Mall For Sale: In Gwinnett Place, A Gargantuan Opportunity With Risks To Match
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After years of stagnation, Gwinnett Place Mall is up for sale. For an ambitious developer, the shopping center presents an opportunity to transform the county’s central business district into a new hub for commerce, living and play.
But Gwinnettians — even those most eager for change — are painfully aware of the challenges that developer will face.
“It might be easy for a buyer to assemble the money needed to purchase the mall,” said Joe Allen, executive director of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District. “But that developer has to be disciplined, sophisticated and mindful of the potential risks. It’s going to take sweat, collaboration, creativity and courage to hit the home run that the community wants to see.”
Overhauling Gwinnett Place will require an immense amount of time and capital. The developer — or developers — who take on the job will need to navigate a thicket of owners, easements and restrictions and contend with a diverse community with a variety of interests but who all have been itching to see progress for over a decade.
The current sales listing comes from Moonbeam Capital Investments and consists of 562K SF in the mall’s main commercial center, as well as dozens of acres of parking. But the property up for sale doesn’t include the entirety of the mall: the mall’s anchors — Macy’s, Beauty Master and MegaMart — still own their respective retail spaces, while multifamily developer Northwood Ravin owns the vacant former Sears property.
Moonbeam, Allen said, has been a poor property partner and has neglected the contracts and easements it holds with these other owners, allowing local car dealerships to park their inventories on the mall’s lots, allowing movie film crews to use mall space without the other owners' permission and ignoring much-needed maintenance to increase curb appeal.
Allen expects that the anchors will not be so lenient with a new owner.
“They’ve been burned before,” Allen said. “Moonbeam has gotten away with a lot. I expect those reciprocal easement agreements are going to start being enforced by the anchors, as it impacts property values and their vested interests.”
While the logistics may be difficult, the real work will lie in putting together and executing a strong development plan for the property. Gwinnett Place was built for the auto-centric 1980s, and 40% of the CID’s land is taken up by parking lots. Most of the mall’s storefronts are vacant. The mall, Allen said, needs more than a facelift. It needs someone to transform it from a pit stop along Interstate 85 into a 24-hour destination.
Allen personally hopes to see the incoming buyer pare back some of the area’s retail in favor of residential development. According to forecasts from the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Atlanta metro area is set to add 2.9 million residents by 2050. Already Georgia’s most diverse county, Gwinnett is projected to become its most populous, as the lion’s share of new residents is expected to settle in Gwinnett.
Gwinnett Place could harness population growth to power its own resurgence. Across the nation, other shopping centers of the same vintage and style as Gwinnett Place have successfully reinvented themselves, Allen said, citing the Belmar mixed-use district in Denver and CityCentre in Houston.
He added that the infrastructure improvements led by the county and the CID have set Gwinnett Place on a similar path. Gwinnett residents will have another chance to connect the county to the Atlanta region via transit in the near future — they rejected the most recent ballot measure to expand MARTA into the county — and the CID now boasts miles of new sidewalks, sewer lines, traffic improvements and green space.
“The area has great bones,” Allen said. “Now we need a well-capitalized, experienced developer with a strong vision, who can capture the international character of Gwinnett and create a development that’s worthy of this great county.”
A developer that arrives with a strong vision will find an incredibly receptive audience, Allen said. The county government is prepared to partner with developers who offer a transformative solution to revive the dead mall. In his own outreach, Allen said he has found Gwinnett residents to be charged up about redevelopment. And of course, the CID itself is deeply committed to bringing change to Gwinnett Place Mall.
“We will be their biggest cheerleader,” Allen said. “The only way these kinds of projects have succeeded elsewhere is through robust public-private partnerships. Gwinnett County gets it when it comes to working with developers.”
With the property in the early stages of being on the market, there has yet not been any public notice of active bids, but Allen said that the county and CID are committed to working with the right developer, someone who will end the stagnation that has plagued Gwinnett Place and who will make a long-term commitment to the area.
“We need an organization that is willing to put the time and money into making a true transformation happen,” Allen said. “A developer with a long-term investment strategy will win the hearts, minds and wallets of those who truly love the area and want to see it succeed.”
This feature was produced by Bisnow Branded Content in collaboration with Gwinnett Place CID. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.