Commissioners to decide if OFS redevelopment moves forward

NORCROSS - A weed-dotted parking lot, a vacant industrial building and an open expanse where large rolls of wire were once stored.

That part of the massive OFS BrightWave headquarters and plant at Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Interstate 85 would be redeveloped with seven-story condo buildings, shopping centers and a hotel that would rival Gwinnett County's largest.

First, though, the mixed-use project that some say could jump-start efforts to revitalize the Norcross area must get two thumbs up from the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners.

The first approval could come Tuesday when the five-member panel considers whether the industrial property deserves "mixed-use redevelopment" status.

The designation would let a Pennsylvania company which specializes in overhauling old industrial sites mesh together shops, residences, restaurants and offices on the land - something that would otherwise not be possible.

County Commissioner Bert Nasuti, whose district includes Norcross, said the factory is the type of property commissioners had in mind when they created the mixed-use redevelopment category.

Their intent was to lure new development to older parts of the county in need of rejuvenation, he said.

"For this particular project, the community support has been pretty overwhelming," Nasuti said.

"It's a significant amount of new money being injected into an older area, and my experience has been that new money and new investment are critical to the success of revitalizing an older area."

Preferred Real Estate Investments has a contract to immediately buy 75 acres of the 170-acre OFS property. If OFS ever decides to sell the rest of its campus, or a sizable chunk, Preferred would get the first shot at buying it.

For that reason, Preferred has submitted diagrams to the county showing how it would develop the entire campus even though OFS officials say they have no plans to vacate the rest of the premises.

"There is no time line on any future transaction, period," said OFS plant manager Peter Guion.

"This is the only factory in North America that makes this product," he said, referring to "AllWave," a type of fiber-optic cable patented by OFS.

A phone call to Preferred's local attorney was not returned Friday.

If the deal for 75 acres goes through, OFS will still occupy buildings totaling 2.3 million to 2.5 million square feet - an amount of floor space that rivals the Mall of Georgia.

The slice of land that would go to Preferred holds a building that was added by the previous property owner, Lucent Technologies, when the sky seemed the limit for fiber-optic cable makers, whose product is used by companies like BellSouth to send large amounts of phone calls, faxes, images and other data between two points.

The structure is vacant, along with a yard where spools of cable were once stored. Now the material is largely made on demand and is no longer stockpiled.

Although OFS's main building is visible to the thousands of motorists passing on I-85, the section of property that Preferred would buy and develop is not.

The first phase would include a 405-room five-story hotel, four seven-story buildings with 1,300-plus condos located above ground-level shops and four retail centers. The retail would total about 450,000 square feet.

If Preferred buys the rest of the land and OFS maintains a presence on the site, more retail buildings and condos would be built, bringing the total to 1,705 lofts and condos, 658,000 square feet of retail space and 150,000 square feet of offices, according to the concept plan.