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Center offers shopping aimed at women

LAWRENCEVILLE - Think supersized outdoor food court.

That's one way to look at Avenue Webb Gin, the new 56-acre lifestyle center taking shape on Ga. Highway 124 halfway between Lawrenceville and Snellville.

The shopping center has lined up Mexican restaurant On the Border, Romano's Macaroni Grill, Chili's and Doc Green's gourmet salads. More restaurants may be added by the time Avenue Webb Gin opens in about seven months.

"We could have eight or nine different options, from American fare to Italian to Asian cuisine," said Kevin Polston, vice president, retail division, for Cousins Properties Inc. The company has developed several Avenue-branded lifestyle centers in Georgia and elsewhere.

With 365,000 square feet, the Webb Gin project will be Cousin's largest lifestyle center in the state.

The project also has its share of national retail chains - many geared to women shoppers. Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft have signed on. So have Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble and Gap Inc., which will offer a new concept store that also combines GapKids, GapBody and Baby Gap.

More than half of the Avenue's tenants will be restaurants or women's ready-to-wear, making it a shopping center geared to "moms on the move" who want to shop and grab lunch in the morning, then pick up the kids from school in the afternoon.

"Women are going to be our core shopper, and we're going to have a wide range of opportunities for them," Polston said.

Lifestyle centers have been around for years, and just over 100 were operating across the United States in 2004, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Typically upscale and built in affluent areas, lifestyle centers are not as big as the traditional regional malls run by real estate companies like Simon Property Group or Mills Corp.

Forum Development Group launched Gwinnett's first lifestyle center in 2003 in Peachtree Corners.

Real estate developers have informally tossed around the idea of a regional mall on Gwinnett's east side for years, but Cousins felt a lifestyle center would be a better fit - especially because of the high concentration of affluent households it could serve.

The average household income within three miles of the Avenue Webb Gin was almost $94,000 in 2004, according to Cousins' estimates based on marketing research firm Claritas. Cousins also expects to pull shoppers from fast-growing Walton County.

"We saw a lot of wealth in the Lawrenceville, Snellville and Lilburn trade area," Polston said. "They could go to the Mall of Georgia, but it wasn't as convenient. This is an alternative. Much like the Forum serves the area west of Interstate 85, we think we can serve the eastern side of the market."