Three cities outline development plans during District 1 tour

There are two directions Duluth, Suwanee and Sugar Hill leaders are looking at taking when it comes to their respective city cores.

On one path, Duluth and Suwanee officials are taking different approaches to meet the same goal: The enhancement of their downtown areas. Sugar Hill leaders, on the other hand, have to take a different approach because they are aiming to build a downtown district where none currently exist.

The three cities laid out plans for economic development before local government and business leaders on Tuesday during a five-hour tour Commissioner Jace Brooks hosted in his district. The tour focused on economic development plans in the three cities, including those in construction and those which are still in the planning stages.

“The cities kind of do community development, and that includes economic development, so I just wanted us as a county to get a feel for what these cities are doing (and) how this community development and economic development … kind of work together to make Gwinnett County such a great quality of life place,” Brooks told tour participants.

 

The tour showed three different approaches to downtown areas, which is a reflection of what each city has set its sights on accomplishing.

Duluth officials are taking an approach that more restaurants will boost their downtown area. The downtown district has already seen several developments in recent years, including a new city hall, development of a town green and an overhaul of pedestrian sidewalks.

The centerpiece of that is “The Block,” a new restaurant district whose first tenant will be a new Dreamland Barbecue. As Duluth Economic Development Manager Chris McGahee talked to officials about the plans, a track hoe behind him tore down a building across from the town green on West Lawrenceville Street to make room for Dreamland.

McGahee said the city sees the new restaurant district as a complement to live entertainment provided by the nearby Eddie Owens Presents in the Red Clay Theater.

“The restaurant district is to energize the theater and the theater is to energize the restaurant district — to energize the whole rest of the community,” McGahee said.

Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris the city is also looking at extending the downtown areas boundaries across Buford Highway. She added there has been some interest from developers who are looking to capitalize on the previous redevelopment project in the downtown Duluth.

“Because of the things going on downtown, we know that developers are looking at other parts of Duluth, such as that the really ugly, blighted area across from the square, right on the other side of Buford Highway,” Harris said. “We have some developers looking at that for apartments and retail, so it’s starting to happen.”

Meanwhile, Suwanee officials hope a recently announced mixed-use expansion of their downtown district and a redevelopment along Buford Highway will result in new quality of life enhancements of their own.

City Manager Marty Allen said the city is using funding from Atlanta Regional Commission, among other sources, to look at the project, which he described as an effort to “redevelop Buford Highway in a contact sensitive manner.” The affected stretch of roadway is located between George Pierce Park and McGinnis Ferry Road.

The redevelopment would mirror the urban style seen in Suwanee’s Town Center, where sidewalks and stores line the street closely, rather than being set back with a grassy area in between. The plans include bike lanes as well as sidewalks and storefronts which butt directly against the highway in some areas, while set back a little bit in less dense areas.

“We hope it will be a first-class downtown street with buildings that will be able to front along it much like we have along Town Center Avenue,” Allen said.

A key part of that plan is the recently announced Town Center expansion which will add 10,000-square feet of new retail space along Buford Highway and add 235 high-end apartments whose rent would hover around $1,568 per month.

At the same time, Sugar Hill leaders are in the process of playing catch-up with their neighbors to the south. Mayor Steve Edwards said the city has several plans in the pipeline for the area around city hall.

Those plans include a 253-unit residential and retail development called The Seven, an assisted living community at the corner of Highway 20 and West Broad Street, an indoor recreation center with retail shops along its exterior and the addition of Daddy O’s Irish Ice Cream Pub at the city’s Suite Spot business incubator later this year. The incubator is located across the street from city hall.

Edwards said the city is also looking at ideas for redeveloping the former Buice School that it bought from Gwinnett County Public Schools earlier this year.

“Duluth and Suwanee are a little bit different,” Edwards said. “They’ve already got thriving downtowns. What we’re trying to do here in Sugar Hill is build our own downtown.”

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