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Amphitheater study pondered in Lawrenceville

LAWRENCEVILLE - A downtown revitalization panel wants to know how to fit an amphitheater and mixed-use development on city-owned land near the Historic Courthouse Square.

On Monday night the Downtown Development Authority asked a consulting firm to deliver cost estimates for a study that would look at several blocks between Clayton and Jackson streets.

The land owned by Lawrenceville now holds the Police Department and several utility departments, but city officials plan on moving them elsewhere.

Doing so would free up the industrial land located a few blocks from the square for new development that some say could be a shot in the arm for the city's downtown revitalization efforts.

The DDA Monday discussed building a city-owned amphitheater similar to Chastain Park in Atlanta where people would pay to attend concerts. A large chunk of the remaining land would be sold to private developers, who would build townhomes or lofts above shops or offices, with the city placing guidelines on their architecture and general appearance.

Multiple city officials have cited Suwanee as an example of what they hope to do. That city bought land and created a town green with an amphitheater, and then sold most of the leftover land to private developers who are busy building multi-story buildings with businesses topped by residences.

The profit Suwanee made from selling the land will go toward building a new city hall in the middle of Suwanee Town Center which, when finished, will function similar to a town square.

The Lawrenceville development would help bring in residents who would support downtown shops and restaurants, and selling some of the land to private developers could help pay for an amphitheater, DDA members said.

But they also said they do not want the potential mixed-use project to compete with the square and lure patrons away from it.

"We don't want a new downtown built four blocks off the square," said DDA Chairman Mike Reedy.

For that reason, some DDA members said they would want the development to lean heavily toward residential with a smattering of retail and commercial.

The study that the DDA wants cost estimates for would look at what size amphitheater should go on the site and where it would sit, and what the mixed-use development might consist of.

The cost estimate would come from Tunnel-Spangler-Walsh & Associates, which devised the master plan that Lawrenceville is using as a road map in its efforts to rejuvenate the square and several surrounding blocks.

Consultant Bill Tunnell said turning the city land into a mixed-use project could spur other residential development in the downtown district.

The city intends to build a new police station at the corner of Jackson Street and Ga. Highway 124 and move the utility departments to an unidentified industrial area.

Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds will be used to build the new police department. The city intended to use $1 million in SPLOST revenue to build an amphitheater, but that money has been redirected toward turning an 100-year-old church into a playhouse for use by the Aurora Theatre.