what’s going on there now? What’s the latest?

[00:01:35] Brian: Well, like you said, North American Properties closed on the property on this past Friday. Their interest in the Forum is kind of in line with what they’ve done at some other properties of late. Instead of being involved in brand new mixed use developments, they’ve liked to find properties that are maybe in great areas. And ones that, maybe they feel like from an ownership and management company, they can improve the property a little bit by investing in it and then operating it instead of spinning it off to have somebody else operate it. And so they’ve done that in a couple locations already and they think that the Forum is right for that. Not only are they excited about the community that is around the Forum, the traffic count that’s near the Forum, the history and the name that it has, but it has good bones. And they also like the fact that the city understands the importance of it. It is essentially one half of what is our downtown now. And when you have a municipality who’s invested in a property within its corporate limits, then developers like that, because that means that we’re more inclined to do what it takes to ensure that this thing is a success. And we know that the Forum’s a critical part and its success is the City’s success. It helps generate a lot of revenue that we in turn can use to provide services back to our stakeholders. Whether it be streets or multi-use paths, or even keeping a zero millage rate. And we are excited about working with the North American Properties, trying to take the property and take it to the next level. And so we’re rolling up our sleeves, getting ready to get that started.

[00:03:26] Rico: Cool. We’ve been talking about this for a while now, obviously. We’re hoping that new owners would take it over because they’re reep running it. And having a secondary company managing it, it’s not quite the same as having an owner manager. And so part of what we talked about also is that a place like this could have some density. Being worked on as far as adding density to it. So, maybe we can talk a little bit about that as far as, what the City’s willing to do there. We talked a little bit, I think at one point, about a parking deck and such. Being a part of it and allowing for a space for other things to happen, for green space and stuff.

[00:04:04] Brian: Well, what you’re referring to, I can kind of go back to the previous owner if you will. And that is, the previous owner, when they reached out to the city to notify us that they were putting the Forum on the market, the reason that they were doing so as articulated to us was the fact that the Forum was a property that joined a number of other properties that they were selling that had a common theme. And they were unloading all of their properties that did not have onsite residential or onsite public gathering space. And so the Forum had neither of those or has neither of those. So the previous owner put it up along with other properties that met that description in their portfolio, they put them up for sale. North American Properties has articulated to us that one of the things they want to do and they are in a position to do because they are not only the owners, but they are going to operate it as well, which is oftentimes not the case. Many times the owners don’t operate it they merely contract with a property management company. And then that company manages it and manages the leases and operates it.

[00:05:22] Rico: Right.

[00:05:22] Brian: North American’s going to do both, which was very exciting to the city because we knew that North American Properties would invest in the property in a way that maybe results in temporarily lease revenue to be negatively impacted due to construction or other things. But they were okay with doing it because they were going to operate it as well. So they have expressed an interest in installing, if you will, onsite residential and onsite greenspace. So the city will obviously have to be to some degree or other involved in both. We do know that if there is greenspace, that’s going to have to be added and the only place to add it on the Forum property is by removing parking spaces. So the city may end up having to be involved in that to help them be able to construct green space because that means parking is going to have to be moved elsewhere, so that may involve structured parking. Maybe not too dissimilar to what we did with the Town Center and Fuqua which was the partner over there. So that may end up being part of this and then obviously residential onsite, it’s going to have to have some rezoning component. The details of that have not been presented or discussed or considered. So I don’t honestly know any more than that. They are interested in putting onsite residential in some capacity on the property. And all the evidence to healthy, mixed use developments such as the Forum, all point to needing onsite residential, and public gathering space, part of the ingredients for successful mixed use development. So it’s not surprising to us. You know, again, the devil’s in the details and that’s why our sleeves are rolled up and ready to dig in.

[00:07:19] Rico: And I understand you guys are probably meeting as we speak, you’ll be meeting sometime this week, I think on this. And I guess I can speculate a little bit from my own end that residential is probably, certainly a strong component of what’s going to happen there over the next 18 months or so. Because it needs it right? Like any multi-use. And if we look at the past history of what they’ve done, Atlantic Station, Avalon and such, residential is a big component of that. So certainly I think I can imagine that there could be probably north of 150 to 200 units coming right there at the Forum in some capacity, in some area that they set up there. Which, live, work, and play. I mean, you could be working there, living and certainly at Technology Park and I think as one company put it, we are a 15 minute city. And in their eyes because of where they located, you could walk anywhere in 15 minutes and get what you need. Which is an interesting description of what we are, being a 15 minute city that way. Because our downtown area, anywhere within this area, whether you’d be, let’s say Spalding Drive near Intuitive Robotics, or if you’re at City Hall, maybe. 15 minute walk will get you to shopping to food, to entertainment, to a degree. So interesting concept in being a 15 minute city, that’s not Atlanta. That’s outside Atlanta. So kind of interesting. Plus we have that residential property across the way still that was rezoned apartment. Was what’s called the Old Roberts property, and that was sunset. So that became, that reverted back to its original rezoning which was not residential. But there’s another component and people are looking there and I wouldn’t be surprised if North American properties is looking at that property as well. That would have been about 260 odd units, plus a hotel with a hundred plus rooms.

[00:09:13] Brian: Well Rico, I mean, not only that parcel, which is again right there by Lazy Dog behind the old Black Walnut, and Georgia Clinic right there. There’s still, even some other parcels that are kind of right near there. And really, to be honest with you anywhere in the city. Especially the north of say Jimmy Carter, Holcomb Bridge. Really north of the split here. We’re under an immense amount of pressure from developers wanting to build residential units. And I say that, by saying in general, we are. Meaning all different types. But right now, based on a number of factors, whether it’s financing or interest demand, they tend to be heavy on the rental versus the equity component. And usually that’s because we are getting pretty close to not having a lot of undeveloped parcels left. Which means that as we grow, we’re going to have to grow up. Up as in vertical. And when you do that, generally that is much harder to finance when it’s equity, which we typically call a condo. And condos require about 50% or more of the units to be pre-sold before you can get the financing. And so it makes it harder on developers, so they’re less interested. But that puts pressure on the city of trying to make sure that we’re thinking through growth. And right now there’s a lot of discussions about how are we managing it. Because with virtual workplace now, a lot of people can go back to the suburbs, if you will. You can work at a company that’s located in Midtown, but if they’re maybe in the future, not going to make you come in at all, or maybe only one or two days a week. People are like, you know what? I can handle an hour commute each way if I only have to do it one or two day a week. But the rest of my time I can be out farther away from Midtown, get more house, more yard, for my money. And so there’s a resurgence of people interested in coming here. In addition to just Metro Atlanta growing and the housing market being like ridiculous right now. So there’s a lot of chain and we got a lot of challenges right now.

[00:11:37] Rico: Yeah. Especially like you mentioned, the housing stock is unbelievable. Because I mean, I see it every day. I mean, in our neighborhood, a house went up for sale. Within three weeks it was bought and it was bought at a premium above what they were asking of like 10 to 20,000. Just one family home on a slab, right? No basement or anything. It’s just, it does not stay in the market long in this area. So you’re right. I mean, I could see the pressure because we have another multi-use or M1 that wants to become a multi-use development that is applying, that went through the planning commission. That’s presented itself in front of City Council, it’s been tabled to June. And that is about 315 units that they would like to develop, plus a five story hotel. And on top of that, it’s on Peachtree Parkway, also. So not too far from another one that was recently approved and across from Corner Find One, I think is where it is. So yeah, I can see the pressure coming in doing that.

[00:12:36] Brian: But you know, it is important to note though that mayor and council understands that and they’re being much more comprehensive and methodical in their thinking about it then they’ve ever been forced to do. So, I want everybody to know that they’re not taking it lightly. There are some very comprehensive conversations going on right now, amongst them on essentially. What do they with this big, with this pressure, what do they want Peachtree Corners to look like when it grows up? Meaning we are sitting here in a location that you could probably represent is at a place where people who are moving to Atlanta and there are more people moving here than moving away. We’re growing as a region. So as those who choose to drive north out of say the airport, and they’re looking at places to put down roots, we’re getting many of them here. The question for council is going to be, do we end up as they’re driving into our city, are we here at the city limits saying, hey, before you decide to keep going north or whatever direction they leave in. Hey, let us spend some time telling you what a great community we are. Because we want you to stay here or are we saying, keep on going. Keep on going, if you’re wanting to go north to the further suburbs, keep on going. And if that’s the case, you know, they’re the ones who decide policy. That’s fine, but they’re kind of going through that right now. And if it is no, no, no, no, we want them to stay, then how is it we grow? Because we don’t have a lot of out. We’re not like a Forsyth county or one that has a lot of outward growth. So that’s what they’re having to kind of determine right now. And it’s a new normal that we’ve never seen, the rate of growth and the pressure on residential development is something we’ve never seen. So it’s ongoing, it’s comprehensive. And, I think we’re in a good position that it will come out of this very shortly in having a good course of action going forward.

[00:14:56] Rico: I’m sure there will be. I’ve had some conversations with one to two city council member and we’ve had conversations about this as well. What does it mean? Yes, do we want to have the ability to have more residents here, versus them going past us and we just become a through place. But also what does it mean to be a smart city? And what does it mean to allow multiuse development to be able to set standards in the type of developments that come to the city, whether it’s LEED buildings or EV charging stations, what does that mean? How, what is the philosophy of doing that? Because eventually if we’re talking about being a smart city, we certainly want to make sure that, in my mind, that we’re walking the walk and that we’re looking at urban development in the right way. And not just the proving something that’s going to have a restaurant and maybe one other shop and we call it a multi-use. So, I think that they, hopefully they have that conversation. They look at that a little better about what it means to be here. I mean, we just recently had, for example, the Israeli council general visit us. The Mayor, Mike Mason is on a mayor’s summit, remote, that’s part of the smart city conference in Taiwan. And we’re getting a lot of companies here, like Intuitive Robotics and other firms that are coming because we’re part of that Silicon Orchard, right? So I mean, if we can continue to look at our environment as a good steward, then we have to look at that too, right? How are we going to let these builders develop and in a smart way all around, right?

[00:16:34] Brian: You know, I mean I couldn’t have said it better myself, Rico. And that is exactly what council’s doing. In fact, at the council meeting Tuesday, the one policy or the one action item that council was involved in is they did change the pro-rata makeup of a mixed use development by requiring a higher percentage of non-residential uses on a mixed use parcel. To prevent somebody coming in and having three uses, 95% of it’s residential, 3% something else, and then 2% the remaining. And, they’re like, that’s ridiculous. So, yes. I mean, you know, maybe even more to follow on that. But there’s definitely those conversations about all right, what are we going to do to set ourselves apart from others? What are we going to do to continue to live up to the reputation that we’re gaining? I mean, you know, the mayor was asked to speak and he was actually invited to speak in person there, did not work out for lots of different reasons COVID included. But invited to speak there, but on a panel of cities in the world of mayors, from cities like, well, Denver and Atlanta in the US. Or Prague, Czech Republic or Edmonton, Canada, Taipei, Taiwan. I mean, these are cities that are you know, way above our weight class. We were asked to speak at it because of the things that we’re doing. And so, yes, we need that to try to correspond into other conventional development within the city. Not just within the technology ecosystem.

[00:18:13] Rico: To stay on that for a little bit, so the Israeli Consul General did visit us. We have several, I think Israeli firms working out of here as well at Curiosity Lab and stuff. Anything new that you want to share with what’s going on there? I know there’s quite a bit, but if we can get a quick description of what’s going on, that would be great.

[00:18:32] Brian: The Israeli Consul General came up here because we do have a special relationship with really the nation of Israel, as well as Israeli companies. We have a number of arrangements and collaborations with governmental agencies within Israel. And a lot of Israeli companies come here because if you think about it, the nation of Israel is by population standpoint about the size of Metro Atlanta. And so if there is something that some product or software or whatever that’s invented there, for them to scale it they have to leave that area because that area is not really big enough for them to really scale. So they need to go to Asia or Europe or North America. And we are a location that a lot of them have started to find even more appealing than your typical, oh, I go to the states and I go to Silicon Valley or I go to research Triangle or I go to New York City. I mean, those are all great, but you are a small fish in a very big, expensive pond. Here you can actually be a smaller pond, it’s not as expensive. And just being the same size, you can be a bigger in relation to others because that pond doesn’t have so many big fish. And so we’re seeing a lot of it. The local Israeli consulate wanted to ensure that we continue to have that synergy between us and them. And we have great relationships with them. We’ll continue to, and we look forward to fostering that relationship. And getting more companies come through here and use Peachtree Corners either as a place to put down roots or as a launching pad. But we at least benefit from their involvement, however brief it may be.

[00:20:20] Rico: Yeah. So many companies out there that, so much representation from around the world here that we’re going to be doing another feature piece. Not in this coming issue, but the next about the amount of, the different companies we have that represent different countries here, that are based in Peachtree Corners. That’s, I think there’s over 20 nations that are actually represented. So that’d be a neat piece to talk about. Let’s get some update on the playground. That’s, I say playground, but it’s a little bit more involved than that. That’s being built out at Town Center. Dirt’s moving, everything’s moving around there. Are we still on track for that to come in for May? I think it was May, end of May?

[00:20:56] Brian: Yeah, we’re still on track around the end of May for most of the playground equipment. The supply chain issue is such that we may not have all the shade structures in for even as much as two months after that, unfortunately. Because you know we put seating around there as part of this because we knew parents were going to go over there and want to be close to their kids and everything. And so we may not have all of the shade structures in. Just again, supply chain and you just run out of it. But we’re still tracking on that. And so that’s good. You know, our goal was to have it in so that the first concert of our series, which is the end of May, doesn’t still have that area to be a construction site. We’re also, you know, I don’t know if you’ve been out there, we added a lot more decking under the current shade structures that are there on the other side of the town green. And we’re going to add another shade structure as well there. So there’s a lot more space for people to have furniture and we have a new fire pit out there that’s a little bit more user friendly. Although I will say Rico, unfortunately we may end up having to talk about this again, but we have created a really cool place to hang out. And it’s getting cooler by the day. You know, it’s just a great place to whether to get something, you know, and eat or drink, or a kid’s play or just hang out. But as a result of it, we’ve got a lot of destructive behavior that’s happening out there. And we’re getting ready to add over 80 cameras out into the parking deck and the Town Green area. And we’re having to do that, one, it’s a good deterrent. But two, just a lot of people going in and destroying things randomly for no reason. And it’s sad. I mean, we have a new much larger fire pit that had a lot of other, not only bigger, it was round. It was, you know, a place you kind of hang out. And yet all we do is it’s only been operational for probably two weeks and have already had people pry open the door to try to get to the controls. They’ve been stealing the stones. The nice stones that are in there. I mean just stuff like that. And it’s sad and, you know, we’re hoping. We may have to talk to the community as a whole and say, look, please help police yourselves and prevent a great location and amenity that’s theirs. It’s the community’s, it’s the public’s. But it’s either lack of parental supervision or people just, I mean, I don’t know. It’s sad.

[00:23:41] Rico: It’s probably happening in the middle of the night too, right? Like two or three in the morning and stuff.

[00:23:46] Brian: Some of it, but then some of it it’s not. I mean, we’ve had destructive behavior there and you know, again, even some of it’s on surveillance. But either we don’t have a great image of the person or what is generally the case is, you have video of a person. But unless like one of us recognized that person, there’s no way for us to know who it is.

[00:24:11] Rico: It’s amazing. Can’t keep anything in the public realm without having to deal with that crap, quite frankly. I just like, you know, you would imagine that people are a little bit more respectful, but no. It’s never going to be, and that’s never going to be the case because there are people that are just not respectful of things.

[00:24:30] Brian: I’ll even go so far as this, you know, with the playground areas, we’re doing site work. We’re doing grading and getting the terrain ready for when we bring in the artificial surfaces and everything. And so they will have construction equipment out there, like backhoes and mini excavators inside of areas roped off with caution tape. But on the weekend, you’ll go out there and people have ripped down or are inside of the caution tape, kids climbing around construction equipment and their parents are right there. But they’re letting them, we caught kids in the boom of the, you know, the back climbing around on that. And their parents are right there, like.

[00:25:12] Rico: And not for anything we don’t teach, I shouldn’t say we. But a lot of people just don’t teach their kids what respect means and things. And they’re, they’re all John Waynes and Yahoos sometimes saying, leave them alone, they need to play. And it’s just like, and then there are those people that want safe places for their kids. It’s just like, if we just taught a little respect, common respect and courtesy, that’s all we need. It’s just, it’ll never end this, like. And I’m not surprised quite frankly, because tape’s not going to hold anyone away, it’s just like.

[00:25:50] Brian: No, you’re like really? Can you not see them? And you’re underneath. You had to go underneath caution tape. Or it was ripped down, it’s laying on the ground, you’re stepping over, you know it’s a construction site and yet you’re either in there yourself or you’re letting your kid run around around that. And you’re just like, you know.

[00:26:08] Rico: And that same parent, God forbid a child gets hurt. The same people will want to sue the city to say that wasn’t enough. You shouldn’t have put just the tape there. You should have like put a cement wall to stop people from entering. It’s just like, you know what? At some point people have to take responsibility for themselves and their family.

[00:26:28] Brian: Yeah. But I guess the good thing here is that Town Center is doing what we, we hope, which is attracting people. And that’s, you know, activity begets more activity and makes restaurants and stores and everything healthier. So that’s good. But we just need to, those of us who live and work and use that need to police ourselves and make sure that we keep it a nice amenity and not let it get beat down by destructive, irresponsible people.

[00:26:58] Rico: Yeah. Amazing, never-ending. Well, I’m glad that we were able to talk about these things and especially about North American Properties and the Forum and that buyout. I know that there’ll be more coming out and actually my editor right now is going to be interviewing the owner of NAP by, I think 4:30 late today. So we’ll have an article out sometime in the next few days about that, a little bit more in depth hopefully some more information that we can provide people with. And we’re going to stay on top of this. That, along with everything else that’s going on in the city.

[00:27:28] Brian: It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal.

[00:27:31] Rico: For sure. So I appreciate your time, Brian. Thank you for being with us again. I look forward to next time. Share this with your friends, if you’re listening to the podcast on Apple or iHeart Radio, certainly leave a review on this. Look for more additional information on LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com. You can either subscribe to our newsletter to find out more news that comes out. We come out once or twice a week, depending on what news is going on. Or like us on Facebook, @PeachtreeCornersLife or follow us on Instagram as well. Thank you for being with us and we’ll see you next time.

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Finnish Company Moves U.S. Headquarters to Peachtree Corners

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Valmet’s corporate mission of sustainable energy and carbon-neutral production fits in with local goals.

The appealing aspects of Peachtree Corners led leaders of Valmet, a Finnish-based global developer and supplier of process technologies, automation and services for the pulp, paper and energy industries, to move its headquarters to the city.

“In about March of last year, we started thinking about relocating our office from Duluth to somewhere else,” said Jukka Tiitinen, Valmet area president, North America. “To find a new home for our North American headquarters that represents our values and represents the flavor and nature of our company, we took quite a bit of time to go and visit different neighborhoods, different areas and looked at different buildings. And we settled here. …I don’t see how we could have done any better. This is fantastic.”

The company cut the ribbon on its new offices on May 11 with local dignitaries, media and the Valmet CEO Pasi Laine, who came in from Finland for the occasion.

Laine explained how Valmet didn’t have early successes in the North American pulp and paper industry. In 1988, the company had some business interests here, but the capital activities were on the decline and continued that way for decades.

“We weren’t selling too many machines and didn’t have too many partners,” he said, adding that Valmet didn’t give up on North America and kept strengthening the business through several mergers and acquisitions.

Part of the issue, Laine said, was that there were a lot of small businesses in the group that wanted their own processes and procedures. They wanted to maintain their old identity, offices and even logos. “It was practically impossible to get the people even in automation,” he said, adding that the North American customers weren’t seeing any continuity.

But the company continued to invest and improve production through technological advances and a management style that had come together in a “learning cluster” of sorts. Now, 30 years later, Valmet has added some of the state’s and the country’s major players in the industry as partners. Household names like International Paper and Georgia Pacific have Valmet machines and staff working in their plants and mills.

“Now, currently, we have about 2,000 people here, we have big business under civilian revenue and a lot of lot of customers and good personnel as well,” said Laine. “Now we have learned how important it is to work with each other, talk with each other and learn from each other. And I think that’s the big change that has happened over the decades in the company.”

Like-minded neighbors

The collaboration Valmet has seen with Curiosity Lab and other endeavors in Peachtree Corners is the exact business model the company projects. Laine’s interactions with local CEOs have shown that maintaining the status quo isn’t good enough any longer.

“They were saying that it’s not a good strategy anymore just to maintain the old machines and run them out. They started to say that they have to start to invest to make a difference. And today, we have a totally different situation than 10 years ago. Most of our customers are believing that it’s worthwhile to invest in North America,” said Laine.

The company isn’t limited to paper products like tissue, boxes and the like. Valmet is organized around five business lines: services, pulp and energy, paper, automation systems and flow control. The company serves five geographical areas, North America, South America, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), Asia Pacific and China.

With more than 220 years of industrial history, Valmet has a strong track record in continuous improvement and renewal, and has more than 17,000 employees worldwide. The combined company net sales in 2021 were approximately 4.5 billion euros which converts to about $4.7 billion in U.S. currency.

Valmet’s continuing mission is to convert renewable resources into sustainable results. This means that its technology and services make it possible for customers to manufacture sustainable products from renewable resources.

“We believe that technology plays a crucial role to mitigate climate change and global warming. Our target is to enable 100% carbon-neutral production for all our pulp and paper customers by 2030,” according to corporate statements. “We believe that technology plays a key role in mitigating climate change and global warming in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. Valmet has a long track record in providing solutions that convert biomass into renewable energy and recyclable products such as pulp, paper, board and tissue. We have also developed and commercialized new biomass conversion technologies for producing new bio-based end products such as biogas, biofuels and biomaterials.”

Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason agreed that Valmet fits in with the local business climate of companies that are working to change the world for the better.

“Welcome to the community — and most importantly, thank you for making the decision to come here,” Mason said. “And from talking with your leadership, hearing what you do, you make, what’s important to you about this decision, you made the right decision.”

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PCBA Panel Gives Insights into City’s Growth, Development

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Visionaries see smart expansion for Peachtree Corners.

In a city that’s a hotbed of economic development, technological advancement and residential properties, it’s important for residents and stakeholders to keep informed about what’s going on today and what’s planned. To aid with that undertaking, Peachtree Corners Business Association convened a panel of local influencers at its April Business After Hours Speaker Series at Atlanta Marriott Peachtree Corners.

Moderated by Amanda Pearch, the CEO and principal of Forsyth Business RadioX, a community focused company that produces, promotes, distributes and markets online radio shows and podcasts for businesses, the panelists were a diverse mix of local movers and shakers which included:

  • Joe Sawyer, Peachtree Corners City Councilman at Large, a resident of Peachtree Corners since 1994. He recently became the first person of color elected to the City Council. Sawyer has owned Alpha & Omega Carpet Cleaning in Peachtree Corners since 2001 and has been a preacher since 1998.
  • Sue Storck, with North American Properties, the general manager for the Forum on Peachtree Parkway. She has been in property management since 2007 in Florida and Georgia.
  • James Winston, the director of construction at AHS Residential, a company that develops, builds and manages multifamily housing in metro Atlanta. He has 17 years of experience in real estate development.
  • Michael Pugh, a partner at the law firm of Thompson, O’Brien, Kappler & Nasuti, P.C. He concentrates his legal practice on the representation of businesses, banks, credit unions and commercial finance companies in secured transactions, financial workouts, asset recovery and liquidation and lender liability defense in both state and federal court, including federal bankruptcy court.
  • Louis Svehla, communications director for the city of Peachtree Corners.He has years of experience in journalism and public relations.
  • Rico Figliolini, a longtime Peachtree Corners resident and the publisher and executive editor of Peachtree Corners Magazine. He is also a creative director and social media strategist, three-time magazine publisher and podcast host.

Growth opportunities

The group started off discussing some identifiable opportunities for growth in Peachtree Corners. With so much emphasis on what’s happening in the northern part of the city, Sawyer said developers need to start looking to the city’s south side.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for growth on the south side,” he said. “You see the townhomes going up and you haven’t seen houses going up for a long time. That’s where the next wave of growth will come.”

Svehla agreed. “I think redevelopment is really the big thing. Joe got it completely right. Housing is probably not going to happen unless it’s redevelopment of older neighborhoods,” he said. “Just like what’s happening with The Forum, the future is multi-use type facilities.”

Pearch parlayed that response into a question for the home builder. “Well, the prediction is we’re going to find very efficient and innovative ways of finding solutions for this housing problem that we have,” Winston responded. “We know everybody is looking for…  housing that’s reasonably priced. We have a way of building and approaching our projects that I think is going to fit into the fabric of what this whole community is looking for. They’re trying to be innovative, looking for something that’s going to have an impact to the community. And we’re doing just that by rehabbing, basically, an existing property.”

Storck expanded on that concept with what’s happening right now with The Forum. “On our side, it’s experiential. …This is probably a very overused phrase, but ‘live, work and play’ is a trend that works,” she said. “With our tenants, we have a built-in customer base. The restaurants have built-in patrons, but it’s about an experience. Shopping is not… what it used to be. You don’t go window shopping anymore; you have a destination. So, our plan and our goal are to bring that opportunity to the property, to be able to host larger events and gatherings, whether it’s a tailgate party… or the Christmas tree lighting or concert series or a fitness series.”

Talking about developers dove-tailed into Pugh’s business. “One of the biggest advantages for Peachtree Corners is that it’s close enough to the city [of Atlanta] so that people inside the perimeter are comfortable coming here, and since it’s not in downtown Atlanta, we get people who don’t want to fight traffic in town,” he said.

All those factors feed into each other, said Figliolini. Having a publication that’s focused on the lifestyle of a community that fulfills the demand for a high quality of life with entertainment, retail and employment opportunities nearby allows him to put more emphasis on the message than the medium.

“Print is sort of a dying business. I can say this because I’ve been in the business for a long time,” Figliolini said. “We curate news in the community and people consume it in a variety of ways. Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, it doesn’t matter. …Advertising is a long game. …Companies come to us. We have several corporate sponsors that are supporting local journalism, for example, so they’re not necessarily buying advertising as much as supporting news.”

Accolades and suggestions for the city

The panelists gave their perspective on what Peachtree Corners is doing right and what the city should do more of. Among the top recommendations is preparing the area for changes that have already been indicated. For example, the uptick in highly skilled jobs is affecting employment rates. Supply chain issues are challenging consumerism and access to technology is making a difference on how people live their lives.

“Roughly 65% of the existing labor force is almost set to retire,” said Winston. “So, we have to replenish that, and we also have to find ways to manage that and to find innovative ways of doing construction. We know we’re going to have challenges with the labor, in addition to all the materials. …Everybody is reading the articles about how prices are going up.”

Sawyer pointed out that Peachtree Corners is growing in smart ways and every new development is people centered. “I think we are probably one of the smartest cities, as far as technology. …What other city in the South has an app that, when you sit at a red light, the app on your phone tells you when the light is changing?” he said.

“A couple of months ago, we had Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg here to study our transportation sector,” added Svehla. “Everybody wants to come to Peachtree Corners because of all the innovative things that are going on here. I’m working to try to give Raphael Warnock an opportunity to see Curiosity Lab. …We don’t really have to reach out to anyone anymore because the word is out that we’re the most diverse city in the state.”

Perspectives on the future

In looking ahead, all the panelists agreed that Peachtree Corners has a solid future outlook and growth strategies. Pearch asked the panelists where Peachtree Corners, in general — and their industry, specifically — will be in three years, five years and 10 years.

Storck said, “The retail world is different, because some ways, the retail world hasn’t changed. We still have the brick and mortar as well as Amazon, so there are parts that will stay the same. But I think in three years, we are we are going to be fully redeveloped and we are going to be moving at a very fast pace. [The Forum] is going to be hosting 200-plus events a year and we are going to have opened quite a few new retailers. In five and 10 years, we’ll still continue that course. Because everything is cyclical and we go through changes, we have to adapt as well.”

Pugh added, “The legal industry is the dinosaur of all industries. If the legal world has adopted something, it’s been adopted across the board. I think that law firms’ sizes are going to shrink. I think that office space is going to shrink, and I think more and more attorneys and more and more businesses are going to go paperless. …I think that more and more are going to start incorporating the use of [artificial intelligence] in their in their work, where typically you would have a new associate coming out of law school doing research eight hours a day. You now have a computer program that does it for you.”

Winston noted, “Nowadays, with an age of social media, [job seekers] are able to see so many other options more easily, and people are able to tailor it to make it more marketable. That’s not always what you see in the construction industry. …You could start off learning mechanical, HVAC work, plumbing or electrical and branch off into a completely different sector of that same industry, or branch off more into real estate, because it really is part of the same pie at the end of the day.”

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Peachtree Corners Partners With Israeli Startup To Advance Smart City Technology

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Peachtree Corners and Israeli Startup ACiiST

ACiiST will help the city with a connected infrastructure without tearing up roads or investing in miles of cables.

As one of the country’s first smart cities powered by real-world connected infrastructure, Peachtree Corners recently announced a partnership with Israeli startup ACiiST – Smart Networks, the manufacturer of SD-LAN network solutions optimized for connecting outdoor cameras and sensors through a robust networking system. This partnership provides Peachtree Corners with connected infrastructure network solutions via fiber that allow various mobility technologies on Peachtree Corners’ smart city streets to communicate with minimal digging, saving the city and residents time and money.

Peachtree Corners and Israeli Startup ACiiST

Installed in Technology Parkway earlier this year, ACiiST’s technology spans across a half-mile of Peachtree Corners’ “city street of the future,” allowing deployed technologies and smart infrastructure with cameras, wireless links and other communication equipment, to be streamed directly to the Curiosity Lab’s IoT Control Room, the first of its kind to be implemented in a city in the United States. Communication between the smart infrastructure and the IoT Control Room is possible via self-managed ACiiST Polarity units that create a low latency, high performance and fully manageable network.

“Working with ACiiST to demonstrate their technologies at Curiosity Lab is another great example of how international companies are showing great interest in the most unique real-world smart city ecosystem in the country,” said Brandon Branham, Peachtree Corners Assistant City Manager and CTO. “We are able to demonstrate to other cities across the country the unique network connectivity, redundancy and monitoring capabilities of ACiiST’s technology through this implementation on public infrastructure. This is a true testament of how the partnership between Israel and Curiosity Lab offers startups a one-of-a-kind experience to bring their products to the North American market.”

ACiiST’s network solutions allow Peachtree Corners to have a more secure smart city environment and make informed decisions based on data, such as traffic management. This solution also makes it easier for new edge devices such as cameras, radar sensors, digital signs, V2I access points and more, to be deployed and installed as smart infrastructure across the city street of the future, supporting the Curiosity Lab and Peachtree Corners’ position as one of the leading smart cities in the United States.

“It was clear from the very first time we met with the Peachtree Corners management team that we are talking with leaders who want to promote positive change – with smart roads and streets as a platform to better manage their public spaces. They are open-minded to the implementation of new technologies, and we are happy to have our network solutions in action at the most unique smart city environment in the USA,” said Sagi Gurfinkel, ACiiST Co-Founder and CEO. “The ACiiST network is already installed as the connectivity platform for multiple cities in Israel, Africa and the European Union, and we are excited to now add the United States to this list.”

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