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From Outdated Mall To Cultural District? The Future Of Gwinnett Place Begins To Take Shape

Gwinnett Place CID Executive Director Joe Allen (left) talks with a resident about the future of the property.

The vision for the future of the Gwinnett Place Mall, a 90-acre property that has sat largely vacant since early 2021, is beginning to come into sharper focus.

Based on initial feedback from a multitude of public engagements, the underused space could be reborn as a mixed-use cultural district serving diverse and fast-growing Gwinnett County, Georgia, a community near Atlanta.

That is the revitalization approach favored by many residents who have looked at two proposed concepts for the mall site that the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District shared this past April. The concepts are the latest milestones in a nearly yearlong effort by the CID, Gwinnett County and the Atlanta Regional Commission to gather the public’s input to help shape the future of the property.

Gwinnett Place CID will continue to seek the public’s opinions over the coming weeks, but to consultant Allison Stewart-Harris, the feedback gathered so far suggests that while locals retain a strong bond with the nearly 40-year-old mall, they are also eager to see the property redeveloped to meet the needs of their community in the 2020s. 

“One thing that's really struck me about the results of the outreach is that people really care about Gwinnett Place,” said Stewart-Harris, community planning manager with civil engineering and planning firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., which has worked closely with the Gwinnett Place CID. “That place is special to a lot of people — that was where their first jobs were, maybe they met their partner there, they hung out there as kids — so they feel a connection to it.”

This isn’t always the case in revitalization projects, Stewart-Harris said. In some other projects she’s been involved in, she said local residents were not all that engaged. 

Gwinnett Place, however, has avoided that problem through an ambitious community outreach effort. Joe Allen, executive director of the Gwinnett Place CID, estimated that more than 2,000 residents have shared their opinions via focus groups, one-on-one meetings, online or at community events and festivals throughout the county. 

Those who haven’t yet made their voices heard can express their opinions at upcoming events, such as at a multicultural festival Gwinnett County is sponsoring at the mall site May 14, or by visiting and answering survey questions. Allen said the team plans to finalize the revitalization strategy by the end of summer.

What that final strategy might look like became clearer recently when Gwinnett Place CID shared the two revitalization approaches with residents, and one of them quickly became the clear favorite. 

One concept envisions the old mall site reborn as a “mixed-use town center” that emphasizes residential development with some office and retail spaces in the mix, too. The second concept is similar, but more ambitious, and envisions building a “cultural district” on the site of the former mall.

The cultural district concept proposes 3,800 residential units, 100K SF of retail space, 50K SF of office space and 15.7 acres of parks. That’s similar to the other concept, but a crucial difference is that concept No. 2 also calls for 2.5 acres to be used for an “iconic cultural center and green space with a focus on arts and events.”

At recent events, Allen said, about 80% of residents have indicated they prefer the cultural district approach. That also happens to be the plan that could spur the most redevelopment in the area, Stewart-Harris added. 

“Both concepts show a marked improvement from what's there now,” she said. “But concept No. 2 takes public investment to the next level with an international cultural center, a parking deck and world-class green space.”

Crucially, she noted, the few retailers still operating on the property — including Mega Mart, Beauty Master and Macy’s — share the community’s enthusiasm for Gwinnett Place’s redevelopment.

“They're all committed to staying at the location, but they're also really interested in what a different future could look like,” Stewart-Harris said. “Their willingness to collaborate is really encouraging.”

The future of Gwinnett Place remains a work in progress, but Stewart-Harris said the final plan for the redevelopment is likely to look a lot like the cultural district proposal. In addition to appealing to the community, the plan also has the potential to spur faster development than the alternative “town center” approach would.

“The cultural hub option will require increased public investment compared to the other proposal, but it's going to attract private investment faster,” she said. “It might take more time for the county and the other public entities involved to make those investments in things like infrastructure improvements. But once those are in place, we think the development will build off that momentum and happen more quickly.”

Allen said Gwinnett Place CID will continue to seek community input and refine its proposal in the coming months before it makes its final recommendation to the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners. 

“Our planning process will be wrapped up by August,” he said. “And then from there, it's really about working with the county and our other partners to move the plan forward.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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