Duluth mayor gives State of the City address

DULUTH - Shirley Lasseter began her State of the City address on Tuesday with a videotaped look back at Duluth.

It showed one young woman who remembered riding her horse to the dentist, and Randy Belcher, a city policeman, reminiscing about getting a patrol car.

"My first incident was chasing a car full of kids," Belcher, now the city's police chief, recalled of the event that occurred 30 years ago.

Later, Lasseter, the town's mayor and enthusiastic cheerleader, wound up her State of the City address by accepting accolades from the designers of Duluth's new public safety building.

The announcement that the facility had been named the "Best Public Project for the Southeast Region" and the "Design Built Project of the Year for the Southeast" was topped off with a copy of an article about the new building recently published in "Courts Today Magazine."

Lasseter also holds high hopes for the new City Hall to be completed by December and for the expected commercial growth on the city's outskirts, particularly at the renovated Pleasant Hill Road and Buford Highway Intersection.

The luncheon gathering of public officials, community workers and business notables was held at the new police headquarters on Buford Highway and Davenport Road. The Duluth Civitan Club has been a main sponsor every year.

Lasseter recognized the special work of the police department, highlighted by safety programs at school bus stops, protection of homes while residents are away and mounted horse patrol units. The riding police officers help with crowd control and patrol neighborhoods, shopping centers and park trails.

"They have received state certification and are gearing up for spring and our series of concerts," Lasseter said. "Though the police department may be the most visible, the remaining departments are also committed to serving you efficiently."

In Lasseter's view, the involvement of residents has been a key to Duluth's growth. The sleepy town's spread has put a new face on the area that includes the Gwinnett Place Mall and the section of Sugarloaf Parkway that is now home to the Gwinnett arena, civic center and performing arts complex.

"But we all come together to make successful opportunities happen," Lasseter said. "We have tried to encourage our citizens to be active in the community."

The City Council regularly invites neighborhood groups, civic associations and Boy Scouts to attend the meetings and often honors the accomplishments of teachers, coaches and students.

In 2006, the city began a series of Town Hall meetings to apprise residents of happenings and to present them with an opportunity to be involved and heard.

In other community work, the organization VolleyFest has raised $600,000 in supporting breast cancer care and prevention. The group now has nine venues for grass-roots tennis and golf tournaments from which the proceeds benefit the Gwinnett Hospital System's Foundation, the "Time Matters Campaign" and mobile mammography, officials said.

The Foster Children's Foundation raises funds through its Olympix day, a fun-filled event for young people.

Also, the Rotary Club is sponsoring the building of a Habit for Humanity House on South Street.

As diversity increases, Duluth welcomes neighbors from many different cultures, Lasseter said. The Super H Mart on Pleasant Hill Road was Duluth's first Asian-themed development.

The city later will see a similar development from the Super Pearl shopping area on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard as well as a hotel project with golf facilities on North Berkeley Lake Road, the mayor said.

The good news for Duluth is that the city has received more than $5 million in roadway grants to improve traffic flow round the downtown area. The targeted roadways are Ga. Highway 120, Ridgeway Drive, a new extension of Ridgeway/West Lawrenceville to Ga. 120 and an extension of Hill Street to intersect with Buford Highway at Davenport Road.

But the mayor said she believes the greatest addition to Duluth in 2006, for the "health and welfare" of its residents, is the Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth that opened Oct. 18. By Dec. 31, the hospital had reported almost 6,000 visits.

Officials also believe in having a beautiful downtown area, Lasseter said. To meet that goal, the city has installed new sidewalks, landscaping, lighting fixtures and benches. This year's creation of a monthly calendar and the production of a Christmas ornament depicting historic city buildings for the second year, carries on "the tradition of a beautiful Duluth," she said.