Suwanee to hold contest for City Hall design

LAWRENCEVILLE - May the best architect win.

Suwanee is about to build a new City Hall, and to make sure the new government digs look just right, officials there intend to hold a design contest.

The city of 12,000 has let the top architectural firms in Georgia know about the project, which will serve as a focal point for the city's new made-from-scratch downtown on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road.

"We're trying to spread the word far and wide," said City Manager Hardin Watkins. "It doesn't take long to get the word out in the architectural community."

The new City Hall will be significant because it will be the centerpiece of Suwanee Town Center, which is taking shape near the intersection of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and Buford Highway, said Suwanee Mayor Nick Masino.

It will also give city government some badly needed space, he said.

"This is really kind of the jewel in the middle of the Town Center," Masino said. "For us it will be the final piece."

Work on Suwanee Town Center began in 2004 when the city bought 13 acres for $1.4 million. Its intent was to create a brand-new, yet historic-looking town square to serve as a focal point for the city by the Chattahoochee River.

Since then its sold four of the tracts for a profit to private developers who are erecting three-story buildings with shops, offices, residences and restaurants.

The fifth and final tract in the center will hold the new City Hall, which will encompass about 20,000 square feet. The current City Hall on Buford Highway has 11,000 square feet.

The top 25 architectural firms in Georgia has been notified of the project, as has any company that has done work for Suwanee or expressed an interest in doing so.

It is expected that several will respond to the city's request for "letters of interest." From those, a shorter list of qualified candidates will be selected.

Those companies will be interviewed by a committee. The three or so chosen for the final round will take part in a design contest where they submit drawings showing what they think the new City Hall might look like.

The winner will get the contract. Runners-up will be reimbursed for their effort by the city.

"By doing a design competition our goal is to stir some creativity and to create excitement about the project and see what ideas the great architectural minds of Georgia have for us," Watkins said.

The city Police Department, which is housed in part of the current City Hall on Buford Highway, will get the entire building once the new City Hall is built. All city administrative offices and a number of departments will move to the new City Hall.

Construction should begin in 2007 and end in 2008.

Money made from selling the Town Center parcels will be used as a down payment for the new City Hall. Money will be borrowed to pay for the rest.

"Based on long-term revenue forecasting, we feel that our current millage rate will be able to pay that back," Watkins said.

The city population has nearly doubled since the current City Hall opened in 1997, Masino said.