Driving range gives birth to shopping center

DULUTH - A project that began life as a golf driving range has become a proposed shopping center slated for Satellite Boulevard.

That doesn't mean the driving range has been dropped from the plans, though. Instead it will go in the middle of the retail center that will line a quarter-mile of Satellite Boulevard near Beaver Ruin Road.

Because the 25 acres are zoned commercial, the developers must get a special-use permit from the county before they can include the driving range.

On Tuesday night their request was endorsed by the county Planning Commission, which forwarded it to county commissioners for a final vote.

No one spoke against the request during a public hearing, and residents are supportive of the project dubbed The Paragon at Satellite.

It would have several buildings, with the outdoor driving range placed between two of them in the middle of the site. A 40,000-square-foot building with a golf pro shop and tee boxes would anchor the range.

Jin Ho Chung, the project manager, said he is unaware of a Gwinnett County shopping center with a driving range.

Besides the popularity of golf in metro Atlanta, he said the driving range makes sense because it would occupy sloping terrain that would have been costly to build on.

Dave Beck, a golfer who lives in Duluth, said he travels a lot but has never seen a driving range mixed in with a shopping center.

"I never have, but that would be a pretty good baby-sitting service for kids of a decent age to be able to hit balls and practice putting while their parents shop," Beck said.

Chung said the $40 million project actually got its start as a driving range. A group of investors who wanted to build one approached the landowner, Wayne Mason, about acquiring part of the site.

Mason declined to carve up the land, and the driving-range investors partnered with another group of investors looking to build a shopping center in the area, Chung said. Together they bought the whole site that backs up to wetlands along Interstate 85.

The buildings would encompass roughly 300,000 square feet - almost as much as three Wal-Mart Supercenters.

In September, county commissioners issued a special-use permit so a 12-story office building with shops and restaurants on the first two floors could go at Shackleford Road and Steve Reynolds Boulevard.

That project called for a net-enclosed golf driving range on top of one of the buildings beside I-85. That development has been placed on hold, according to officials.