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Northwood Ravin Has Green Ambitions For The Stranger Things Mall

The owner of the Gwinnett Place Mall's shuttered Sears store envisions a chunk of the struggling mall being transformed into the area's version of Central Park.

SJ Collins partner Jeff Garrison, North American Properties partner Adam Schwegman and Northwood Ravin Vice President of Development Ben Yorker

Northwood Ravin Vice President of Development Ben Yorker floated the idea last week during a Bisnow event that the central retail hall of the 1.3M SF Gwinnett Place Mall could be razed and transformed into a green space, one that becomes a walkable, recreational fabric of the community.

“Maybe we become the central park, the green space, that people come to,” Yorker said during Bisnow's Future of Gwinnett County and Northeast Atlanta event. “You're trying to … duplicate this civic town square function.”

Yorker's comments offered the first glimpse into Northwood Ravin's redevelopment aspirations of the mall since the firm purchased the Sears anchor last year. It is one of five separate owners of Gwinnett Place Mall, including Macy's, two other retailers that own former department store spaces and Las Vegas-based Moonbeam Capital.

The Sears anchor at Gwinnett Place Mall in northern suburban Atlanta

Such an effort right now would be somewhat herculean, given that Moonbeam Capital, which owns the central retail portion in question, has expressed little interest in selling its stake in the mall — at least publicly.

Moonbeam has been a repeated source of frustration for local officials, having promised numerous times to redevelop its portion of Gwinnett Place Mall but failing to pull the trigger. All the while, the mall has bled tenants, with some sections completely devoid of life to the point that a homicide victim was concealed behind the defunct food court for two weeks before the body was discovered.

“For six or seven years, we've heard [redevelopment is] coming tomorrow, it's coming tomorrow,” said Ackerman & Co. retail President Leo Wiener — also the chairman of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District — at the event last week. "Unfortunately, I don't think anybody here believes anything is going to happen."

Partnership Gwinnett and Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce President Nick Masino, Ackerman & Co. retail President Leo Wiener, Lawrenceville City Manager Chuck Warbington and Norcross Economic Development Coordinator Tara Smith

During Yorker's appearance, he spoke of the need to reduce the reliance on retail at the mall itself not only to help support the other retail landlords around the mall property, but also in light of North American Properties' massive Revel mixed-use project just 3.5 miles to the north.

That 118-acre project, connected to the existing Infinite Energy Center arena, will include 300K SF of retail, 600 apartment units and up to 800K SF of offices, North American Properties partner Adam Schwegman said.

“We're wrestling with that in the context with what's going on with the rest of the county, including Revel, which is just down the road,” Yorker said. "What we need to do and what we need to be careful about is to do something supporting [Revel] … that doesn't actually cannibalize [it]."

Actually reactivating the retail at the mall “would be horrible because we're now competing with Adam [Schwegman], and nobody wins,” he said.

Yorker did not go into any detail on what Northwood Ravin, primarily a multifamily developer, would do with the former Sears store during the event, but he previously told Bisnow his firm is in discussions with Moonbeam and the other mall owners about redevelopment plans. 

“At this stage, I don't want to either tip my hand or accidentally say something that changes the mind of the parties involved. I will say we are in active conversations with these groups and we are definitely open to working with all of them,” he said earlier this month.