ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Alpharetta faces a new set of challenges in rebuilding its economy, but its campaign will be made easier by the gifts it has retained through the COVID pandemic.
That was the vision presented by Mayor Jim Gilvin at the annual Alpharetta Business Association’s State of the City Mayor’s Breakfast held at The Phase Center Feb. 16.
Gilvin conceded that COVID proved a sucker punch to the city’s progress, yet much of what Alpharetta had built remains intact.
Harkening back to the city’s founding in 1858, Gilvin said rarely have residents faced such a widespread crisis as has prevailed over the past 12 months.
“When have the people who have lived on this ground — who’ve lived in this city — ever faced the type of adversity that we’ve faced?” he asked.
The mayor said he was especially grateful to the community and those businesses that changed their operations overnight to address the threat of closure.
“It’s historically been a tough time, and this city has continued to thrive, thanks to the people in this room, thanks to the people in this community,” Gilvin said.
The mayor recalled that in his address last year, he spoke of Alpharetta’s unique character. It is that uniqueness, he said, that will carry it through.
“This city, as well as any I know of, has better than most provided an environment that is conducive to building a business… and a great place to raise a family,” he said.
Still, he said, the past year has been a sobering reminder of how tenuous economic prosperity can be. A year ago, the local economy was thriving, finances were sound, and the city had $200 million worth of transportation projects on the drawing board, including major traffic flow projects on east-west arteries.
“The good news is we are still fundamentally one of the greatest places on earth to do business and raise a family,” Gilvin said. “That’s what got us here, and that’s what will keep us here.”
The challenge now will be to bring back the people who helped create the prosperity when the city’s daytime population was nearly double its residential population of 65,000, he said.
Businesses and commercial interests contribute to the city’s quality of life by paying more than 60 percent of the property taxes assessed by the city. Few other cities in Georgia, Gilvin said, enjoy such a resident-friendly tax base.
One of the biggest casualties of the pandemic has been Alpharetta’s hospitality industry.
Alpharetta has nearly twice the number of hotels, 30, than all immediate neighboring cities combined, and the hospitality industry helps fuel its business model. Not only that, Alpharetta had anticipated adding close to $9 million in revenues from its hotel-motel tax last year before the pandemic dropped occupancy rates dramatically.
“Those hotels, the restaurants that serve that hospitality industry are devastatingly affected,” Gilvin said. “The fact is, we can’t recover to where we were a year ago in the hospitality industry and in our economy in general until we start attracting some of those extra people back.”
As COVID restrictions ease, Gilvin said Alpharetta will continue to offer companies a safe environment with less density and greater amenities. Companies are concerned about safety as much as residents are, he said, and no worker wants to get to work by riding an elevator up 20 floors with different people every day, he said.
The mayor also pointed out that decreased sales tax revenues have sidetracked a number of big-ticket projects that had been planned to improve roadways, parks and infrastructure. He said another focus will be on continued revitalization of the North Point corridor, which has slumped with the openings of retail meccas like Avalon and City Center.
He remains upbeat about the prospects for the year ahead. Conversations with major employers are on the upswing, he said.
“We have to make this one of the best and safest places in the country to do business,” Gilvin said. “We’ve got to bring people back into our city.”