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OFS project could mean big change
New draw seen for area

LAWRENCEVILLE - A new mixed-use development to be proposed on a declining industrial site has enough critical mass to change the character of its surroundings, a developer buying the property said.

Dave Garrett, chairman of the board of Mallory and Evans Development, said he thinks the project his company is proposing on the OFS property at Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard could have a "tremendous impact."

"There's certainly nothing like that of that scale outside of Atlantic Station," Garrett said. "I hope it becomes the bell cow for the rest of the area to build upon."

Garrett said the company he has formed for the redevelopment project, JCB 85, would not close on the first phase of the 129-acre project until November. In the mean time, he said, the company will develop a master plan for the property and submit it for county and regional review.

The plan, which would include residences, shops, hotels, offices and 40 acres that would still belong to OFS, should be completed in January, Garrett said.

"We're working furiously," he said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm for it."

Garrett said there would be more than a million square feet of retail space in the project, along with several types of housing units. Multi-family housing developer George Lane, who developed town houses and condominiums in Atlantic Station, is one of Garrett's partners in this endeavor. But Garrett said he could not speculate about the project's residential components, saying the market would decide how much housing was built.

The company would acquire about 77 acres of the 169-acre campus in the first phase, 25 acres in the second and about 27 aces in the third phase. Garrett said there may be low-rise towers, but he doesn't anticipate putting a high-rise tower on the property.

While the concept will be similar to downtown's Atlantic Station, Garrett said this project will have its own look.

"We certainly are going after this with the attitude that what we build has to be unique," he said. "It has to have some elements of uniqueness that will cause people to want to come there. It's a vision, no ifs, ands or buts about it."

Garrett said although it is rare to find such a large piece of property close to Interstate 85, the cost of redeveloping the project is probably insurmountable without the help of a tax allocation district, a funding mechanism that the city of Norcross has but Gwinnett County does not.

The district allows governments to sell bonds backed by the expected growth in tax revenues because of increases in property values after redevelopment. The bonds would pay for infrastructure improvements.

The measure, which was defeated by county voters last year, may be on the ballots again in 2008.

Garrett said while the OFS campus is just a few parcels away from Norcross' city limits, he has not looked into the possibility of annexing it into the city. The focus, he said, is on first creating a master plan.

"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," he said. "It's been done before."

This is the second mixed-use proposal on the land. Last year, OFS sued Preferred Real Estate Investments, a Pennsylvania firm that planned to buy and develop the property.

OFS claimed the real estate developer did not pay $5 million it owed for the purchase, which was set to close last September. Anthony Collins, an attorney for OFS, said Wednesday that the case was settled earlier this year.

Local redevelopment leaders said they think this time, the project will go through.

"We can make a permanent lasting effect in a neighborhood," Garrett said. "We see this as a legacy project for us."