When it opened in 1984, Gwinnett Place Mall was an icon and a point of pride for Gwinnett County. But for years now it’s been mostly vacant. It’s been pushed to the wayside by new malls in the area and the rise of online shopping.
Fortunately, the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District is going to give it new life.
Earlier this year, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners approved the Community Improvement District (CID) plan to redevelop the mall area. The CID developed the plan over the course of several months with input from local businesses and many Gwinnett County residents.
Community input was key
The input from the county’s residents was crucial to the CID’s plan.
“They had fond memories of the mall,” Joe Allen said. Allen is the Executive Director of the Gwinnett Place CID. “That’s where their first job was, or their first date. They love those memories, but it was also interesting that overwhelmingly people said it was about time. They were glad to see something starting to move forward.”
With such great support for redeveloping the site, the next step was to determine what it should become.
Since 2012, over a dozen plans had been developed for the mall site. The CID reviewed them all with regard to land use, mobility, infrastructure and parks. An analysis was completed to understand what market forces would drive development in the area. The result was a vision to convert the site to a vibrant, well connected, green and walkable mixed use site.
Two draft proposals
The CID came up with two draft concepts. The Town Center concept had a lower density and was similar to existing Gwinnett town centers such as Suwanee and Lawrenceville. The Cultural Center concept had about twice as much business space and 1,400 more housing units. It also had a larger emphasis on culture and the arts.
They took these two draft concepts out to get public input. Allen and the CID staff spent many days reaching out to the public for their ideas. They didn’t have midweek meetings at some obscure hotel meeting room. They went out to the citizens.
“We have always tried to go to people,” Allen said, “at fall festivals or holiday festivals. We really wanted to get people’s input. Chairwoman Hendrickson really challenged us to go to where the people are, and not expect them to come to us. And it was just amazing.”
Allen estimates that since fall of 2021 through the early summer of last year, the CID staff interacted with thousands of people. He remembers many 10 to 12 hour days at some of the festivals because, he said, “my voice was sore.”
After input from the residents, the Cultural District was the clear choice.
The Global Villages plan
With that direction, the CID went to work on the specifics for the site. They worked with contractors and consultants who had been involved with mall redevelopment across the nation.
“We really challenged them,” Allen said, “to make a plan that was data-driven, market feasible and economically sustainable. The plan needed to be based on community engagement, but equally based on market reality.”
The final design is the Global Villages concept, comprising seven different phases — referred to as villages — all built around a central green space. It taps into the diversity of Gwinnett County.
“That to us was just a natural because of Gwinnett being the most diverse county in the Southeast,” Allen said. “That’s something we heard a lot from folks, people who lived in the area and businesses in the area, that they wanted to keep it authentic. They wanted this to really reflect the community.”
Centered around a four acre park
The Global Villages will be centered around a 4.4 acre park, with flexible spaces for gatherings and play areas for children. The villages themselves will focus on housing, with plans for 2,700 to 3,800 new units. It will include retail and business space, and an International Community Cultural Center that will emphasize the arts.
Transportation is an integral part of the development plan. New roads in and around the Villages — a total of 1.9 miles — will be what are known as “complete streets.” Complete streets are designed to safely accommodate driving, walking, bicycling and transit options.
Those transit options will include two new projects at the site: the Gwinnett Place Transit Center and a bus rapid transit (BRT) line on Satellite Boulevard. Allen noted that improving transit throughout the county is something that’s being worked on, even separate from the mall site. His CID, along with the Gateway 85 CID and the Sugarloaf CID, have been working on transit options with the county and the Atlanta Regional Commission.
While transit, walkability and bikeability are vital components of the plan, the CID realizes that cars are still going to be the predominant transportation mode for quite a while, so of course, automobiles are being accounted for in the Global Villages. The plan recommends several improvements to the main roads leading into the development and has a large parking deck included for the site. In addition to the functionality of holding cars, the parking deck will also provide opportunities for murals and other public art.
Plans, implementation and timeline
Now that the Gwinnett County Commission has approved the redevelopment, the initial planning phase is over. Allen and the CID are moving into the implementation phase.
“Getting that Commission vote really just got us to the starting gate,” he said. “And now we’re off to the races. We are having meetings with the economic development team, the transportation team and the SPLOST committee. They have started putting in some funding for it. It’s really underway right now.”
The overall plan has an estimated timeline of 20 years. Phase 1, which is underway now, includes putting the development team in place, negotiating property agreements and demolition of the site. The demolition is not going to be a simple process because mall occupants Macy’s, Mega Mart and Beauty Master are going to continue to operate their stores and be part of the new development. Demolition will have to be done around these stores.
Allen and his team are working full speed to implement the plans, but he noted that the public should not expect to see construction activity on the site immediately.
“I do want to caution people,” he said, “there may be a year or two that you don’t see anything happen, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening behind the scenes. We’re having to get into the reciprocal easement agreements and conduct negotiations. All of that has to be worked out before you can see the first bulldozer show up on site.”
Once that background work is completed, the Transit Center and Central Park will be the first parts of the Villages to be constructed.
The county and its residents can look forward to the former Gwinnett Mall site once again becoming a proud landmark for Gwinnett County — this time as the Global Villages development.
Photos courtesy of Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District