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$100M hotel, conference center planned for Avalon | News

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$100M hotel, conference center planned for Avalon
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(Atlanta Business Chronicle) A more-than-$100 million hotel and conference center could anchor the second phase of Alpharetta's Avalon development, providing a needed amenity for the more than 600 tech companies clustered in the affluent city.

Atlanta-based Stormont Hospitality Group LLC has teamed up with Avalon developer North American Properties to propose the Alpharetta Conference Center and Hotel Avalon.

A 325-room hotel would be built in conjunction with a 74,000-square-foot conference center that's planned to include the largest meeting room in the north Fulton market (22,500 square feet, or about the size of the ballroom at Cobb Galleria Centre).

The project would serve to retain and attract new corporations to Alpharetta, dubbed the "Technology City of the South." Already, the area is home to local offices ofMicrosoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

"I think this is a key component to remain the center of growth of economic development in north Atlanta," said Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle.

He added the project complements the revitalization underway in Alpharetta's downtown area. Both efforts aim to create a long-needed sense of identity for what's largely been a commuter-centric suburb.

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"It offers the opportunity to use Avalon as a showpiece as to what the community has to offer," said Mark Toro, managing director of North American Properties, the same company involved in the turnaround of Atlantic Station.

The city of Alpharetta looks to contribute nearly $30 million to fund the conference center through a public-private partnership. It would do so by raising the city's hotel/motel tax from 6 cents to 8 cents, a measure City Council would vote to approve.

City officials still have to approve the public-private partnership and the project. A public hearing is set for Feb. 23 to kick off the process. If approved, construction could start in early 2016, with completion set for late summer 2017.

Hotel Avalon would be branded under Marriott International Inc.'s Autograph Collection, meaning it would retain the distinctive personality of an independent boutique hotel while benefiting from Marriott's strong reservation system and loyalty program. There are just four Autograph hotels in Georgia, including downtown's Glenn Hotel.

Being located in Avalon would offer hotel and conference center guests a host of upscale entertainment, dining and shopping options.

"We believe the project will be the finest meeting facility in the metro area, offering an outstanding event and conference facility — and a social headquarters for north Fulton county," said veteran developer Jim Stormont Jr., president of Stormont Hospitality.

Among its tenants, Avalon has landed sought-after restaurants including Atlanta's second location of Antico Pizza Napoletana, a high-class Whole Foods, and hip shops such as Anthropologie and Crate & Barrel.

"The conference center and hotel are designed to derive much of their energy from the overall Avalon experience," said Bob Neal, principal of Atlanta-based architecture firmCooper Carry Inc., the architect for the hotel and conference center. "The facility will offer amenities to guests usually only seen in denser urban projects. The hotel guests will be able to check in and then leave their rooms to engage in the Avalon experience — retail shopping and some of the best restaurants in Atlanta."

Connecticut-based HEI Hotels & Resorts would manage the hotel and conference center. The firm specializes in operating independent hotels such as Hotel Chicago Downtown.

"This is a really creative and innovative group," said Ted Darnall, principal and chief operating officer for HEI, sharing his excitement to be part of the team.

There seems to be a need for new hospitality product in the market. Alpharetta today is home to 23 hotels, said Belle Isle. Only one is full-service.

Hotel Avalon would mark one of the first new hotels to be built in the city in five years or more. It would be among a short list of full-service hotels in the pipeline for metro Atlanta.

Hotels in the Georgia 400 north submarket are seeing strong performance, according to new data from PKF Hospitality Research and STR Inc. In 2015, hotel occupancy is forecast to reach 72.7 percent in the submarket, compared to 68.4 percent forecast for metro Atlanta in 2015.

"There seems to be a lot of demand underserved in the Georgia 400 corridor," said Mark Woodworth, senior managing director of PKF. "There's a pretty meaningful concentration of high-tech businesses. We know that historically those type of businesses tend to be good generator of hotel rooms, meeting and conference space."

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