Peachtree Corners Life
Tim Perry with More About What’s Coming to The Forum
Management is already running The Forum as if it’s Avalon. Starting with the basics like landscaping and security, but also the Friday Night Live music, new tenants are arriving like High Country Outfitters, the multi-family development on the town center side will likely start next summer, plus new businesses coming into a part of the 80,000 sq feet of office space. Learn more through our podcast with Tim Perry, Managing Partner of North American Properties.
The Forum Website: https://theforumpeachtree.com
The Forum Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theforumptc
“We’ve been excited about the Forum for years, even though we just purchased it earlier this year. And (we’re) excited about working with Peachtree Corners because it’s such a great community.”Tim perry
Timestamp (where to find it in the podcast):
[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:02:22] – North American Properties in The Community
[00:05:58] – New Types of Retail Coming
[00:08:48] – Breaking Ground on Residential
[00:11:00] – Plans for the Office Space
[00:13:49] – How the Economy Affects Real Estate
[00:22:57] – Making the Details Matter
[00:26:00] – Closing
SCROLL DOWN FOR THE VIDEO
[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone, this is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. I appreciate you guys joining us. We have a great guest today, Tim Perry, managing partner of North American Properties. Hey, Tim, how are you?
[00:00:42] Tim: Doing great, Rico. How are you today?
[00:00:44] Rico: Good. Beautiful day, when we’re recording this live. Hopefully this will be an evening when people view it. Tim’s the managing partner of North American Properties, owners of as many people know the Forum now. But before we get into this interview, I just wanna say thank you to our corporate sponsor, EV Remodeling Inc. and Eli, the owner and resident of Peachtree Corners. They’ve been a great supporter of our journalism in the magazines and these podcasts. So just want to do a shout out to him. They do design-to-build and they’ll come in, remodel everything about your house inside and out. Done great work. He’s on Houzz if you’ve ever used that. Houzz.com. Check him out. Check him out at EVRemodelingInc.com as well. And for transparency’s sake, I also wanna say that the Forum is a supporter and advertiser in Peachtree Corners Magazine as well. So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. We’ve been talking about the Forum, this stuff going on for probably six to eight months. So I’m glad that you’re on this podcast sharing with me a little bit about what’s gonna be going on over the next year or so. At this point, I think people are a little bit used to seeing stuff going on at the Forum, like the Friday Night Live music, some of the local bands you’re bringing in. Kind of neat. And I know Ted’s Montana Grill participates with popup bar set up there so people can actually go drink and enjoy some music. Across the way from Town Center on a Friday night. How’s that going? Now that you guys own everything, zoning has been approved and all that, how are you guys doing with that, all this so far?
[00:02:20] Tim: Well thanks for having me on today, Rico.
[00:02:22] Rico: Sure.
[00:02:22] Tim: We’ve been excited about the Forum for years, even though we just purchased it earlier this year. And excited about working with Peachtree Corners because it’s such a great community. Operationally, I mean, you can look down at our track record. In fact in gosh, 2011 when my predecessor and I, Mark when we bought Atlantic Station. These properties or the opportunity that is created by the lack of past investment is what we do. So it’s front loaded from an expense standpoint. You spend the first year or so, or more, really activating the property and spending the money to build that community connection. And then you have to build in the physical infrastructure you need to actually execute it longer term. So while we’re doing Friday Night Music and things now, we’re having to repurpose parking lots and streets and everything in order to do it, versus actually having the public realm. The lack of public realm at the Forum, like Avalon or Atlantic Station or others, it created the opportunity for us to bring the public realm there and have somewhere to host these in the future. So you just have to kind of plow through it and embrace the community. And that’s what leases space, and that’s what attracts the merchants, and that’s what attracts the restaurants that turn this into long term. So we’re running the Forum like it’s Avalon, even though the leasing has you know, trails certainly that merchandisers are showing that activation.
[00:03:43] Rico: Right. Yeah. And I think most people know at this point in Peachtree Corners traveling through the Forum, that there were as many as, I think 20 storefronts empty at one point. And of course, just also to be fair, there were people that were opposed to some of the zoning adjustments and stuff. But in the end, I mean, driving, creating, and keeping the way the Forum is by before you purchased it, just didn’t make business sense, right? Buying it, redeveloping it. I mean, you guys have a track record with Atlantic Station, Colony Square. You’ve done the Avalon from ground up in Alpharetta. And prior to us starting this podcast, we were talking like you mentioned, front loading that investment. Getting people used to, I mean, you guys supported really well, Light Up The Corners. And I think that’s a perfect example. Better than it’s been done before. Giving way more space to it than it was given by the prior owners of the Forum. Now I think that was a great first step that you guys gave. Just, it was a good experience, I think, for most people.
[00:04:46] Tim: Well, thank you. Yeah. We’re getting there for sure. And the additional zoning and all that we went through for the approvals for the public realm and the additional parking. All of those components really are gonna create the space where we can activate. And then the additional density, whether that’s filling up the office space that’s there, or it’s bringing 381 residents, or it’s bringing people in the hotel to the property. It’s not just the people that are there, it’s them and bringing their friends and bringing their family and their kids’ friends.
[00:05:16] Rico: Right.
[00:05:16] Tim: And then the community. And that coupled with having a great public space is what makes it all successful. And the retailers and the merchants are responding to our plan, which is very active on the north end and very active around the plaza. In front of Grace and Belk. And now it’s merchandising. It’s filling in the food, the beverage, the patios, and that retail run. Because ultimately successful retail all sort of has a track effect. You go up one side of the street, you come back down the other side of the street, yeah. If you get off that track, it’s why malls work, right? You go to a two story mall, you go down the mall and you go upstairs, you come back. That’s why when you see a third story in a mall, it’s almost always empty. There is a certain habit to how people engage with the property. And we want that to start and finish there in the plaza.
[00:05:58] Rico: Yeah, I get that too because, for example, my middle child, 24 years old, she goes to the Forum basically for Lulu Lemon, Ulta, and that’s about it. Once she gets there and she leaves. I mean, she doesn’t really eat there. Maybe she gets her, I don’t even know if she gets her eyelashes done there or not. But those are the two stores that she basically goes to. And then, but she loves Avalon. She goes there with her friends all the time. And they’ll stroll around after dinner and stuff. So I get that because her generation is not gonna be doing that track because there’s not enough. There’s not the right retail, I think. You could have enough retail, but if it’s not the right retail. So tell us a little bit about that. I mean, it’s not just retail, right? I mean you’re looking, I think, at also bringing entertainment of a sort, besides concert and music. But tell us a little bit about the type of retail that you’re starting to get besides Chopped and now I just saw High Country Outfitters is coming.
[00:06:56] Tim: High Country Outfitters is coming. We’ve got a brewery that’s looking at taking a spot. We have a distillery that’s looking at putting an onsite distillery there as well. As we know, we’ve got a food hall on the north end. LuLu Lemon is working to expand right in that location as well. And then it’s fortifying the tenants that are there. And then from the entertainment side, it’s not, there’s not a space to do anything that’s a really large format. There’s no theater, there’s no bowling alley type thing. But that, there’s a niche now, and I call it competitive socializing, right? And it’s been around forever. We just kind of gave it a name. And it’s bowling, it’s golf, it’s darts, it’s ax throwing. It’s all of these different things you can do. It’s pickle ball, it’s tennis, it’s corn hole leagues bringing all that into the mix, both from a tenant and an activation standpoint. People want to do it, I want to go out and I want to play a game or watch a game with my friends. So there’s a whole niche around this sort of competitive socialization of a retailer that’s coming as well. And then the soft goods piece follows. And the Forum’s always had the demographics and the density of the market to support it. That was the original reason it was built. And now it’s just putting in the newer, more emerging brands into the center and that kind of retail run. I’ve said this to you before, is you walk down one side, you work the track. You sort of get to where, maybe where Lulu is and you look down, you’re like, ah, there’s nothing else down there. And you turn around, right?
[00:08:18] Rico: Yes.
[00:08:18] Tim: You’ve gotta extend that track. So the improvements that are on the north end by the office are meant to pull you. Kind of go down and come back through. So that retail run will be built, but kind of get filled out soon.
[00:08:29] Rico: Yeah, interesting. Because I know when I go there and I want to park and I need to get something, it’s almost like, do I wanna go down that stretch because there’s, maybe I wanna get something at Jason’s Deli. But I have to go all the way down there for that and there’s nothing else along the way that would be of interest. Except for the chocolatier, because I’m a nut with that, but.
[00:08:47] Tim: Right.
[00:08:48] Rico: But yeah, I understand. And you’re right, that competitive piece, entertainment piece. I mean, it’s such a big thing now. I mean, you’re getting VR, XR type places coming where you can eat, drink, and go play. And that’s the attitude everyone, I think a lot of kids that grew up over the last two decades are adults now, right? They want to, everything’s a gamification of something. So they want to be able to be out there and enjoy themselves and do all that. And I know bringing like 381 apartments to the Forum itself is going to help with that. In fact, you know, what’s the timeline on that? I know for a different timelines on there. Any thought about when that breaks ground?
[00:09:30] Tim: Well, it’s really the residential that the city approved for us on both sides of 141, right? So that’s a lot of residents that are coming and pieces that are now going to connect the bridge and hopefully draw people back and forth. I know this weekend, is it a Prince cover band?
[00:09:44] Rico: Yes, I think so, yes.
[00:09:46] Tim: That there on the Town Green. Now, I’d love to see people parking on the Forum side and walking over. It should be a beautiful weekend, I think. So hopefully that works. But using that as a transit piece going back and forth. So it’s really the residents on both sides that fuel both sides, again, of the property. So we’re excited to have those. We’re excited to have the hotel and that just brings more people into it. But the gamification of everything is important. So next summer is roughly when we hope to begin the public realm improvements. And we want to start, we want to have those tenants open. The new tenants open, that will announce as we sign leases. New tenants open for the holidays in 24.
[00:10:25] Rico: 24, okay.
[00:10:26] Tim: Just building space or public realm, is not as, it’s not that time consuming. But once we get a space and you hand it over to a tenant, there’s still a four to six month process for a tenant to put their stuff in, and FF&E, and decorate, whatever else. So there’s that entire stretch, you kinda have to add onto the end of the landlord’s work with projects. And then the part with the multi-family side, being the east side of 141 can start as early as next summer. And then on the Forum side, that is probably a 2025.
[00:10:56] Rico: Alright.
[00:10:57] Tim: And the hotel may move more quickly than that
[00:11:00] Rico: Really? Okay. Getting back to a little bit about the office space, there’s about 80,000 square feet. I didn’t realize how much square feet there was of office space there. And most people don’t even think about that, like I said, unless they go into Innovative Help there, the dentist, Dr. Talley. Or unless they have a professional service they’re going to over there. But most people don’t even think about that. How is that? What plans do you have there? I don’t even know what the vacancy rate is right now. But what plans do you have there moving forward?
[00:11:29] Tim: We’ve signed our first lease. It’s a pediatric medical use, pediatric dental use. So we’ve got that. And the building there above Trader Joe’s, there’s three floors. It’s got a fair amount of medical space, which is great. It’s convenient, it’s embedded in the neighborhood. There’s nothing like taking your kid to the doctor and then going down to the chocolatier, right? For a little snack.
[00:11:48] Rico: Right.
[00:11:49] Tim: It’ll make you forget about that shot, right? So it’s a great place. It’s a great use for it. And then there’s, there’s a lot more space though above like Pottery Barn on the second floor. And previously, about half of that is leased and the other half was part of the Spa Sydell. You remember Spa Sydell?
[00:12:04] Rico: Right. Yes, yes.
[00:12:06] Tim: And so we’ve actually gutted that space and opened it up to use it as office rather, than a service provider. It was very chopped up. We were already talking with a tenant about that space. We’ve been talking to one tenant where we would’ve to move a bunch of people around that would take a lot more space than we even have. So demand in a mixed use environment for office is always really strong. And if you look at all the uses top to bottom, whether you’re a guest for a few hours because you’re there shopping or dining, or you’re a guest overnight in the hotel, or for a year, right?
[00:12:40] Rico: Right, right.
[00:12:41] Tim: As an apartment resident or for multi years as an office tenant, everyone wants the same thing. They want what’s outside their door. Not what’s inside their door. So, the retail, it pulls people through a retail and creates sale, which creates a longevity to those tenants. So when your daughter goes back, there’s always her favorite store where she’s gonna go and shop. Same with restaurants. She’s always going to have her favorite restaurant that’s going to be there. And for those who don’t know Grace is closing and rebranding and reopening. But the business itself sold. It wasn’t anything that we instigated. It was something we were told. It sold, and we’re really looking forward to working with the new owners there.
[00:13:20] Rico: Yeah, I think they’re the same owners of Stäge is what I understand. Or associated somehow with them.
[00:13:26] Tim: That’s correct, that’s correct.
[00:13:27] Rico: And I think it’s a French oriented restaurant. Somewhere along those lines, from what I understand.
[00:13:32] Tim: So we’re excited about that. And that’s such a great corner. You know, businesses evolve over time. We’re really happy to have a fresh face in that corner. With the Plaza, it’s gonna be such a key corner. Everybody parked in the deck and everyone going to and from cars. Everyone getting either car valet or coming to an event, it’s gonna be right outside their door.
[00:13:49] Rico: Yeah, they’re going to have a lot of value there, I’m sure for that. And I know Grace 1720, I mean, they’ve been there, they were there a long time. So it was, I think the owners just wanted to sell at that. I think they’ve gotten to that point, the original owners, I think. But that’s cool. So, people are looking at the economy right now, right? A little bit. They’re looking at some inflationary stuff. Who knows what’s gonna happen over the next 24 months or so. There’s so many people. And even the people that are supposedly experts have been getting it wrong, for a while now.
[00:14:19] Tim: Right.
[00:14:19] Rico: It seems. Yeltsin, I think just admitted that she was wrong a little bit about her predictions a year or two ago. How does that affect the Forum moving forward and stuff? Do you hear anything on that or is that even an issue at this point?
[00:14:32] Tim: Well we’re very fortunate to have a large institutional partner. And the rise in interest rates alone isn’t impacting the Forum because there’s no debt on it. So we’re blessed not to have that increasing cost as a detriment to our ability to execute on the plan. And because we’ve set out with a business plan to do all of this in closing, all of that was capitalized as part of what we’ve agreed to go forward and do. So there are still a lot of things to work through with the city. I mean as we said during the development. Entitlements aren’t designed right?
[00:15:07] Rico: Right.
[00:15:07] Tim: You still have to get through and spend the design dollars and the permitting and the approvals and everything with the community review and zoning, design review. So we’re working through that with the city right now on different components. I think from a tenancy standpoint, there’s definitely risk, right? There’s tenants, regardless of what they are, tend to swing sometimes strongly, one way or the other from let’s not do anything and wait to, oh my gosh, I’ve gotta do 200 new units across the country this year. I’ve gotta get going.
[00:15:36] Rico: Right.
[00:15:36] Tim: And what we’ve seen is some slow down. Not everyone’s leaning in to, expanding as fast as possible. But good location, good real estate, is fundamentally good real estate. So there may be locations for national tenants that aren’t moving forward, but something like a Forum, an Avalon or Avenue East Cobb or some of our other projects are not those. Just amount of interest, the amount of expansion. Especially at this point, rather than five years down the road when it’s probably more expensive to lease space there but there’s less of it. At this point, the real good real estate continues to lease. And the Forum, the Forum is catching that. There’s a flight to quality in almost all economic downturns. And that means office, right? You have a lot of options. I want to go the A location or the A property or the A product. And the Forum is the A location, the A product, in an A property. So it’s kind of all of the, checks all those boxes.
[00:16:34] Rico: Yeah, it makes sense. I mean, it really, within the city of Peachtree Corners, it’s actually the only A retail besides Town Center, right?
[00:16:41] Tim: Right.
[00:16:42] Rico: So if you’re coming to Peachtree Corners, I mean, this is the place to do it, I guess, right?
[00:16:46] Tim: Collectively with Town Center, that’s what creates the A location. That’s what creates if you’re talking about downtown Peachtree Corners. And that’s how we sell it, and that’s how everyone should think of this is downtown Peachtree Corners. This is my amenity. This is where we take our family. This is where we take our friends. This is where we go to spend some time. And now soft goods want critical mass, and there’s not critical mass at the Town Center side. So that’s where the Forum would be different than Town Center. And not compete directly. I mean, there’s still a need for that QSR and that Center on both sides.
[00:17:16] Rico: For sure. And I think as people, as I’ve spoken to people at business association meeting chambers and other business people. The economy may shift and do certain things, but that doesn’t mean every business is affected the same and equally by that. And I think you’re right. I mean, there are a lot of businesses taking this opportunity now. Because it makes sense to be able to do what they need to do. Because like, you’re right, five years from now, even if we get into a recession at some point within the next year or two. We come out of a recession. It’s not, businesses don’t stop, right? If they’re fundamentally a good business and they’ve planned out and they’ve budgeted out what they’re doing, they’re not going to stop.
[00:17:58] Tim: Right.
[00:17:58] Rico: They’re just gonna keep going because that makes sense. Unless it was done, unless that decision was done on bad principle, right?
[00:18:05] Tim: Quality and talent, right? I mean, companies want to, you’ve gotta keep your talent. Because there is a backside to this.
[00:18:11] Rico: Right.
[00:18:12] Tim: And you know, the most valuable commodity we all have is our time. Our time and our talent. So keeping it all together and staying the course. That’s the reason we only buy you know, really well located class A locations. Even if the property has fallen out of that classification, we can bring them back. And you look at Colony Square and Midtown, these are 50 year old buildings.
[00:18:30] Rico: Yes.
[00:18:31] Tim: But from an occupancy and from a leasing, from an occupancy and from a rental standpoint, they compete with the class A market. Just things, the products that are 10 years old, right? So it competes in that sector because of the quality of the location, the quality of the experience. The amenity downstairs.
[00:18:46] Rico: That’s right. I agree with that. I mean, before the rezoning there were people talking about, oh, do we want multifamily there? And what’s that going to do and stuff. And after, I guess some experts out there, like after you get three cycles of tenants, then it falls apart. And I look at that and you look at the apartments in Peachtree Corners, most of them are like garden apartments. We don’t have mid-rise apartment buildings in Peachtree Corners. It’s a whole different animal. And especially where it’s going to be located. It’s a whole different animal. It’s almost like when discussing, people would tell me, yeah, but then in seven years it’s going to be bad. And it’s like, what does that mean?
[00:19:24] Tim: Right.
[00:19:24] Rico: That means, if that happens, the whole downtown area is bad, is what you’re saying.
[00:19:28] Tim: And because where one goes the other follows. But we’re not gonna let that happen. You know, if you keep the street, if you keep the life. We say it all the time. We’re not leasing space, we’re leasing lifestyle. And that’s the difference between a garden apartment and this. You know, if somebody’s either need to live here because of something, then there’s a big wide market. I can live in a lot of different places. If there is a desire to live somewhere because I want to live that life. Then there are very few. And that’s where the resident profile is so different in a mixed use property. It’s older. It’s almost driven more by, well it is, it’s driven by their lifestyle. I want to go downstairs and have wine. I don’t want to cook. I want to go to the beach for two or three months at a time, but I still need to come up here and meet a client. Or just my doctor, my friends, my golf course are all here so I need that. And it’s not, that’s true in every market. We see it at Avalon all the time. Unless someone moves out and moves to the beach full time, they typically move into a town home or something that’s right around Avalon or downtown Alpharetta. And we have the same thing. Just last week, we had a grand opening, a grand reopening, a celebration of our redevelopment. Almost identical to the Forum called Birkdale Village. That’s up in Huntersville, North Carolina. Just north of Charlotte up on Lake Norman. Almost identical. I mean, if you go to BirkdaleVillage.com, and if you look at that. The stage, the sound, the concierge, it’s all going to look almost the same. So go check it out. In fact, it’s a beautiful property. We just opened it last week. And I was there and talking with someone who was attending. And they were a resident, they were in their fifties. They had a house at Hilton Head. They had sold their house across the street of the country club and were building a house in Bluffton. And they wanted a home base next to their doctor, their friends and their kids who lived in that park. But they wanted to lock and leave, and they wanted to be able to walk downstairs and sit outside on a beautiful day or what else and not drive. And not drive, right? And that’s the profile. And it’s very consistent when you get into these mixed use. I guess everyone is a resident by choice, because you can choose wherever you wanna live. But it’s really a renter by choice because they have an option of owning or buying.
[00:21:36] Rico: Oh yeah. One of my writers lives in downtown Duluth. Him and his wife saved quite a bit of money. He likes writing for me part-time in about stuff going on in Duluth. He just started and he lives right on, like right there in downtown.
[00:21:50] Tim: Right.
[00:21:51] Rico: And they rented it. They thought, let’s test out this. We could always go to a different rental place down the block if this one doesn’t work out. So they’re testing out stuff and they love living downtown. They just go down to the restaurants, they go to the concerts on the town green there in Duluth. It’s a beautiful area. You know, it’s a nice downtown, but that took a while to build up that downtown.
[00:22:12] Tim: Right. And we’ll see how the recession affects ownership because it’s more expensive to own. Which means there’s typically, you know, it’s kind of a slow down. And one thing has to reset. Either the price of homes have to come down or your interest rates have to come down. Either way, kind of supply, marketing. It kind of slows down a little bit. And I think that’ll create probably a net zero effect. People who stay in a resident, an apartment longer because they think they can get a deal on a home, they maybe willing to sell less. People still have to move.
[00:22:41] Rico: Right.
[00:22:41] Tim: Or they may say, you know what, we’re going to hang out here and wait for the recession to blow over so I can get a lower rate and afford more home than what I may be able to afford now. So it’s gonna be interesting, but it’s the same kind of tenant, resident profile in both those cases.
[00:22:57] Rico: Yeah, and I think also the way that you all look at, just the look of a place also. I mean, I could see the difference in even the plantings of the flowers when you guys first took over. Whereas before it almost looked like, they just did minimal planting and then later it looks like, wow, this, did they build that up? Or is this just more flowers there? Just the little things like that to me because I notice those things make a difference. Because that tells me they’re paying attention to the detail.
[00:23:26] Tim: Yeah.
[00:23:26] Rico: High Country even, their facade is a lot different than the other places.
[00:23:31] Tim: Right.
[00:23:31] Rico: The other stores there.
[00:23:33] Tim: You eat with your eyes, right?
[00:23:34] Rico: Yeah, I mean.
[00:23:35] Tim: We say it all the time. That’s kind of a big evolution. Tenants, these neutral colors and just slap a sign up on the building.
[00:23:43] Rico: Yeah.
[00:23:44] Tim: It all looks the same. That’s not the current market. I mean, if you look at Avalon, that’s, we broke ground at Avalon in 2012, I mean ten years ago. Look at all those different storefronts. And now each of those. I guess it was ’13, so almost ten years ago, nine years ago. Each of those storefronts as you put new tenants in will express itself. And that’s a really important part of creating that eat with your eyes, that experience.
[00:24:09] Rico: Yeah.
[00:24:10] Tim: I like to say, I’m glad to hear you say you notice those things. If everything is right, you don’t notice anything, right?
[00:24:16] Rico: Right.
[00:24:17] Tim: You walk through it, and it feels good. I don’t know why it feels good. I can’t say it feels good because of the flowers or the lights or the music. It just feels good. But if you walk through and it feels bad, you know exactly why it feels bad. And so, those things, people notice when something’s wrong. And when it’s right, they don’t tend to. They just, it just feels good. So we like to hear people notice when things are wrong, because that means we can go and attack it and fix it. We’ve been doing that ever since we closed in March. Glad to hear it makes a difference. I mean it’s gum on the sidewalks to flowers, to planting, to music, to lighting. To consistent uniforms. Even with outside vendor, like the custodial team. It’s that one vision, one shared understanding of what excellence means and a strive to create it.
[00:25:05] Rico: Yeah, I’ve noticed that. I’ve noticed the uniforms. I noticed security, more security. They’re dressed in a certain way also. Which is good. I mean, people want to feel safe as well, right? To where they go.
[00:25:17] Tim: How many real estate owners have a grooming standards in their operating manuals, right? You know? So not a lot.
[00:25:24] Rico: Yeah. No, no. And you have apparently.
[00:25:27] Tim: And we have. Right. We have to say everything matters, right? Good enough, never good enough, so.
[00:25:32] Rico: Yes. No, I love the idea of Disney World, Crown Plaza. The idea that when people, the way you say when people step on the property, you want people to feel welcomed and safe and know that they’re gonna be taken care of. So it’s all good.
[00:25:47] Tim: We want them to come back, right? We want them to come back. We want people to say, this is my Forum. It’s not mine, it’s yours. It’s yours because you want to come use it. And if there’s something wrong with your property, your Forum, tell us what it is.
[00:25:59] Rico: Right.
[00:25:59] Tim: We’ll fix it.
[00:26:00] Rico: Cool. Well, we’ve been talking to Tim Perry, managing partner of North American Properties. Just a lot going on there and I know there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes that you probably can’t talk about. Retail partners that may be coming in that slowly your team will be sharing who they are at some point. Anything else you wanna tell us, Tim, about things moving forward that you’d like to share that we haven’t touched upon?
[00:26:24] Tim: We’re gonna start our holiday activation this year. So November 18th is actually our tree lighting and our holiday parties. We’ll have an event that day. I want everyone to come out, park on both sides, walk across the bridge, use it, come over. And we really look forward to getting on the true design right? I mean, not just the renderings and things people have seen in the papers, but the plans ready so we can get this thing moving next year. But we’re looking forward to the holidays this year. We’re looking forward to some great new announcements. Keep coming out to the events. That’s the best way to stay engaged with what’s going on with the property. And in 2024 we’re all gonna have a plaza and a whole list of events and new breweries and wineries and distilleries and retailers to enjoy. And it seems like a long time on the front end, two years from now, we’re gonna go, wow, it seems like yesterday. But we’re really big on doing what we say we’re gonna do. And we’ve been saying what we’re gonna do now we’re gonna go do it.
[00:27:20] Rico: Yeah, time flies. Seems like it’s going to take a while, but by the time we get there, you know, it’ll be like, wow. This is the way it’s gonna look, okay.
[00:27:28] Tim: Right, right.
[00:27:29] Rico: So cool. Anyone that wants to know more about what’s going on at the Forum, you could check, follow the social media, the Forum at Peachtree Corners. Right, the Forum at Peachtree Corners. They have a new logo, obviously, I think listeners should know a bit more about that. So follow them on Facebook as well. They have a newsletter, I believe. I think you all have a newsletter that can be signed up on, on your website.
[00:27:51] Tim: You can sign up on the website for email blasts and newsletters and that kind of stuff. And follow our social media. We have a social media coordinator on every property as well as marketing, event planning, and all that kinda stuff. So we’re really active on social media. Follow it, that’s the best way to know what’s going on. That or the webpage. That’s both from physically what’s going on as well as events and what’s coming, what’s going on there.
[00:28:12] Rico: Right.
[00:28:13] Tim: Follow us, I look forward to engaging there more.
[00:28:15] Rico: Yeah, lots of music on Friday night, so keep that going too. And it’s great to see the businesses participating like Ted’s Montana Grill and stuff on doing that popup for drinks. And of course follow us, Peachtree Corners Magazine and our social media. Subscribe to our newsletter, you can find that on our website at LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com because we’re always covering what’s going on here in the city of Peachtree Corners. Check out our magazine, our latest issue, somewhere around here, is coming out and it’s the pets issue. We are currently working on Southwest Gwinnett Magazine in our 19 under 19 edition. 19 kids that you should be looking out for, things that they’re doing. And in the Peachtree Corners magazine, we’ll be doing the faces of Peachtree Corners in the next issue. And so some top leaders and community people that are doing great things here in the city, business people and others. So check us out, follow the Forum. Tim, I appreciate, you’re a busy guy. You have lots going on all over the country, I’m sure. But I appreciate you spending the time with me this morning to be able to do this podcast interview.
[00:29:23] Tim: Absolutely. We travel a lot, but this is home. Two years from now, we’re gonna drive through home and we’re gonna be proud, Rico.
[00:29:28] Rico: Yeah, you live up in Johns Creek, so I mean, right? You’re right close to us. Cool. So everyone, thank you again. Tim, stay with me for a minute. I just wanna say thank you again to EV Remodeling Inc. for being a sponsor, a corporate sponsor, supporting our journalism. The publication, as well as the podcast that we do. Thanks, Eli. Check them out. They do great work. Eli lives here in the community. This is a Peachtree Corners based business. Lots of remodeling work they’ve done. Some actually pretty nice stuff that they’ve done, so check them out. EVRemodelingInc.com. Thanks again, Tim.
[00:30:04] Tim: Thank you.
On Topic: City Budget, City Marshals, FAA and Drones and Dog Parks [Podcast]
Brian Johnson, the city manager of Peachtree Corners, Georgia, shares exciting updates and plans for the city’s technology and community development. From the successful Curiosity Lab Criterion Road Race to the construction of a new dog park and housing redevelopment, this podcast offers a glimpse into the innovative projects and partnerships that are transforming the city. Johnson’s insights also shed light on how Peachtree Corners invests in its residents’ safety, well-being, and quality of life.
0:00:00 – Intro
0:01:11 – The Curiosity Lab Criterion Road Race
0:12:34 – Pickleball Feasibility Study
0:16:46 – The City Marshall System
0:20:44 – Budget, Housing, Dog Parks, and More
0:31:50 – FAA and Drone Programs
0:33:59 – Closing
Rico Figliolini 0:00:00
Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. And today we have Brian Johnson. Hey, Brian, thanks for showing.
Brian Johnson 0:00:05
Rico, how are you?
Rico Figliolini 0:00:08
Good. Been a busy week for you, I’m sure.
Brian Johnson 0:00:10
A lot of them are lately.
Rico Figliolini 0:00:12
Yes, seems to be. Before we get right into it with Brian, city manager here at Peachtree Corners, let’s just say thank you to EV Remodeling Inc. for being a corporate sponsor of ours. Eli, who is the owner of the company, lives here in Peachtree Corners. They do great work, check them out. They’ve been a great supporter of our work as well. We appreciate them for doing that. You could check out EVRemodeling.com and see all the great work that they’re doing here in the City of Peachtree Corners as well as throughout the metro area. So, Brian, it’s been weeks leading up to the event. Last night we’re recording this a day after the Curiosity Lab Criterion Road Race, which was a big event here in Peachtree Corners as part of that speed week that Atlanta is holding and midweek on what started out as a rainy day. But I understand everything went well and phenomenal stuff. Why don’t you give us a little detail about how it went?
Brian Johnson 0:01:11
Well, as you remember, when we’ve talked about this was a result of a conversation and a meeting that we had here at the city when we were at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. And we met with a company called Spoke Safety that has created a device that can allow for enhanced safety for what are termed vulnerable road users, and that are essentially anybody who is on a roadway that’s not in an automobile. So this would be everything from motorcycles down to people who use E-Scooters to bicyclists and even pedestrians. But this device, which is about the size of a pack of cards, allows for there to be two way communication between where this device is and an automobile. And so it’ll basically be telling cars, hey, here is where this vulnerable road user is, and it can receive signals as well to where a car is like, fine, well, this is where we are. And so it can create basic safety messages to where in the case of bicyclist, if you had this device with you and you were approaching a car from the right, the driver of the car would get an alert saying, bicycle approaching on the right. And this company had come up with this technology and they wanted or needed some location that had the infrastructure in place to facilitate the deployment and the demonstration of this technology. And they already had a relationship with Audi and with Qualcomm. And we started talking and I said, well, we have proper city streets to be able to support this at Curiosity Labs. The streets inside of Curiosity Lab can do it. And they got excited. And so then there was talk about, all right, if this is going to be the world’s first deployment demonstration of this technology. We make this into a significant event. How can we make sure that when it’s deployed, it’s done well? And I had some experience both as a participant back when I did a lot of cycling, and as the city manager of a community that had a long standing Criterion event every year, the Sunny King Criterium in Anniston, Alabama. And so I said, what if we did a Criterion here in Peacetree Corners and use that as an opportunity? And they loved it. So the result was, in a very short period of time, we were able to secure a date right in the middle of Speed Week, in between the two weekend events of Athens Twilight and the Sunny King and get a midday event. And we had a Criterium here that was part of the official USA Criterium annual calendar this year. And we had all the racing teams come out here and we created this Criterion. And in between the pro women’s and pro men’s event, we officially unveiled this technology, deployed it on a public street, did it live streaming. This event was live streamed internationally, and the result of it was a successful deployment. We now have an official partnership with Audi Phenomenal. Yes. We will now be exploring the enhancement of this vulnerable road user technology in a way that we can make it better, make it easier to use and to help scale it up so that we can improve the safety of those vulnerable road users that are on the roadway. Maybe one day, if this technology works out, and the theory behind it is sound, but so if it works out, look back and think that we played a small part in helping improve the safety on our roadways.
Rico Figliolini 0:05:14
Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s just the fact that the city is able to do that and provide this atmosphere, this environment, to be able to do that type of testing. I mean, everything starts out with the device. I can actually see this device becoming smaller or maybe even morphing into being able to use it as an app on phones already with GPS locations and stuff. But it has to start somewhere. I’m glad the city is able to provide that environment. And that’s just crazy that Audi is now an official partner in this stuff. There aren’t that many car companies out there, right? So to have to be able to have Audi come and say, we want to be an official partner here, that’s just awesome.
Brian Johnson 0:05:56
It has to go all the way to Germany. It’s Volkswagen Group is who owns Audi. So I had to go all the way over there for them to bless off on it. But they did because we have an environment that they’re really not finding elsewhere. Audi, like the big other Big OEMs, has their own private test track for their vehicles, sure, but this is to do testing with this vulnerable road user technology. And you need public streets and you need the public. So we’ll play a small part. We’ll put some of these devices on our public works vehicles. We’ll put them in our city Marshall vehicles, and we’ll even have our public works employees who are mowing the lawns or the mowing out like Peacery Parkway. Now, you may brought up a good point. This technology is great. And Audi’s testing was for the messages that there’s like a cyclist approaching from the right or whatever to come up on the dashboard of the car. So that’s where Audi is really wanting to have cars coming off the assembly line with the ability to receive these messages. Just where you would where if your check oil light came on or whatever, and it could even be audible if you want it to be. But as we know that even if every single brand new car coming off the line had this, it’s going to be 25 plus years before we flush out most of the existing cars that don’t have that technology. How do we scale this sooner? And you hit it right on, and that is through an app. We talked about it once before. Even if I am going somewhere, somewhere in town, especially closer to Atlanta, where it’s getting more dense, even if I know exactly where I’m going, you know what I will still do? I’ll pull my phone out and I’ll pull the up or Google Maps for the traffic because I want to know, all right, I know how to get there. But is traffic bad? Do I need to take a different route? If you can get we can get this technology to come up messages inside of like Waze or Google.
Rico Figliolini 0:08:11
Brian Johnson 0:08:12
Everybody will be able to use this. So that’s how we scale this. So again, we’re going to do our small part of making our ecosystem available for this type of technology to hopefully become and everything.
Rico Figliolini 0:08:27
Yeah, that makes sense. I can see the applications even if it doesn’t get into ways. Although small companies like this that start off get bought out by larger companies, right, because they get absorbed into their environment, like you said. So this way Waze can be able to provide that information to the driver. I mean, sometimes I’ll put on Apple Map and stuff like that, always just because I may be on the phone and I want the system to be able to tell me, remind me.
Brian Johnson 0:09:01
That’s exactly right.
Rico Figliolini 0:09:02
Yes. My wife says that I don’t even. Have to think of where’s my next turn, because I’m just a good point. Because otherwise you have to be aware of everything around you at every single minute, which I’m not a bad driver, I think a good driver, but it’s like auto assist, right? So I think that’s where we’re going. So, yeah, if it can be in an app like that or I can even see Uber let’s say a lyft looking at that and saying, you know, our drivers this is a propensity maybe, I don’t know what the data shows, but they don’t want the drivers hitting people and having problems too. So I could see a big company like that looking at this also and saying, you know what, that’s not a bad add on to what we’re doing.
Brian Johnson 0:09:52
Yeah, that’d be great points. But at the end of the day we had a pretty cool event. Had a couple of hundred people here as spectators, especially near the end of the evening around seven to around 945 when it ended. And that was with being a first time event. Wasn’t great weather and isn’t in our downtown. I was a little bit worried that the turnout would not be there but was we had food trucks here, we had some companies showing off some other types of technology. The racing teams were out here big and pro racers loved the course. They thought it was very technical and very unique and we had racers from all over the world australia, New Zealand, Europe, all over the country. It was a pretty cool thing. Puts us on the map. It gave our community a unique event go to and we were putting Curiosity Labs ecosystem to use. So all in all, a good event couldn’t do it without rock star staff that put it on. And when you surround yourself with smart people and the tell you the resources they need and you get it to them and get out of their way, it can do some great stuff. So I got an unbelievable staff and the obviously mayor and council the support us, they are open to new things like this. They well attended throughout the course of the day because it started with amateurs 03:00 we even had the small kids race. Five to seven year olds and then like eight to ten year olds and they got on their bikes and the had started here and then at the starting line. And it’s always cool to see those kids, everything from the kids who don’t pedal yet, they just use their feet down with training wheels and others bike and so that was cool too. So it was a good event.
Rico Figliolini 0:12:02
It takes a lot of logistical work to get this put together, especially in that short amount of time that you guys had.
Brian Johnson 0:12:09
Early February is when we decided to do it. Yeah, pleased with it. So I think right now we’re probably leaning forward in the saddle on doing it again. I don’t really have a reason not to so other than just the time and energy it takes to set it up. But anyway, good things happening here. Never a dull moment.
Rico Figliolini 0:12:34
No, for sure. And we should hit upon a few of these things as some quick bursts because there are quite a few things well, not quite a few things, but there’s always a lot of things, but there’s four elements that we just want to hit real quick on. We’ve dove into them in more detail before, but just to give an update on it. So we discussed at one point about pickleball looking at possibly a 40 or 50 court facility here in Peachtree Corners. And I think the largest is what I found the largest in the metro area was 25, I think, or something when I was checking stats on that, of what was available. So feasibility study happening, not happening. Where is that going?
Brian Johnson 0:13:18
Yes. So we talked about it. Yes. For us to do this right, to not shoot too high, too low, we brought some professionals in. So it’s a sports facility consulting firm that does feasibility studies. So we’ve commissioned this firm to do one. It’ll take about a month and ultimately they’ll come back and they’ll tell us what is the market we’re competing with, what’s the demand out there? What can we expect as far as special events and how much economic development activity? What about ongoing, what size does it need to be? Are we going to cannibalize something if we do it? All of the things to consider and then based on that, mayor and council can look at it, make a decision on does the city want to facilitate doing something? Maybe we do and it’s smaller than we thought because of whatever. Maybe we shoot for the stars and we want to do it, who knows? But got about a month and when they present the results, I’ll end up organizing a meeting and invite kind of the people in Peachtree Corners that are involved in Pickleball and care about it. Everything from even you as you’ve gotten more interest in it, to people who play it a lot, to companies who are looking to maybe even be involved in managing it if we do it. Just kind of get everybody together and let them hear the results and we’ll see where it goes from there.
Rico Figliolini 0:14:48
Cool. So we’ll see that study sometime after that. Four weeks probably at a city council meeting, I guess, or a public meeting.
Brian Johnson 0:14:57
To be honest with you. I’ll probably have the results presented before that at a different meeting and then go in front of council because council is going to need to make a decision based off of it. That would be more of what they do at the city council meeting is say, all right, we heard the results, we’ve had a chance to digest it. This is what we’re going to do about it. So I’ll probably just have schedule an evening one night or maybe a lunch one. And it’s going to be inviting the people who have reached out to me and are involved and have been like, man, I played a lot, what can I do? To whatever people who care about it? Those are the ones who are going to want to hear the results so maybe we do it over lunch one day and have some pizzas or whatever and do something like that. But yeah, sounds good. End of May. Beginning of June.
Rico Figliolini 0:15:54
We’ll have the yeah, I mean, there’s quite a few. It’s amazing how many businesses in the metro area and certainly there’s a few in the corners that are pickleball oriented within the industry and coaches, registered coaches and stuff like that.
Brian Johnson 0:16:10
Just announced the Pickleball League. Now I’m sorry, Atlanta just created a pickleball league.
Rico Figliolini 0:16:16
Yes, I heard that. This is the Atlanta law and tennis.
Brian Johnson 0:16:24
Yeah. So clearly there’s a demand. The question is, is it enough for the city to end up putting any time, energy and is what usually happens, money into facilitating something. And we want to make sure that we are shooting at the bullseye that we need to and it’s not too big, too small, whatever.
Rico Figliolini 0:16:46
I love the fact that the city not only looking at cutting edge technology, but they’re looking at other areas that might be great for our citizens and also the impact that it gives to this community. So got to love that. We also talked about city marshall in a couple of podcasts, the city marshall system. So it finally sounds like we’re starting to move on it. And you were saying that May 1. What’s happening?
Brian Johnson 0:17:10
May 1, beginning of May. So it’s in the budget. Council seen the rough draft of the budget and as we talked about before, they supported it. So we’re going to stand up a city marshall program and it’ll start with three. And so I’m going to start putting out the job announcement out there with the requirements and sometime beginning of May they’ll go out and the the June time frame is when we’ll be doing the interviews and job offers and July 1, when our next fiscal year starts. Now there’s the money in the budget to start standing it up. So sometime in July we’ll start having actual uniformed city marshals here and they’ll start filling in those gaps that we talked about before that we kind of feel the need to have filled. So the step in council feeling like they’re doing everything they can to try to make the city as safe as we can and they’re going to be post certified. We talked about just like Gwynette police. Duluth police, they will have the same exact authorities as any other police officer. Where they will be limited is by policy. So policy that we adopt, mayor, council adopt will end up being the one that keeps establishes their left and right limit. So for instance, by policy we’re not going to have them out on roadway shooting radar guns and riding speeding tickets. Will they have the authority to do that? Absolutely. But we’re not going to have the do that because that’s not going to be in their job description as the city marshal is defined by policy. So that’s how we’re going to orient their activities through those policies.
Rico Figliolini 0:18:55
So the city has already gotten all the logistics down and stuff. Do you know where they’re going to be? Sort of office out of, if you will.
Brian Johnson 0:19:03
Yeah, it’ll be out of City Hall. We actually, because of the lead time, purchased the vehicles. We purchased one truck. F 152 Ford Police Interceptor Explorers. They’re hybrid. They’re all hybrid vehicles.
Rico Figliolini 0:19:20
Oh, cool. Okay.
Brian Johnson 0:19:21
Not all EV. Trying to get like what’s the Ford pickup truck? All EV? What is that? The, I don’t recall anyway. But they have an all EV pickup truck. The lead time was like a couple of years. That wouldn’t work. We got hybrid. The truck will be outfitted in a way that we can have a drone take off from the back. We will be integrating a lot of drone stuff with the city Marshals as a technology asset for them to use to maybe do things preemptively. Maybe they fly them over problem areas helping to prevent hopefully, but if not solve criminal activity or do certain things. We’ve gotten some of those. They’ll be housed in City Hall. Okay, so got renovation going on to reconfigure some of the interior spaces of the building to facilitate their activity. And they’ll have a room here where they’ll be able to pull all the images off of all of our flock cameras and all the other video cameras and the fūsus system.
Rico Figliolini 0:20:40
So we’ll be connected to the fūsus system.
Brian Johnson 0:20:43
Rico Figliolini 0:20:44
Excellent. Good deal. Talking about budget, that’s coming up, right? Because it’s the June budget, the annual.
Brian Johnson 0:20:51
It is the May City Council meeting is when we’ll officially present the budget to council and community will be able to comment on what they hear. So that will be at the May Council meeting and then in June is when council will adopt it budgets. There’s not a lot of surprises. Obviously one of the big ones would be the City Marshall program. One of the other byproducts of that is we’re bringing the city attorney position in house. No longer be an employee of a separate law firm just because when you combine what additional municipal court activity we’re going to have in addition to all the Curiosity Lab stuff, we just need to have legal counsel here all the time. There’s just too much going on. And so it doesn’t make sense to always try to pay the overhead to a law firm when you’ve got somebody who’s here all day every day anyway. But yet they’re not here. They’re an attorney of another firm. So that’s a byproduct of it. There’s no financial hit. It’s just moving. Instead of paying a third party, it’s.
Rico Figliolini 0:22:05
Bringing yeah, probably better. The cost probably be a little better anyway.
Brian Johnson 0:22:11
Yeah, there’s a little bit of now you’ve got the cities having to pay health insurance and other things. So we don’t pay the overhead for that to the law firm. We’re doing it in house. So it’s a wash for all intents and purposes. A couple of things in there maybe of note, definitely got we’ve increased the amount of money we’re putting towards street resurfacing. We’ve got more money in there for multi use trail activity. Trying to do more of that. Really focusing on some of the bigger sections like Crooked Creek down the south side of the city. We’ve got a couple of projects that we’re looking to do on the south side we’ve talked about. One is some trailheads and public amenities along Peachtree Corners circle in between Holcomb Bridge and PIB. That would be part of that. We’ve got money there. We’ve got some money. A couple of million dollars set aside to do some housing redevelopment in the south part of the city to look for properties that are in foreclosure and in a state of disrepair. And the city may end up looking to acquire property and then turn around and have call it starter homes built to help with some of the housing.
Rico Figliolini 0:23:40
So we’re talking about affordable starter homes versus three quarter of a million dollar homes.
Brian Johnson 0:23:45
Correct. That’s what I’m saying. We would end up because we’re involved, we’ll be able to make it to where it truly is a starter home and it’s an equity it would be equity product. It would still be home.
Rico Figliolini 0:23:57
Brian Johnson 0:23:58
But yes, there would be some sort of a home value control set on it so that the market doesn’t push it to a point where it’s another example where it’s unachievable for.
Rico Figliolini 0:24:13
So would it be similar to like, I don’t know how Habitat for Humanity works, but would it be like a lottery system in a way because otherwise the market will push that. Right.
Brian Johnson 0:24:23
Well, you use one of the best examples is one of the partners we would look to work with is Habitat.
Rico Figliolini 0:24:28
Brian Johnson 0:24:29
That’s exactly, Gwinnett Housing Authority has programs where they’ll come in and they’ll build houses and it’ll be specifically oriented to a particular demographic. It’s an equity product, it’s a new home. But you control the purchase price through the agreement you have with the entity building it’s saying you can’t sell this for a value above X because that’s not the intent of why we’re doing this.
Rico Figliolini 0:24:58
Yeah, otherwise that would just fail at that point. Right. For being what you exactly.
Brian Johnson 0:25:03
We’re not filling a housing demand in that particular income strata in this way. We have some of the money set aside from the ARPA funds.
Rico Figliolini 0:25:15
I was going to say. So there’s federal funds also for that.
Brian Johnson 0:25:18
And so the intent would be remove substandard housing stock from our roles and replacing it with new stock, but that it’s got to control so that it doesn’t get out of hand price wise. And so now we’ve, in a small way filled the demand for starter homes in an area and at the same time we’ve removed some cases squalor or vacant homes or foreclosed on homes. And so it’s a win win. So there’s money in there to do some work there. On the south side, we’ve also got there’s going to be a dog park constructed at the Town Center.
Rico Figliolini 0:26:01
I heard that. That’s cool. A small dog, big dog, or are they going to be like.
Brian Johnson 0:26:09
There are going to be two separate halves to it. It’ll all be Astroturf inside there. So it’s not going to be like just a fence around woods, but it’ll be there at the Town Center in the woods. Probably the best way to get there would be to walk in from the side parking lot, that’s surface parking lot next to Cinnabistro. Yeah, it’ll be down there in the woodline. That’ll be about the area.
Rico Figliolini 0:26:37
That’ll be interesting. Artificial turf for the dog park.
Brian Johnson 0:26:43
Well, if you don’t do artificial turf, you start getting into dogs digging. It can get muddy. If it’s rain, it starts to defeat the purpose. So it will be Astroturf on the inside, and there will be a separation. There’ll be two different ones, one for bigger dogs, one for smaller dogs. There’ll be shade structures inside, seating areas for the owners in there so that’ll go in over the summer.
Rico Figliolini 0:27:10
Brian Johnson 0:27:11
Then right after the last event on our summer event calendar, I think it’s the last weekend in November, we will do two things. One is we will be removing and relocating some of it. The very first three playground pieces of equipment that went out to the Town Center was the slide. And then you’ve got those two playground pieces. That area will be relocated in a tot playground, like oriented for four years, and younger will go in that area. So you’ll have the call it the succession of age where you have four and under will be in that area. Then if you go five to whatever age you’ll go to where the Qantas is and the big stuff. And then theoretically, if you outgrow the Qantas and everything as like my 14 year old son would tell me that’s kid stuff, he’ll go want to go to the fitness trail? And him and his buddies like to see who can climb the ropes, navigate some of those obstacles the fastest or whatever. But for a kid, if you adhere to the rules and the ages or whatever, you have kind of a succession of difficulty, if you will. So that won’t start until after the last one because that’ll be a little bit of a mini construction area, and we don’t want to do that. The other thing we’re going to do is at the same time, after the same event is we will be closing the inside of the sidewalk that forms the big circle there for the Town Green.
Rico Figliolini 0:29:00
Brian Johnson 0:29:00
We’re going to be removing all the soil and replacing it with a drainage field. Because if you’ve been out there, you can tell that when it’s lumpy. And the reason is that way is because when it was put in. Originally our private partners just put grass over what was existing. And what was existing is the clay that we have here in Georgia. And when you put a lot of weight on the clay, when it’s wet, what will happen is it’ll squish down and then when it dries out, it hardens so it doesn’t go back to where it was. And then there’s no drainage that’s been placed in there. So we’re going to remove all the bad clay soil we’re going to put back in. It’s kind of like the French drain type of underground drainage field to allow it to drain away and then put good dirt, no clay, and then put sod back. We’re going to try one more time with the good soil and drainage to actually have real grass. Sod otherwise putting Astroturf into it. But it’s got a different feel. It’s always nice to sometimes have grass we’ll see, but we’re not averse to if we can’t keep it, we can’t keep the grass. If it’s being used too much, trampled on too much. We may have to go to the artificial turf, but right now we’re going to put back sod but that’ll happen in December, January time frame.
Rico Figliolini 0:30:33
Brian Johnson 0:30:33
And hopefully that so we’ll have one more season where it’ll still be a little lumpy and everything.
Rico Figliolini 0:30:41
I think people will be fine.
Brian Johnson 0:30:45
Those two things are not going to happen until after the concert series done. So we don’t interrupt any the dog park is not interrupting anything. So that’ll happen. So, yeah, more stuff with the Town Green. And then of course at the time of this recording, a couple of hours from now, the Forum North American Properties is having the groundbreak. Yeah, they’re groundbreaking on the first phase of the Forum’s redevelopment and they’re going to removing the first section of interior parking spaces and put in the first section of the Linear Park. And then they’re going to put in the food hall and the outdoor seating there at the north end of the Forum. So that’ll be happening. The parking deck will be start construction on it sometime later on this 2023 season. And so once that is finished, they’ll then be able to remove the remaining three quarters of those parking spaces and finish the Linear Park. So the Forum is moving ahead as well. So we got some stuff going on still.
Rico Figliolini 0:31:50
Yeah. Interesting. Well, lots of stuff to probably keep going. I know you were in DC a few weeks ago about with the FAA, and so I know that you were talking about more drone activity projects probably coming. Why don’t we make that the last thing? What quick hits can you tell us about that, about the FAA, the drone programs that you think might be coming here?
Brian Johnson 0:32:12
Based on a visit that we had from the deputy administrator of the FAA who is in charge of drone regulation. He had been out here at Curiosity Lab once he invited us back to DC to meet with the entire drone regulation team for the FAA to talk about what Curiosity Labs ecosystem might offer to the FAA as it looks to figure out how to regulate this type of thing. And they’re in the business of needing more data and data in certain areas. And so we discussed and have come up with some areas where we can really help them out. Areas partnering with T Mobile, Deutsche Telecom and their 5G wireless environment here. FAA is very interested in how well it can handle multiple drones using the same wireless signal, especially when it gets beyond visual line of sight where the drone operator can no longer see directly drone. We’re going to do some stuff in that space and then our city marshals are going to end up doing some things around law enforcement and the use of drones, which is a different area of regulation that they’ve got to get into. So we’re going to be doing some things to help them ultimately come to a point where they can feel like they can start issuing regulations on some of this stuff. It’s the wild west to think about it. There’s a lot of regulations have to be created for private drones. One day they just become so common that everybody walks out, throws up their own drone and starts doing the thing. Well, if everybody’s doing it, how do you keep becoming a problem?
Rico Figliolini 0:33:59
And it’s been out there a while, so it’s interesting how long it’s taken to get that regulation place. People are talking about AI and how long regulation will be in place for that. Who knows? It’ll be another decade before we say, that cool. Just a lot of stuff going on in the city of Peachtree Corners. You guys are busy and have a vision and I’m just excited to see these things happening. So Brian, I appreciate you coming out every month giving us all thanks for having me.
Brian Johnson 0:34:28
Again, thanks for providing us this opportunity to let everybody know of the cool things that our great community has going for it and what we’re doing to leverage to make it even better. So appreciate it.
Rico Figliolini 0:34:39
Yeah, no worries. Thank you again and thank you to EV Remodeling Inc. For being a great corporate sponsor of ours and the work that we do in both in print and the podcast. So check them out. EvRemodelingInc.com. Brian, thank you so much and we leave your comments if you have any, in the comments below. And stay safe out there. We’ll see you next time. Thanks, guys.
Peachtree Corners Life
Scott Hilton and Ruwa Romman on Current Legislation and Issues of Today
Join the conversation as representatives Scott Hilton and Ruwa Romman discuss the latest legislative decisions impacting the lives of Georgians. From a $1 billion tax rebate to an increase in teacher pay, they dissect the financial bills shaping the state’s future. But the conversation doesn’t stop there. They also dive into the issues facing the education system in Georgia, reducing standardized testing and the state’s high turnover rate for state offices. With thoughtful and bipartisan discussions that extend to sensitive issues like gender-affirming medical treatment, the Peachtree Corners Life podcast provides an insightful window into the state’s political landscape.
Scott Hilton’s Website: https://www.scotthiltonga.com/
Ruwa Romman’s Website: https://www.ruwa4georgia.com/
Timestamp (where in the podcast to find it):
[0:00:00] – Intro
[0:01:58] – About the Representatives
[0:04:52] – Passing a Balanced Budget
[0:09:32] – Consumer Protection
[0:19:37] – Education Issues
[0:34:59] – Gender Dysphoria Treatments
[0:42:59] – Scott Hilton Shares His Views
[0:46:29] – Closing
[0:00:00] Rico Figliolini: Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life here in the great city of Peachtree Corners, largest city in Gwinnett County. So we have some two great guests. This is going to be a sort of legislative session, politics, a little bit of recap of what’s going on in the State House. Let me just quickly introduce Ruwa Romman on the left. Hey, Ruwa. Good morning. Thanks for coming. Ruwa is a Fresh State House rep. She represents District 97, which includes Berkeley Lake, Duluth, Norcross and Peachtree Corners. Life here in Gwinnett County. She’s the first Muslim woman elected to the Georgia State House, which is interesting as well. I come from New York, so being in the south is a little different. It’s good to see firsts on things like that. I also want to introduce also Scott Hilton that everyone, people know. Hey Scott. Good morning.
[0:00:49] Scott Hilton: Hey, Rico, how are you doing? Good morning.
[0:00:51] Rico Figliolini: Good. Yes. We had some issues, technical issues before, but we’re good now, though. Scott’s, a State House Rep. District 48. Actually. This is his second rodeo, if you will. He was State House rep once before and had some break between and is back again. He represents now a little different than the district before, which is Pastry Corners, Johns Creek, Alpharetta and Roswell. So, welcome. Before we get into discussions and all, I just want to introduce our sponsor, corporate sponsor, supporting our journalism, our podcasts, and the magazines that we produce. And that’s EV Remodeling, Inc. And the owner is Eli. And Eli lives here in pastry corners. Great company. They do design, build whole house renovation and such. So check them out and you can go to Evremodelinginc.com to get more information about them now that we’ve cleared that. And technically, I think everything’s going good. So let’s do this rehearsal again, and we’ll have Ruwa introduce herself this time. Well, like we did last time, I guess. So tell us a little bit about yourself, Ruwa, and how’s your first session, by the way? Your impression of it as well.
[0:01:58] Ruwa Romman: Hi, everyone. My name is Ruwa and I represent House District 97, which includes parts of fishery Corners, all of Berkeley Lake, parts of Duluth, and parts of Norcross. And I am a freshman state representative. I got elected last year, and this was my first ever session, and it was an incredible experience. I think, as I’ve told people as a freshman, it always feels like you’re drinking from a fire hose. And I was incredibly thankful that there were other freshmen that had come in with me. Almost 30% of the chamber this year were new members. We also had new leadership, which meant that everybody was kind of learning along the way. And even, for example, when we didn’t have offices, we kind of all navigated the area together, and we worked really well together, and it gave us an opportunity to build some really good relationships for the session.
[0:02:43] Rico Figliolini: Cool. Yeah. That first session of being a freshman could be a horror story sometimes, I guess, but I’m glad that you all are doing well and had time to spend with each other life. That scott, tell us a little bit about yourself, what you’ve been doing lately, and how that first session went to you.
[0:03:00] Scott Hilton: Yeah. Rico, good morning. Great to see you. Thank you for hosting us. I know when you and I talked about doing this, I thought it was so important that both Ruwa and I do this together. Our districts are divided essentially by 141. Got the forum side she’s got the bush road side but together, we jointly represent these street corners. And I consider Ruwa’s a good friend of mine, even though we’re on opposite political sides. What’s neat about working at the State House is that we do create those friendships and we do work closely together. You hear about DC. Politics all the time. I think it’s very different down at the Georgia State House. We do have our differences, but it’s awesome to see us work together. As you mentioned, I’ve lived in Petrie Corners 13 years now we live over in Amberfield and raising three kids here. Wife is a small business owner right across the street from Wesleyan. And we love live, working, and playing in Peachtree Corners.
[0:03:55] Rico Figliolini: Yeah. And I appreciate when you first contacted me a couple of weeks ago about bringing on Ruwa as well. So I appreciate you putting that out there. That’s very good. I don’t see that too often in politics, bringing on an opposing party with you to talk about what’s going on in session. So this is great to have two political point of views, I guess, but let’s get right into it. There’s a few things, and this started really with that legislative recap that you sent out that I ended up posting online. I’d like to invite Ruwa to be able to do the same thing for me. By the way, just to let you know. I’d like to be able to share your point of view as well within the week or two. So I’ll get back in touch with you on that. But, Scott, tell me, out of the half a dozen legislative more than that, probably legislation that you’ve highlighted in your newsletter, which one do you want to start with? What’s most important to you at this point?
[0:04:52] Scott Hilton: Yeah, what’s most important is really the only constitutional responsibility we have is passing a budget and passing a balanced budget. So we could go down there, do that, and adjourn and get on out of there. But that’s one of the biggest responsibilities that we have. And if you’re a taxpayer in Georgia, specifically Gwynette this year, this is a very good year for you. In particular, three things. Number one, we passed another $1 billion tax rebate for Georgia taxpayers, upwards of $500 for joint filers that you’ll see coming back into your pocket. Number two, we did another billion dollar property tax relief grant. So a lot of us that are watching this podcast here are property owners. And we’ve seen property taxes skyrocket over the last couple of years. And so giving much needed relief there. And then finally, third, worked very hard to introduce and pass a Gwynette property tax rebate. So that not a rebate, but we’re going to be able to vote in 2024 to double our current homestead exemption. So providing Gwynette taxpayers more tax relief here in the state.
[0:06:02] Rico Figliolini: Cool. Wow. Awesome. Yes, I noticed my property tax bill, when they assess it, and you know how that works, right? You get the value of the house, the assessment is much lower or well, supposed to be lower. They’ve raised it right. So I guess that’s life almost like a tax increase without voting for a tax increase when they do that, right.
[0:06:22] Scott Hilton: See what’s been happening. So this is the first time we’ve cut it in this major way since 1988. So we’re doubling the homestead exemption, assuming that the voters pass this, and we also provide another $2,000 homestead exemption for teachers, first responders, and active duty military. So really trying to attract the best and brightest to Gwinnett County with really trying to keep the American dream alive. We hear how it’s so hard to buy a house these days and a lot of that property taxes are so expensive at the same time.
[0:06:52] Rico Figliolini: Yeah, for sure. I think there’s only just saw a friend of mine that just bought a house in Peachtree Corners Life a year ago, and there were only two houses for sale in Peace Corners at the time, and I don’t think it’s that much different now, actually. So, Ruwa, what about you? I know you’re a freshman, but what legislation are you out there with?
[0:07:13] Ruwa Romman: I actually was going to say we always start out with a budget because that’s the biggest thing that we pass. And we actually technically two budgets. There’s an amended budget that we passed for the previous fiscal year and then the one for this upcoming fiscal year. What was really unique about the process this year is we had a $6 billion surplus. So we had an opportunity to really backfill some of the things that we’ve had to cut over the past ten years, which was great because we got to see some things like funding for various grants for nonprofits. We got to see funding for breakfast and lunches, particularly for kids who live in poverty because a child that’s hungry is not going to be able to learn. One of the things I was really sad about, and I don’t understand why and this wasn’t our chamber, this was the other chamber was we cut $66 million from the university system this year. So that’s what I want to learn a little bit more about is what went into that decision. Why did it happen? Because that tends to impact smaller colleges and universities a lot more than the bigger ones. And so this year, being able to see that budget process from the inside rather than somebody could advocate for a specific big piece of it was really great. And so it’ll be interesting to watch how some of that plays out. The other thing that I thought was very important was to finally give our state employees right now, our turnover rate for state offices is insane. It’s like anywhere from 30% to 40% turnover rate. And unfortunately, that’s really hindered a lot of our programs. And I was actually really happy to support the governor’s priority in making sure that we the resources that they pay for through their taxes.
[0:08:51] Rico Figliolini: Yeah, the process could be interesting. Right from the inside, you see competing interests. It’s not like someone lobbying for something, a nonprofit lobbying for a budget and not knowing what the competing aspects are on the other side of that. Because you can’t pay for everything, even with the $6 billion surplus. Because I could see paying one time capital expenses and stuff, but then putting it into a budget where it’s going to come back around again in operating budget like the next year, will you have that surplus still or will you have to cut it then? So, yeah, interesting. Scott, aside from the budget, where are you on some other issues?
[0:09:32] Scott Hilton: So I had a great session. It was fun being back the second time because you were a little bit dangerous. You actually knew what you were doing. And so I managed to pass three bills, introduced nine total, sponsored a number of bills, but yeah, managed to pass three House bills that I directly authored, and then three Senate bills that I sponsored. The one that I was kind of most passionate about this time around that did end up passing was involved with financial fraud. So we’ve all gotten the email, right, hey, I’m a Nigerian prince from wherever, and then all of a sudden your money is gone. Prior to House Bill 219, which I authored, we would have to refer that case, that criminal case, to wherever the criminal is, wherever the assets are that he stole. Now we can prosecute that case here in Georgia, delivering much needed justice for the victims of financial crimes. I’m in the banking industry, so it’s all too prevalent. We see it all the time now. So giving victims the tools they need to get justice here in the state was big. So, yeah, excited about Housebook.
[0:10:39] Rico Figliolini: It’s interesting. The Nigerian example is an extreme example, but I’ve seen phishing emails that just look like real emails from companies that used to be how did they even send that out? Even I can make a better looking email, like, closer look into the real thing than I was getting. But now it’s just unbelievable. You really have to be careful where it’s coming from. And those things can be hidden even in the email. So you might think you see the right address, like Apple, but the hyperlink inside it could be different. So it’s just like a mess out there just giving out your password and payments.
[0:11:20] Scott Hilton: Fortunately, it’s our seniors and elder community that typically lead as primary target or victims. And so to provide them with these protections, I think was so important.
[0:11:28] Rico Figliolini: Oh, cool. Yes. Because I could see that happening. So that would work even on things like where I get an email, I get an email, I get a text message. Looks like it’s from Amazon, says, you’ve been charged for this. You may want to check the link and double check it. And most people will probably click that link, which is not what you should do. Right. So will that legislation also cover those types of things as well?
[0:11:52] Scott Hilton: It will, yeah. So previously what would happen is we would investigate, or police would investigate, find out who that person was. Unfortunately, they would live in California or New York or wherever. We’d have to refer that case to the local jurisdiction. The locals would get it and kind of file it away and nothing would happen. Now we can actually begin to prosecute that person here in Georgia, so we actually see some justice going toward them. So cool. That was exciting. Also, bills that I serve as vice chair of the Education Committee, and we did a lot of work, the Education Committee, this year, two bills in particular to highlight the early literacy bill, moving us back to kind of the science of reading. Mississippi passed the same bill, and they’ve seen dramatic improvements in their reading levels. And so that’s something here in Georgia we’ve got to get back on track with. Kids have got to be on a reading level by third grade here in Georgia. So that and then the Safe Schools Act was important. Included in the budget, another line item we had was for school safety grants, each school getting upwards of about $50,000 per school in our state to keep our schools safe. And so that’s something from an education standpoint, we want good policy, safe schools, and good reading, good literacy in our state. So priorities for all the education committee.
[0:13:12] Rico Figliolini: Cool. Ruwa, I saw you nodding a lot there as far as the Early Dorsey Act.
[0:13:18] Ruwa Romman: Yeah. So on the consumer protection piece of it, there was a great bill that came through along those same lines called SB 73, which is meant finally crack down on Telemarketers. But what this bill does, a lot of these companies will outsource their calling. They’ll have a different company either here in the United States or overseas, do a lot of their marketing, and it’s become very spammy. I mean, we would be hearing this bill during committee hearing, and at least three or four of us would get a spam call in the process of hearing. And so we finally installed last year, but they’ll finally pass this year, that fine company close that loophole to say you’re also responsible for whoever you contract work out to and we’re hoping that we’ll mitigate some of those calls. So it’s exciting to kind of see when things complementary happen that way, where it’s a protection piece and we’re also even looking at the process. And same thing on the literacy bill. I was stoked to see that on the list of things we’re going to talk about today because I always tell people when I learned English here in the US. You start out by looking at pictures and then you kind of piece the pictures to the word. And if you’re dyslexic, you don’t catch that until you pictures away at that point, citizens, third grade, fourth grade, wherever it might be, and they’ve lost out on years of education where somebody could sat down and said, here, let me help you. And the parents that advocated for that were really awesome and they were really fun to talk to. And I always tell people that’s why it’s important to us, because sometimes we don’t realize either something has or an issue that’s there. Those are really great bills.
[0:15:11] Rico Figliolini: Yeah, a lot of good legislation there. The security grants and stuff as well, I think works out. I guess the schools can depending on the school. I think sometimes social media, really. I mean, there have been a lot of school shootings or at least highlighted more in the past year. Right. And that maybe makes people feel like it’s happening more often and maybe it is, but it’s such a small percentage compared to the schools out there. It’s interesting how you want to protect your kids. I have three kids. It’s not an easy thing. You send them out into the world and you expect that they should come back. Good to see that. What about other legislation that you’ve been looking at?
[0:16:00] Ruwa Romman: Yeah, so another one that I looked at this year that really helped me understand the process, kind of see the importance policy conversations in all of this is House Bill 73. So along the same so it’s in this case a House bill, not a Senate Bill 73. When we talk about consumer protections, one of the growing industries is the solar industry. And what we’re finding is sometimes some of these will try to sell something and unfortunately they don’t give their terms up front. And so somebody might end up scammed. They might have these solar panels that don’t work or they don’t have I said on energy, utility, telecoms, which is why I know so much about this. But one of the bills was a consumer protection bill and unfortunately the third section of that bill was going to stand up a whole new office for these companies to purchase. The problem is we already have that. The Secretary of State’s office. People register their businesses through that. The Attorney General has an entire oversight board. And so one of the conversations we had this year was instead of paying for branding office and having redundant spending and all of that, this should be moved under one of these two agencies. And it was really interesting because you don’t really hear about this sort of like bipartisan conversation that happens. And it did pass the House because we wanted to signal that this was an important bill. But then on the Senate side, we started working through to fix that provision so that hopefully next year we can fully pass the bill. But I always tell them, watch the process. Even if you take one bill each year to watch, you’ll learn a lot from this process. And that was one of them.
[0:17:39] Rico Figliolini: Yeah. I mean, even though the House may pass several bills, it’s really the Senate. Then they have to go back and then write change.
[0:17:47] Scott Hilton: Yeah.
[0:17:48] Rico Figliolini: So it could go the other way. Yeah. Talking about those calls, I use T Mobile. And the interesting part is they have a scam likely thing, so they silence calls as it comes in. Sad part is, if it’s a call I need, it goes to voicemail and never makes it to me unless I put it in the address book contact list, rather. But yeah, so that could be a dozen calls like that.
[0:18:11] Scott Hilton: Rico, I’ll jump in. It’s funny, we have a consumer protection theme to the call here today. One of the neat bills we passed was dealing with online renewal transparency. So House Bill 528 basically said, life, listen, it’s so easy to sign up for an online subscription online, and then they make it so difficult to cancel it, right? Like, think about you have to call in, you have to go through all these and so it’s the transparency act that says, listen, if you make it easy to sign up online, you also got to make it easy to cancel online. So I think that’s going to provide a real breath fresh air for a lot of folks from a consumer perspective.
[0:18:47] Rico Figliolini: You know what, I appreciate you saying that, because that just reminded me of my daughter whose membership I was paying at a gym in Johns Creek because she wanted to go up there. It’s only five minutes from here, right? At some point, she ended up going to school and stuff, and I had to cancel it because she wasn’t around. They forced me to come up there in person to cancel the membership, and I said that’s like crazy. I would never have to do that in any other business. Why are you forcing me? And they said, that’s the only way we do it. And they would no matter what I said, they would not let me cancel it on the phone or online. And I had to go literally in person to cancel it, which is crazy.
[0:19:30] Ruwa Romman: Yeah.
[0:19:30] Scott Hilton: I mean, that’s the kind of deceptive stuff that we’re trying to protect people against. Yeah, it’s a very good bill.
[0:19:37] Rico Figliolini: I like that personally. All right, so we’ve been talking consumer protection and stuff. There’s been a few other and we talked a little bit about education. I noticed that in your email, Scott, you also talked about a couple other things like cold case justice and reopening cases. God knows I think we all anyone that’s on social media to any extent or watch certain news programs see, sometimes these cold cases open and DNA prove that that 20 year conviction was an innocent person or that cases are not solved. And because there’s just more cases right after that, everything’s whatever. If the parents if it’s parents, they have to scream the loudest to be able to get any attention. So tell us a little bit about that and what that means to families.
[0:20:32] Scott Hilton: Yes, we have one that did not go through that we’re still working on. When someone is wrongfully convicted and it’s proven that they were, we actually have a compensation program to compensate them for that time they spent. Right now, it’s a very laborious process for that person to receive compensation from the state. We’re streamlining that process, passed the House, got hung up in the Senate. I think we’ll probably get it through next year. Yeah. Victims of cold cases. That bill allows families to petition to have cases reopen when there’s new evidence, again allowing them to receive justice on cold cases there. You touched on education. I did want to highlight one of the cool things we did this year in the budget was we passed yet another $2,000 increase for our teachers. We are in a war for talent right now, just like every other industry. And Georgia now after the last four years, I think we’ve increased teacher pay by about $7,000. So we are now one of the highest states in the Southeast in terms of teacher pay. So really kind of putting our foot forward to say teachers are important and they need to be paid that way. And so really proud of the work we did there. One of the education bills that did not pass that we found to chat about here on the call, ru and I were on opposite sides of this, dealing with school choice.
[0:21:52] Ruwa Romman: We had away with it. Look, I was going to let you go through this whole you know what.
[0:22:01] Scott Hilton: She was super passionate about the other side. This bill would have allowed parents to keep the state portion of their education spending so equivalent to $6,500. This impacted if you had a child in what’s called a failing school. So we rank all our schools. If you’re at all school here in the state, you would have been able to opt out, take your child to either home school, a micro school, a private school, basically an education savings account. And essentially, I view it as a lifeline. The program only kicks into place if our schools are fully funded or our traditional public schools are fully funded, and the local schools get to keep the local portion of their tax digest while not having to educate the student. So, again, critical lifeline to those that are trapped in failing schools.
[0:22:54] Rico Figliolini: I think that legislation, or at least the way you headlined it, was school choice. The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act. Was that the one? I guess. And interesting because I always felt life there was never enough money for someone to actually go to private school, let’s say to choose. But knowing how the school systems work, actually there’s a lot of scholarship programs in private schools and charter schools. So 6500 actually go a long way in some private or charter schools to.
[0:23:24] Scott Hilton: Pay for you’re not sending a kid to 6500. We live in a big state, though, and what we found was private school on average runs, you about 10,000 short. But yes, you also have programs that many of the schools have kind of help bridge that gap, and even the parents themselves can help bridge that gap. We heard there was one parent who literally knocked doors in her local community to raise money to send her kid to private school. So folks are desperate. They want to get out. They want to have and this is something we worked very hard on, fell just a little bit short. I think we’re going to try to get it through again.
[0:24:04] Rico Figliolini: See, Ruwa jumping here. She wants to get right into the.
[0:24:11] Ruwa Romman: I’ve become the unintended consequences queen of the House floor because I’ll go up and I’ll talk about why a bill is bad, but specifically implementation. We talk a lot. I tell people all the time I had an incredible public experience, particularly in Foresight County public schools. You literally have your pick of programs from culinary school to IV program to tech, and they’re all publicly funded. And I didn’t have to pay a cent growing up to choose between those options. What we’re seeing is the culmination of all public education. And rather than saying, you know what, it’s time to reverse course, we’re saying, let’s just take that money and put it somewhere else. And that’s going to leave a lot of people behind. And there are co provisions within this bill in particular that give me pause. The first is that piece about how we’re only looking at the bottom 25% of schools. No matter what list you make, there’s always going to be a bottom 25%. So even if they meet basic standards, even if these schools do meet the thresholds we’re asking them to, they could still be the last 25%. The other piece to this is, as we mentioned, there is actually a gap for that funding. So even if you covered half of it with this scholarship and then the other half of the scholarship from the school itself, there’s still other factors that would prevent somebody who’s trying to get out of that low income area from going to that school. And that includes things like transportation, which is why a lot of studies have found that unfortunately, private schools are not the answer to some of the woes that we’re seeing in public education. And they’re very real. Don’t get me wrong. They’re very real. And there’s a reason a lot of people voted against this bill across the aisle. It’s because we knew that either our districts didn’t qualify for this, so it meant money going out of our districts for this or that. They didn’t have a private school that qualified within a span of area that was feasible to get to every day for their child. And so I always urge people, I say, things sound good, they might have a good title, a bill might look great on paper. But when you think about the actual implementation, the flow of money, I’m actually worried that this bill is going to take away from students. And the last piece I tell people is, on average, we spend half of that per pupil from the state. And that’s just like pupil to people. I’m not talking about everything else that we spend. I’m talking about the spend per student that we’re talking about here is almost half of that $500.
[0:26:42] Rico Figliolini: You’re talking from the state side versus the county.
[0:26:46] Ruwa Romman: And I think a lot about what that could mean in terms of potentially taking more money up than you’re putting in, and the fact that private schools don’t have the same standards that requirements in terms of entry as public schools, that gets fixed. And I’m hoping we get a fiscal note to figure out how much fully this will cost. So in the meantime, I’m a pretty hard no on that bill.
[0:27:12] Rico Figliolini: Let me ask you something. I know that charter schools is a big thing that people look at too, and there was a movement to stop charter schools, let’s say stop funding them, and charter schools actually become good ones. At least there’s always a bad actor in anything, right? So you always get the bad example in these types of things. But they’re really good charter schools in neighborhoods that could work, in poorer neighborhoods, let’s say, where maybe the school is not performing the way they should be. And the charter school puts it into a different light, a different way. And some people may look at it and say, well, it’s still a school, it’s still same teachers, maybe, but there’s a different mission in the charter school, right? You want to give these children the opportunity. I’ve seen, I’ve done sometimes career days at middle schools, for example, and it’s like unbelievable, the difference in the kids and who’s paying attention and who’s not. And it’s a shame because I could pick out out of class of 30, maybe two or three that are excited about what they’re seeing. And I could see that they’re going to go far, and then you could see the five or six kids that totally just not learning. And it may just not be their fault even. It may just be the way things are taught.
[0:28:30] Scott Hilton: So the beauty of charter schools is they get more flexibility. So they’re publicly funded, so they are public schools, they get more flexibility in how they’re able to operate and teach, but along with that comes more accountability, right? So if a public charter school is failing, they’re closed, whereas a traditional public school, if they’re failing, we give them more money. There’s the beauty in that fight to survive and be excellent in everything they do. And on average, our charter schools far exceed our traditional public schools with less money. They receive less money than traditional public schools. So it’s proven the model, the model works. We have thousands of Georgians on waitlist across the state to join charter schools. We actually have one, I believe they’re still here in Peace Corners, right off Spaulding version. Their students come and they learn Japanese. That’s how they have that flexibility to do that. And they’re doing amazing things, producing great scholars.
[0:29:33] Rico Figliolini: They have over 240 kids, I think, there, and they’re doing a great job. When I first heard about the Japanese immersion school, I was like, really interesting to go that way, but they’re doing phenomenally well.
[0:29:46] Ruwa Romman: We’ve talked about this previously, but I think once before, where honestly, to me personally, I think one of the places that we can absolutely save costs and be able to retain better talent within our school system is to reduce the amount of standardized testing that kids have to take these days. Because the reason kids aren’t able to learn in a flexible, critical thinking type of way is they spend sometimes up to 45% of their time on testing and preparing for testing and doing the testing. And I understand that we need to have metrics, but now it’s becoming redundant metrics. And if we want that flexibility, if we want to be able to bring some of that overhead out and reduce some of those administrative costs that we’re seeing that are ballooning across the board, that’s one way we can do it. And I always urge people, and I say, look, it’s easy to build something new and shiny and it’s easy to tear things down, and it’s a lot harder. There are people making decisions about education that have never set foot in the classroom and have never taught before, and that’s a mental element of education, is that we are teaching students. The basic premise to my stance is, if this takes an opportunity from another child, I can’t in good conscience vote for it, because then I’m just helping perpetuate the spiral downward. Now, that doesn’t have out of whatever school that they are assigned to. This is, can we find a way to help that school rather than building a whole new one with all that money and then bringing in brand new talent? No, we should just bring that talent to the school that’s already existing and bring some of that work in house rather than outsourcing it kind of interesting.
[0:31:40] Rico Figliolini: I think any parent that’s gone to the PTAs and schools and stuff over the years can see. I think if you’re intelligent enough, you don’t necessarily have to be an educator to be able to see when something’s not working. To me we all talk about. I think we all can agree that the formative years are the early years of a child. And I just wish that there was more money spent in that early part and that the classrooms are smaller even. Because once you get past, like my life says, sometimes they pick up from you what they’re doing. And I said, well, they’re past that eight year mark, so they’re not picking up anything more from me at this point. But it’s that example that leadership, not just from the teacher, but from the students themselves. And it takes work, right? It takes work to do that. The standardized testing is a lazy way. It worked at one point, I think, nationally, when we had no testing, when a kid in California applying for a college, with a kid in Georgia applying for a college, there needed to be some sort of standard way. But I agree with you. I think what it comes down to now is money. Who’s getting the multimillion dollar contracts to do these tests? It’s just ridiculous. At some point that the money that’s spent to test on kids, they’re not teaching well enough. The obvious thing is to spend the money there. I agree with that.
[0:33:14] Scott Hilton: One of the things we worked on in education, kind of outside of the school a little bit, I became kind of a de facto swimming guy this year. I had a couple of swimming related bills. One of the leading causes of death of children under the age of 18 is swimming accidents. And so I sponsored two bills, one that both have passed, one that uses our schools to disseminate information out to the community. Hey, here’s local resources where you can get for free swimming lessons. I think about Petrie corners, particularly the YMCA. If you want to go and get a swimming lesson, we offer it, and so a lot of people just don’t know about it. And so schools now, at the beginning of the year, will give out the parents, either a flyer electronically, information on where they can get free swimming lessons near them, and then also pass Izzy’s Law, which deals with private swim instruction. We had a case here in Georgia, private swim instructor was teaching 25 kids. One of them got loose, and you know what kind of happened from there. So it puts definitions around. Okay, when you’re doing private swim, what’s the ratio? Teachers to students and all that to kind of avoid that situation moving forward.
[0:34:24] Rico Figliolini: Yeah. More regulation sometimes is needed. I know people say sometimes we over regulate, but that type of thing you really do. There’s just too many people that just do their own thing irresponsible. We just assume people are responsible when they offer those lessons, but we don’t know. Right. There’s no way to grade them. Like going to a doctor that might have gotten a C at Columbia versus someone that got an A somewhere. We’ll never know that.
[0:34:52] Scott Hilton: It’s one of those industries we just didn’t have any kind of guardrails around. We’re getting close to summer here. That’s one of the important things here.
[0:34:59] Rico Figliolini: I’m glad you brought that up. Thank you, Scott. Ruwa. I know we’re getting a little long here, so I don’t know if I should introduce this subject, but I’m going to anyway. So there’s the gender thing. I say the gender thing because it depends who you talk to and what part of that subject, what part of that topic, whether it’s young kids under 18 I know you were involved with SB 140, I think you mentioned that, which bans gender dysphoria treatments for kids under 18. I have my opinion. I’ll leave it to myself. But I’d like to hear what you would say, Ruwa, about that, what that means.
[0:35:41] Ruwa Romman: Yeah. So, again, going back to unintended consequences, you’ll hear me say this a lot. What we’ve seen is this movement targeting particularly those who identify as trans. And we have a finite amount of time every session. We’ve got 40 days between January to March. There are a lot of bills that end up not passing. And for whatever reason, this has become the topic of the day. And the reason I’m particularly sensitive to it is last year, one of the bills that was passed was to enable the High School Association board, sports association board, to ban students who identify as trans from playing in the sport as their identified gender, instead of the gender that they were assigned at birth. And the reason I’m sensitive to that is, I’m not trans. This is not something that I ever experienced. But that bill was written in the same way that allowed the schools to ban hijab wearing girls from playing sports. So I’ve always been particularly attuned and sensitive to any bills that talk about a minority group when that minority group is not present within those that are making those decisions. And so this was one of those bills. We had a long committee hearing on it, although it had to be truncated because we were running out of time at that point. And I took that as an opportunity to listen, because this is not something that I’m familiar with. And the thing that there was a moment where those who had ever experienced any sort of gender dysphoria as under the age of 18 and had received treatment, whether that’s hormone replacement therapy or surgery after 18 if they regretted their decision. And then they were also asked, is there anybody that falls within that category and does not regret their decision? In the span of the process of this bill moving through, they have not found a single person, especially within the state of Georgia, that regrets receiving that treatment, particularly starting under the age of 18. I was sitting in that committee hearing. We waited for quite a bit of time to allow people to come to committee room to come testify on this. But the people who did not regret their decision were overall present in that room. To me, as a legislature who doesn’t have experience on this issue, that signals to me that I am trying to deal with something that I do not understand. There’s been, frankly, quite a bit of graphic conversation about what this means with gender reassignment surgery for those under 18. And I have to remind them that we do not perform those surgeries in Georgia. Adults are unable to find the treatments that they need because it is so rare in our state. But one of the unintended consequences of this bill, not only does it ban something that doesn’t exist, it bans hormone replacement therapies, which do have long term impacts, but it’s not surgery. And there was a provision within the bill that was struck out that would have prevented essentially a new crime from being created against doctors. That provision that would have had a safeguard within the bill was removed. And there’s a reason there’s unanimous consent within medical professionals opposing this bill. We had one endocrinologist come and testify, saying that she does not recommend formal replacement therapy for those under 18 after doing something. She does not treat people with gender dysphoria. She refers them out. And she has kind of gone on the speaking circuit on this. So for me personally, obviously, I’m not trans. It doesn’t impact me personally. I don’t have siblings who are trans or family members who are trans. But I’m incredibly suspect when people who are not impacted by something create laws about that thing.
[0:39:24] Rico Figliolini: Scott, how do you feel about that?
[0:39:27] Scott Hilton: Great question. We talk a lot about on this call, protecting children and the innocence of childhood. For me, this is a very simple issue. We should not be performing irreversible treatments on prepubescent children. For me, again, it’s pretty black and white. This was one of the easier votes we voted on. I think it’s sad what’s happening to some of these kids. I was on that committee hearing, served on the healthcare committee. We had a mom testify at four years old. Her daughter started exhibiting, and then at seven, I think they started some form of treatments. Again, as a dad of three kids, I can’t imagine what’s being done to some of these kids.
[0:40:17] Ruwa Romman: That’s actually very unfair, because I know that parent, and she and I spoke after because I really wanted more information from her. They did not start treatment at seven years old. What they did was they had the child meet with therapists and psychiatrists and an extensive team of both mental health and physical health professionals to understand if there were any other underlying issues before as they neared puberty, which was twelve to 13 years old, they then began discussing potential treatments. The child is not old enough to even receive hormone blockers, let alone hormone replacement therapy. Her conversation was this bill would prevent the child, if they reach that point, from being able to pursue the next step in their care should they need it. And I think again, this is why I say if you’re able to see something that’s a medical issue in black and white when there are so many degrees of gray, that gives me one of the things I hadn’t even thought about is was brought up during the committee hearing was that sometimes younger women, even under the age of 18, require breast reduction surgery because it creates intense back problems. It literally can create scoliosis, it can be paralyzing, and this bill could potentially impact that. And again, my question is, we have so many things we need to worry about. You’re talking about twelve families in the entire state that this could apply to just past the $32 billion budget. It’s guaranteed that we’re willing to use State Farm.
[0:41:47] Rico Figliolini: That’s what I was going to ask also in that committee meeting, how many people actually are affected by this legislation? In the state of Georgia, you would think there are hundreds of people impacted by this. The same way I think when it comes to gender and sports, how many people in school are actually impacted by that legislation? Yeah, sometimes I think our priorities get a little mixed up. That’s my opinion as far as what should be at the top and stuff, but I get it. Listen, we all have things that we want to discuss. Talk about this 300 plus. How many legislators are they now?
[0:42:25] Ruwa Romman: We’re 176. There’s like four empty.
[0:42:33] Rico Figliolini: 300 number I think is counties, then Georgia or something like that.
[0:42:41] Scott Hilton: 180 in the House, 56 in the Senate. I cover about 60,000 folks. Roughly about 40,000 voter or people registered to vote. Yeah.
[0:42:51] Rico Figliolini: Interesting. We were talking a little before about.
[0:42:53] Ruwa Romman: I need more people voting. Not enough of you. Vote local election, please.
[0:42:59] Rico Figliolini: Yeah, but if you’re going to vote, please look at the issues, read the stuff. Don’t just vote just because you think it’s like, I want educated voters also someone that knows what they’re doing. At least we’re out of time almost here. So what I’d like to do is we can keep going on, but I’m sure that if our listeners have any comments that would be putting it in the comments section once this is streamed out there, and certainly to the tail end of this. So I’m going to ask both of you to give me like one or two minute recap and then how people can reach either one of you. And I’ll make sure those are in the show notes as well. So why don’t you put you guys on and tell me what you need to tell us. Let’s start with Scott this time.
[0:43:47] Scott Hilton: Thank you, Rico, for having us. When I ran for office, you heard me say over and over again, I was laser focused on three things our economy, public safety, and education, and so fulfilled those promises this session. Look forward to continuing to fill those next session. Really focused on keeping our community safe, our schools strong, and doing what we need to from a financial standpoint to help you and your family navigate this economy. I’m going to continue to be effective for you, but most importantly, I’m going to continue to be accessible for you. You can reach me on all the social media platforms, ScottHiltonGA. ScottHiltonGA is where we are on Facebook, twitter, and instagram. If you go to my website, Scotthiltonga.com, you’ll see my cell phone number. And really, it’s not just from a policy perspective. I have folks reach out to me who need help with medicaid, with department of transportation, anything you might need from a state perspective, department of revenue, secretary of state, let me know at the second time. We’re out of session right now, but I have families reach out to me, Scott. I got a break in the summer. I don’t know what to do with the kids. Let me take them down the capital, give them a tour, give them behind the scenes look, all that stuff, I love doing all that stuff. I want to be as engaged as possible for you and our community, and you’ll see me about doing town halls and things like that. But whatever you need over the next nine months until we go back in January, you can find me. I’m out there and would love to help you out. It’s truly an honor to serve you in our community.
[0:45:23] Rico Figliolini: Cool.
[0:45:24] Ruwa Romman: All of that. Although we’re in session January through end of March, it’s actually the best time to set up meetings with us, talk to us about policy issues that you care about, because then we could dig really deep into them and prepare ahead of the next session. I’m actually wrapping up a round of town halls now. We’ll probably be doing them throughout the year as well, so be on the lookout for those. You can find me at Ruwa, the number four, Georgia on all the social media handles. For our website, there’s a form you can submit that will email my phone directly. And my team and I are always here to help in whatever way that you need. I’ve got really hit it on the head is that one of the things that people don’t realize is we can help you on the department level. We can support you if you’re not hearing back from somebody, if you’re not getting what you need, use us. And please come down in the Capitol. Whether it’s during session or outside of session, I’ve loved taking people and telling them about the process and showing them how they can have an impact. Anyone can come and testify before committee. Anyone can be in this. It is called the People’s House for a reason, and I really hope to see you there and around the district.
[0:46:29] Rico Figliolini: Cool. I want to just let people know also that you both have newsletters, so they should certainly sign up for those. This way they can see what’s going on. I know you send them out regularly. That’s why there’s no reason anyone should be ignorant about House bills and such and certainly constituent efforts. Like you both have said. If you need any help with state agencies, these two will be able to help you.
[0:46:55] Scott Hilton: Let me slide this in real quick. I failed to mention my biggest accomplishment this session. The Atlanta Journal had the listing of the best dressed legislators. Truly was named. One of them, Ruwa, was robbed. She should have been on that list. So next year she’s going to be on it. It’s fun being down there representing our community.
[0:47:13] Rico Figliolini: It’s fun. It’s good to have you guys on the podcast too. And I love it when Scott gets red faced. He’s almost like basketball. It’s so it’s great to have you guys on. Thank you again. And Scott, thank you again for suggesting that this would be a great podcast to have the three of us together like this. Everyone, leave your comments in the comment section and reach out to these two. They’ll be more than willing to help. Thank you again and have a great day.
[0:47:48] Ruwa Romman: Thank you.
[0:47:49] Rico Figliolini: Bye.
Arts & Literature
Wesleyan Artist Market, Student Artists 2023 [Podcast]
On this episode of Peachtree Corners Life we take a deep dive into the world of young artists at Wesleyan School, featuring three talented individuals: Freddie Reinhard, and Anastasia and Juliana Lamas. From digital art to painted oyster shells, these artisans have created unique, inspiring pieces that showcase their creativity and passions. We explore their inspirations, hobbies, and future aspirations, as well as their involvement in academics and extracurricular activities. With the Wesleyan Artist Market approaching (on April 28,29, 2023), this podcast is the perfect sneak peek into the exciting works these artists will be presenting. Don’t miss this chance to discover the next generation of artistic talent.
Wesleyan Artist Market Website
Timestamp (Where to find it in the podcast):
[0:00:00] – Intro
[0:01:48] – About Anastasia and Juliana
[0:02:58] – About Freddie
[0:05:40] – Other Interests
[0:06:19] – The Creative Process
[0:10:50] – Presenting at The Artist Market
[0:12:34] – Inspiration
[0:14:35] – Difficulties of Mediums
[0:19:32] – Art Courses and Extracurricular Activities
[0:23:50] – Closing
[0:00:00] Rico Figliolini: Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. And I have some special guests today. We are a sponsor of the Wesleyan Artist Market, and the guests I have here are student artists that are going to be presenting at the show this April. So let me introduce Freddie first. Hey, Freddie, thanks for joining us.
[0:00:18] Freddie Reinhard: Hi, how are you?
[0:00:19] Rico Figliolini: Good. Anastasia and Juliana, left and right, respective. Thanks for joining us.
[0:00:26] Anastasia Lamas: Thank you.
[0:00:27] Rico Figliolini: Appreciate it. So before we get right into it, I just want to say thank you to our corporate sponsor, EV Remodeling. I say corporate, but they’re a neighbor of ours, right? They live in Peachtree Corners. Eli is the owner of the place, and EV Remodeling does design to build and renovation work, and they’ve been around for a while, and they do great work. So check them out at EVRemodelingInc.com. They’re our sponsor and a great supporter of ours, so we appreciate them. So let’s hop right into it. You girls are exhibiting at Wesleyan Artist Market this April. I wish I had the dates in front of me, but do you remember the dates, Freddie?
[0:01:07] Freddie Reinhard: Yes, April 28 and April 29.
[0:01:10] Rico Figliolini: Great. Thank you. Just testing you on that one. Right? So we’re featuring it in the upcoming issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine as well. So we have three adult artists that we profiled in the magazine. So check that out. That’s coming out. Hitting the post office, I think Thursday. Mailboxes this weekend, hopefully. So check that out. But let’s get right into it. Juliana and Anastasia do artwork on oyster shells and a little different medium, right? They’re in 8th grade and 7th grade, and they’re working together on this project. So why don’t you two tell me a little bit about what it is that you do.
[0:01:48] Anastasia Lamas: So we take oyster shells from where we vacation at Hilton Head Island, and we paint them with a lot of different designs to be used as trinket dishes and decorations and gifts.
[0:02:04] Rico Figliolini: We’re going to flash one on. So when you paint these, I’m assuming you paint the background white, and then you use colors. What mediums, what actually are you using to do this?
[0:02:15] Anastasia Lamas: So first we bleach them to get any sort of, like, black spots off, and then we use acrylic paint. We do a few coats of that.
[0:02:25] Rico Figliolini: So what got you into that?
[0:02:28] Anastasia Lamas: We really loved the style, and I actually used them as nutcracker gifts for my dance friends as well, originally. And we thought that they would sell really well at the Artist Market.
[0:02:38] Rico Figliolini: Cool. Here’s another one that let’s pop that one in there too. So how many varieties do you have actually, that you’re using?
[0:02:46] Anastasia Lamas: Probably at the moment, probably seven. Like, seven-ish.
[0:02:49] Rico Figliolini: Cool. Freddie, you’re doing different stuff, so tell us a little bit about some of your work.
[0:02:58] Freddie Reinhard: So I have a button right here, like college buttons. And this one happens to be for Wesleyan. So they’re for, like, game days, and whenever you just want to support your team. They’re very popular at big SEC schools, especially. And then I’m also doing dorm room prints, so you can put, obviously, your dorm room, bathroom, wherever you want to show your team spirit. And I’m also making sweatshirts that have, like, a teddy bear design on them, wearing jerseys for Ole Miss Alabama.
[0:03:29] Rico Figliolini: So what medium? I know you said I believe you said before we started rolling on this that you use digital. So it’s digitally done? So what programs are you actually working in?
[0:03:39] Freddie Reinhard: I use Fresco. It’s, like, from Adobe, and it just is great. Definitely my go to. It’s pretty simple. I have, like, a button machine, and you just print out your pictures, and a pretty easy job to get done.
[0:03:55] Rico Figliolini: So some of the stuff, like, for example, Auburn, this would be on a button I’m assuming .
[0:03:59] Freddie Reinhard: Yes, that would be on a button.
[0:04:01] Rico Figliolini: Excellent. So leave that up for a minute. Freddie, have you done the Wesleyan Artist Market before, or is this the first time, or how long have you been doing it?
[0:04:16] Freddie Reinhard: No, this is my first time doing it.
[0:04:18] Rico Figliolini: Really?
[0:04:18] Freddie Reinhard: I thought it would just be a fun way for people to wear my art. I thought it would just be cool to see people wearing it. And I’m going to college next year, so I’m like, what better time to make college pins? I can even make some for my friends next year. And I just thought it was something unique that I knew would probably sell well.
[0:04:35] Rico Figliolini: Cool. Now, you’ve been, I understand correctly, you’re an AP art student at Wesleyan School?
[0:04:41] Freddie Reinhard: Yes.
[0:04:42] Rico Figliolini: And you’ve done about three and a half years of art in high school, I’m assuming. That’s a lot of years of art for a high school kid.
[0:04:48] Freddie Reinhard: It is.
[0:04:49] Rico Figliolini: Is this something that you want? Where do you want to take this when you go to college?
[0:04:54] Freddie Reinhard: Well, I’m hoping to do something in fashion, and so all this art is definitely helping me just kind of know my style in general, and I just love art. In the first place, I would like to do fashion, and I’m sure that if these buttons sell well, I’ll probably sell them in college. Yeah. It’s just something I’ve always loved.
[0:05:16] Rico Figliolini: Do you want to do a career out of this? What do you think your major would be in college?
[0:05:22] Freddie Reinhard: Well, currently I’m majoring in Southern Studies, which is, like, I can study the art of the south. So I really would like to tie in my Southern culture with my fashion. Hopefully, I could go into something fashion related would be my dream. All of this definitely helps out.
[0:05:40] Rico Figliolini: Absolutely. All right, let’s go to Anastasia and Juliana. I mean, middle school, 7th, 8th grade. Is that middle school? Yeah, that’s middle school. You’re way before college, right? Why don’t you share some of the interests that you two have? I mean, is art part of that, or do you have other interests besides that?
[0:06:00] Anastasia Lamas: I’m a dancer. I really do enjoy making art outside of dance and school. And Juliana?
[0:06:08 ] Juliana Lamas: I’m a gymnast, and so I really like that, and I really like just being creative and thinking of new ways to make something.
[0:06:19] Rico Figliolini: So when you’re doing the oysters and that artwork, are you both working on it at the same time? Do you collaborate? Does one of you say, no, I don’t think I like that, or how does that go? And do you sketch it out before you actually put it on the oyster?
[0:06:35] Anastasia Lamas: Yes, we have designs that we know we’re going to do on the shells, and we’ll put on the shell and do them together.
[0:06:44] Rico Figliolini: Cool. I guess there’s always someone a little bit more creative than the other right in a pair. Does anyone want to raise their hand? Which one’s more creative?
[0:06:55] Anastasia Lamas: I think we’re both creative in our own ways, like, different parts.
[0:07:01] Rico Figliolini: And where do you get your inspiration for what you do? Like, the artwork that you put on the shells, how do you come up with that?
[0:07:08] Juliana Lamas: For some of them, so we play the piano. So for one of them that we made, we put piano notes on it. I actually have it with me. And then Anastasia really likes flowers, so we made some with flowers on them, and then we wanted to incorporate something from Wesleyan into them. So it says Joy on it. It’s the joy motto. And then we have the ones that have the crosses on them.
[0:07:32] Rico Figliolini: Okay. Got a bunch of them up there now. Okay, so let’s go back to Freddie a little bit. So, Freddie, where do you find your creative process, your creative space, physical space or mind?
[0:07:53] Freddie Reinhard: Yeah, honestly, I do a lot of my drawings during class, which isn’t a good thing. I call it the doodlebug. My friends know it as that, and it’s just like, I’m in class, I can’t think of anything but just, like, drawing something on paper or my laptop. So, sadly, to my teachers, it’s definitely in class. And then also, I’ll draw when I get home from school, or if I just have some downtime, I’ll do some drawings then, and I get a lot of my inspiration from Pinterest. I see all these cute dorm room stuff, and I’m like, I could do that, but I want my Freddie spin on it. So I’ll do bows often. A lot of people know me for my bows because I just have bows in all my artwork. I just have practiced my handwriting for probably, like, four years now.
[0:08:47] Rico Figliolini: All right, well, the Pinterest, I’m surprised, actually. My daughter uses it. She’s 24. So is that something that you use a lot of? Do you create boards and put up your stuff that way too?
[0:09:07] Freddie Reinhard: Normally I’ll just go on there. If I need a pattern for this cherry background, maybe I saw something with cherries, and then I was like, that’s pretty cute. Or if I just see fun colors that I could incorporate in my art, I’ll do that. Or if I just need inspiration for something, I’ll definitely go there, because obviously it’s Pinterest. They have everything under the sun.
[0:09:30] Rico Figliolini: Okay. All right. Juliana, how about as far as inspiration? I think you said your family goes to Hilton Head, or is that correct? So when did that start? And I guess do you beach comb? Do you go searching for the shells on the beach, I’m assuming?
[0:09:51] Anastasia Lamas: Well, our grandparents owned some condos up at Hilton Head, and they’ve been going there since before we were born, definitely since my dad was a kid.
[0:10:00] Rico Figliolini: Okay.
[0:10:01] Anastasia Lamas: And so we kind of got the inspiration for the shells there, and we ordered them from a lady who cleaned them for us, actually, at Hilton Head. And we also sometimes when we go to restaurants there, we’ll ask the cook if they can give us some of their old oyster shells.
[0:10:21] Rico Figliolini: That’s ingenious. That’s a good way of recycling. That’s good. I would never have thought of that. My creative process runs a little different, but that’s cool that you did that. Okay, so now that you have your process and stuff, do you know where you’re going to be doing it at Wesleyan? Where you’re going to be presenting your products and stuff? Whoever wants to go first.
[0:10:46] Freddie Reinhard: Where I’m presenting them, do you mean, like, in Yancy?
[0:10:50] Rico Figliolini: Yeah, at the show. Well, at the show. Well, I guess people can find you when they go to the show. But will you have a variety of things at the show, I’m assuming?
[0:11:00] Freddie Reinhard: Yeah, I’m going to have my stand is going to be very obvious, I think. My mom’s trying to plan, like, a huge pink bow above my stand. So if you need to look for it, just look for the pink bow. And I’m going to have about 400 buttons there, 100 prints, 100 sweatshirts, I think, so there’s definitely going to be a variety. And I’m also taking commissions for the, I obviously can’t do every college I wish I could, but commissions for smaller colleges like Sanford and wherever else, I’m going to do commissions. So whoever’s going there, they can get buttons or prints or whatever they want.
[0:11:36] Rico Figliolini: Cool. So they can order from you, and then you’ll ship it. You can ship it later.
[0:11:40] Freddie Reinhard: Yes.
[0:11:41] Rico Figliolini: And Juliana and Anastasia, obviously, you’re going to have tons of product too, I’m imagining.
[0:11:47] Anastasia Lamas: We’re trying to do maybe ten to 20 of each design, but we’re definitely going to have made more by the time of the artist market. So far, it should start. I don’t know about you, but I want to keep selling them after the artist market when she goes to high school. Keep doing them.
[0:12:09] Rico Figliolini: Do you have an Instagram account? Do you have a place where you show off your artwork online?
[0:12:16] Anastasia Lamas: Not really. We all have just our personal Instagram account.
[0:12:20] Rico Figliolini: Got you. Freddie, the same for you, I’m assuming.
[0:12:23] Freddie Reinhard: I’ve decided that if these sell well, I’m going to make an Instagram account. So however well this art market goes, will decide if I post these on an Instagram account or not.
[0:12:34] Rico Figliolini: Got you. Okay, so a little bit about you all personally? A little bit, I guess. Let’s start with Freddie. Do you have a favorite artist or filmmaker or author that you’d like to share?
[0:12:51] Freddie Reinhard: Well, I have, like, fashion icon who I’m just obsessed with, and she really inspires me. Just so creative and so cool. Her name is Rebecca Cohen, and she’s the owner of this brand that I love called Love Check Fancy. I’m sure they probably know what that is. And she’s so girly and feminine, and I just admire it so much about her. And she just made this huge brand that everybody my age and around my age loves, and I just want to be her when I’m older, and I just love her distinct style.
[0:13:28] Rico Figliolini: And that’s called love. What is that called? Love Shack.
[0:13:30] Freddie Reinhard: LoveShackFancy.
[0:13:34] Rico Figliolini: Cool.
[0:13:34] Freddie Reinhard: She’s the queen of the world in my eyes.
[0:13:37] Rico Figliolini: Really? Okay. I haven’t heard of that one yet. My daughter tries to keep me abreast of things, but that one I haven’t heard. What about you two? Julianna, Anastasia. Do you have any artists or brands or styles that you follow that you like?
[0:13:54] Anastasia Lamas: Nothing in particular. I’m a giant bookworm, so I read, like, a lot. And a variety of genres.
[0:14:02] Rico Figliolini: What’s your favorite genre? Top two genres, I guess.
[0:14:08] Anastasia Lamas: Probably right now, fantasy and romance.
[0:14:10] Rico Figliolini: Okay. And your sister Juliana?
[0:14:14] Juliana Lamas: For me, probably someone I really love and look up to is Selena Gomez, because I’ve been seeing it on Instagram recently. I think she’s really inspirational and stuff.
[0:14:26] Rico Figliolini: She was the actress in Wednesday, right? On Netflix? Or am I thinking of someone else?
[0:14:33] Anastasia Lamas: Yeah, Jenny Ortega.
[0:14:35] Rico Figliolini: Yeah, that was Ortega. Sorry. All right, cool. So what do you want to share that we haven’t talked about yet, related to the artwork and stuff that you do, process or anything like that? What’s the most difficult thing? What’s the thing that you’ve done that you thought was great and all of a sudden you’re like, yeah, let’s try something else, and you start from scratch again. Let’s start with Freddie. She looks like she already knows something.
[0:15:05] Freddie Reinhard: Well, I think you’re probably asking something a little different, but through this button process, I thought it was going to be so easy. I thought I would just be, like, clamp and it would be done. My palms were sore after I was doing it. It’s actually hard work. And my mom kept trying to show me how to do it. We failed at, like, ten buttons in a row. So that’s definitely a lot harder than I expected. This whole artist market, I’m excited for it, but it’s definitely a lot of work.
[0:15:33] Rico Figliolini: But I know, yeah, the button machines are definitely I’ve done that before for political things, it’s not easy. What about you girls? Have you had stuff during your process that you found difficult or had to start all over again on?
[0:15:55] Anastasia Lamas: I think it’s just a lot of time to paint the shells with so many layers and just letting it all dry takes hours. Just keeping on going and going and going. And we’re trying to make all of them perfect. So that just takes a little bit of extra time. And then also, since we’re kind of working together on this, we both have our own different styles, so we kind of intervene and we both like, oh, but I think it looks better like this, better like that, or whatever.
[0:16:32] Rico Figliolini: Did you ever decide to okay, this shell is mine. I’m going to put my initials on it because do you do individual shells like that? This one’s my creative thing.
[0:16:43] Anastasia Lamas: Not really. I really enjoy doing the cross oyster shells, though, so I usually stick to those.
[0:16:46] And I really like doing the notes, the music notes and the joy one. So we each have our shells that we work on.
[0:16:59] Rico Figliolini: Okay. All right, Freddie, when you’re doing the work that you’re doing, I know you’re using digital, so is that easier to do that? I mean, when you’re creating patterns and all that? I imagine some of the process is easier, but also that gives you a little bit more creative space, maybe.
[0:17:15] Freddie Reinhard: Well, I prefer doing lettering on paper. I still enjoy it because it’s easier to just erase things and clear. But if I could, I would definitely prefer paper for just doing my lettering. But for the pattern and such. Like the cherries, I just have to draw one and then just duplicate a bunch. So it’s way easier than if I had to do every single cherry. And then for these prints, it’s so much easier when I can just kind of just fill this hat in with one click instead of, of course, drawing in the whole thing. So in some ways it’s easier. Other ways I feel, if it was all handmade, if it was all made on paper, I think it would have more of like I don’t know, I feel like it has your hand more in it. As my art teacher would say, you could tell it’s from me because you could tell it’s drawn on paper. So that aspect I kind of miss, but definitely easier for math, product, to do digital.
[0:18:16] Rico Figliolini: Have you ever thought about I know 3D printing is like, the big thing now, and I’ve seen artists use 3D printing, actually. Have you thought about that?
[0:18:25] Freddie Reinhard: No, I haven’t. I know we have a few at Wesleyan, but I didn’t even get into consideration. That is a really good idea, that would be really cool. Maybe I will start trying to figure that out.
[0:18:36] Rico Figliolini: It doesn’t take much on some of that. Some of that is just fed these templates. But you can feed your creativeness into that template. You can customize some of these templates. So that’s just another avenue of art. Same thing. I guess for that you could 3D print shells, but then what’s the point, right? I guess those shells might have been out in the ocean for like, 100 years before they got to you or whatever. However long. So there’s some history to that, maybe even that’s unknown to anyone. Have you ever thought about doing your work, girls, on other materials besides shells?
[0:19:20] Anastasia Lamas: We haven’t really. We’ve mostly just stuck with the oyster shells.
[0:19:26] Rico Figliolini: Okay.
[0:19:27] Anastasia Lamas: Yeah, it would be interesting to see how it would work on other mediums.
[0:19:32] Rico Figliolini: Yeah, probably. Well, I’m assuming you’re taking art courses or you’ve taken art courses at Wesleyan?
[0:19:41] Anastasia Lamas: We were both in digital art last semester, and we both really enjoyed that.
[0:19:45] Juliana Lamas: I took it in fifth grade and 6th grade. Just normal art. And then I did digital art, and now I’m in technology class.
[0:19:57] Rico Figliolini: Cool. And are you liking it? Is it everything you thought it would be? What about Freddie? Freddie, what about you? I mean, you’ve been in three and a half years of AP Art course. Because of that, you probably have done different mediums, different subjects and stuff. How’d that go? And did that help with what you’re doing now? Any of that?
[0:20:18] Freddie Reinhard: Yeah, I’m going to have to think back to freshman year. I think it was 3D art, and I got stopped midway because of COVID. But I like that, it’s not my thing. I enjoyed it because it’s fun to do, but I don’t know, I just prefer doing things too deep. And then I’ve been on digital art as well, which I love. That was like so much fun. And so from then I was like, yeah, I think this is my thing. So I started getting into that. And I do some digital art on my AP Art stuff now. I don’t know, I’ll doodle on some of my pictures and I do a lot of mixed media, so that also helped with my creativeness, I guess. Too much to count.
[0:21:04] Rico Figliolini: And doodling in the classrooms. That helps, too, a little bit.
[0:21:09] Freddie Reinhard: Yes, definitely does.
[0:21:11] Rico Figliolini: Let’s make sure the teachers don’t hear that. I’ve covered quite a bit with you three. If you want to share anything else with the audience that will be listening to this, want to start that with Freddie and we’ll go the other way.
[0:21:29] Freddie Reinhard: I don’t have too much more to share, but I’d say to you two girls that you should definitely take AP Art because it is just such a great way to really learn your style and just do so much stuff you’ve always wanted to do. And it just helps with who you want to be as an artist, definitely.
[0:21:47] Rico Figliolini: Have you done any, the girls do dance and gymnastics. Have you done anything along those lines? I mean, that’s one creative aspect. Right. Have you done anything similar?
[0:21:57] Freddie Reinhard: Well, this year I actually did the musical for the first time. I’ve never done musical theater, but it was just me and my two best friends, and so that was just a great experience. Overall, we had the best time, and I’ve never been in an environment like that, and it was just so much fun. And then right now, I’m doing lacrosse, and in the fall, I do cross country.
[0:22:16] Rico Figliolini: Wow. Okay. Busy schedule. Sounds good. What about Juliana and Anastasia? It’s gymnastics and dance?
[0:22:28] Anastasia Lamas: Our main things are gymnastics and dance, but we do other sports too. She’s in the musical, and I do lacrosse and cheerleading and all that stuff.
[0:22:41] Rico Figliolini: It’s amazing how much activity girls have. I don’t know how, so what do you do to unwind then? I mean, you have schoolwork, you have artwork, you have sports. What is it that you do that’s not associated that way, to sort of do something different? Anything?
[0:23:03] Freddie Reinhard: For me, it’s honestly just, like I really get my energy from my friends, so I’ll definitely try to hang out with my friends in the little free time that I have, because they just bring me so much joy. And also hanging out with my parents since I’m going to college next year. I know I’ve got to savor these last few months, so I just make sure if I’m home during a school night, I’ll definitely go and just hang out with them and talk with them.
[0:23:31] Rico Figliolini: That’s cool. That’s a good daughter. Thank you. My kids do that. What about you girls? Juliana? Anastasia?
[0:23:39] Anastasia Lamas: Well, we try to do stuff as a family. Like family movie nights and stuff on weekdays and weekends when we aren’t super crammed schedule.
[0:23:50] Rico Figliolini: Yeah. Wesleyan kids, Great Atlanta Christian, The kids that I’ve interviewed and stuff always busy. Norcross high school. I don’t think any kids that I’ve interviewed have had more than a night or two free because of academics and sports and everything else. They’re there. But you know what? Your future is secured when you do that. I think you develop a different way of looking at life and become more successful that way. So glad you three were able to spend some time with me. This took a little time to get this together. Mostly my fault on the scheduling, but I appreciate you three showing up and doing this interview with us.
[0:24:32] Freddie Reinhard: Yeah, it was awesome.
[0:24:34] Rico Figliolini: Thank you. Hang in there with me for a minute. I just want to say thank you to everyone that’s been watching this. So the Wesleyan Artist Market is at the end of this month, and you just Google Wesleyan Artist Market, and you’ll be able to find the schedule and everything else from there. Follow them on Instagram there are going to be 75 artists from around the country there as well, besides the student artists. So there’s a lot of stuff, a lot of mediums. Check out the latest issue of Peachtree Corners magazine. You’ll see three of the artists of the 75 that will be there. It’s some good feature stories. And there’s a podcast interview also with Jennifer Keim, another adult artist that is going to be showing there. So thank you. And thank you to EV Remodeling for being a sponsor of ours. So thank you all. Take care.
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