Recently I attended the “North Fulton Opportunity Outlook” event held in the city of Alpharetta. The forum was hosted by the Council for Quality Growth, a not-for-profit trade association comprised of developers, contractors, engineers, architects, planners, law firms and bankers–anyone with an interest in growth and development.
The event was promoted as an economic development forum to provide an update on development opportunities in North Fulton county. It was co-hosted by the Progress Partners initiative which is partially funded with Alpharetta taxpayer money so I attended in support of the effort.
It was expected it to be an upbeat, informative discussion about the many exciting opportunities in our region. For the most part that was the case. Nearly all of the participants were professional and positive as they discussed the unique quality of life, business climate and cooperative local governments that attracted their businesses and continue to help them thrive.
The lone exception was Mark Toro, managing partner for North American Properties, who chose to insert racially charged comments about the people of North Fulton into his own personal diatribes. It was disturbing to hear someone who has benefited so much from the support of this community use the occasion to insult the people who live here.
Mr. Toro introduced himself by saying,” I am the self appointed president of the Keith Parker (MARTA CEO) fan club, frequent MARTA rider… advocate… messiah” and spent most of his time pleading for billions of dollars in higher taxes that could bring MARTA trains to Avalon’s doorstep. While Mr. Toro’s introductory spiel was conspicuously self serving in a forum designed to be about investing in North Fulton it was the way he framed the remainder of his comments that was most disturbing.
In response to a question about why companies should invest in Alpharetta Mr. Toro spoke of our excellent demographics and said, “this is a solid gold community, strong… financially strong, stable and forward thinking”. He even added that collaboration with the city of Alpharetta had been “phenomenal”.
Yet just seconds after saying Alpharetta was “solid gold” Mr. Toro turned around and used racially charged comments to explain resistance to his eight billion dollar tax increase. Speaking about MARTA expansion once again he said, “I’ve heard it said. You’ve all heard it said. Some of us have even said it ourselves. The train goes both ways and we don’t want those people out here.”
This was a public forum where developers, investors, elected officials and economic development professionals had been invited to hear about opportunities for investing in this community. For Mr. Toro to falsely insinuate that opposition to his tax increase and his “urban-burb” vision of their city’s future is caused by racism was disgusting and inappropriate. But he didn’t even stop there.
Mr. Toro went on to attack the community leaders he had just praised in his comments moments earlier. “And the fact that the leadership of this community is all a bunch of old white guys like me is a problem!“, he continued.
Bunch of old white guys. So in a matter of seconds this community went from “solid gold”, “forward thinking” and “collaborative” to a place where “we don’t want those people out here” led by “a bunch of old white guys” who are the “problem”.
How could that be? What could have possibly changed Alpharetta from “solid gold” in one breath to “a bunch of old white guys” in the next? Actually the only thing that changed was that in one breath Mr. Toro spoke about everything this community has done to make his investment successful and in the next he lashed out at those very same people because they don’t embrace Mr. Toro’s self serving goal of turning Alpharetta into an urban mass transit hub.
Over the last four years the people and leadership of North Fulton county have bent over backwards to support Mr. Toro and the investment North American Properties has made here. Alpharetta revised municipal codes and gave them competitive advantages over every other commercial property owner in town. The city hired new staff and paid thousands of dollars in overtime to facilitate their extremely aggressive construction schedule.
When North American went to the Fulton County Development authority for a tax abatement that cost Alpharetta taxpayers millions of dollars without even letting us know we absorbed that loss. When North American failed to live up to their promise to build hotels in the second phase of Avalon it was the City of Alpharetta who committed $42 million of taxpayer money to support a convention center and hotel within their development .
Yet despite everything the people of North Fulton have done for Mr. Toro it hasn’t been enough. Mr. Toro still seized the opportunity to insult his hosts in front of a large group of investors, economic development professionals and elected officials who were invited to hear about opportunities here. How disappointing.
But the good news is that Mr. Toro’s comments at the North Fulton Opportunity Outlook were informative. They told the people of North Fulton everything we needed to know about the kind of man he is.
Despite Mr. Toro’s comments North Fulton remains a diverse community. People from all over the world call Alpharetta home because of our unique blend of incredible business environment combined with an exceptional quality of life and great schools.
Statistically Alpharetta is every bit as racially diverse as the Atlantic Station development Mr. Toro recently sold in downtown Atlanta and even more diverse than that of Decatur, GA. The supporting census data is available online at citydata.com