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City panel lauds amphitheater plans

LAWRENCEVILLE - Imagine an amphitheater just blocks away from Lawrenceville's downtown Square.

There would be a park there, with ponds. And it would be surrounded by townhomes, offices and shops, like those in Suwanee and Duluth.

Representatives from Tunnel, Spangler, and Walsh presented such a plan to members of Lawrenceville's Downtown Development Authority Monday. And while it will be months before even the City Council gets a say in the plan's future, local leaders say they're in favor of the concept.

"I think it's a really nice idea," City Councilman P.K. Martin said. "It's just an additional amenity to add to the downtown."

Of course, there is a catch - the fact that the 15.58 acres of park space is already occupied by the city's public utilities building. But Marie Beiser, vice chair of the DDA, said the city is in favor of shifting things around to get more greenspace closer to Lawrenceville's downtown.

A park closer than Rhodes Jordan would be able to give the city more space for the annual Christmas tree lighting, County Seat Day and other festivities, and the mixed-use component, she said, would draw even more people to the area.

"They're the wave of the future," Beiser said. "People want to return to live back downtown. ... They want an area they can walk to, where they can take their children outside, like the old neighborhoods. It's happening all over the U.S. in small towns."

Plans for the park and amphitheater are far from complete, and no cost estimate is yet available. City Clerk Bob Baroni said he expected the proposal to come before the council in January or February.

The city owns most of the land considered for the park, Martin said, while the Housing Authority, school board and private owners have about 17 tracts. The proposed park stretches from behind Lawrenceville's old City Hall to the new City Hall, he said, between Jackson and North Clayton streets.

Martin said he is eager to see the project take place because it would be an additional draw to the downtown area. With Lawrenceville situated as the midpoint between Atlanta and Athens and the home of Georgia Gwinnett College, both Martin and Beiser said there are several reasons to come to Lawrenceville - and this will be another.

"Why wouldn't they want to come here? It's a beautiful town," Beiser said.