Gateway renovations
Suwanee business district gets a face-lift

SUWANEE - The Interstate 85 business corridor in Suwanee, loosely defined as about 2 miles on either side of Exit 111, is in the beginning phases of a major makeover. City staff recently held three informational meetings for business and property owners in the area, unveiling a brand and strategy for pumping new life into the district.

The new brand for the Suwanee Gateway area was launched at the Jan. 24 State of the County presentation, hosted by the Gwinnett Chamber and Council for Quality Growth. The Gateway branding campaign, which includes a new logo, tagline and mix of marketing strategies, is a vital component of the city's efforts to revitalize the I-85 business district, which was the first such area to be developed in Suwanee more than 30 years ago.

The Suwanee Gateway, as the area is now called, is a major source of tax revenue for the city and could be even more economically successful with some effort on the part of business, residents and property owners.

"We want to create an identifiable area that we used to call the I-85 business district," said Denise Brinson, Suwanee's economic and community development division director. Brinson added that one of the goals in revitalizing this area is to create a regionally-recognized district, such as the Mall of Georgia or Sugarloaf areas - both of which exit off of I-85 not far from the Suwanee exit.

Research indicated that redevelopment of this area must include infrastructure and streetscape improvement, new office and commercial sites, elimination of eyesores and obsolete structures and cooperative branding and marketing.

Work has already begun, and in a very big way. Opus South Corp. has already begun grading on the site of its 150-acre development along Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and I-85. Plans for the site include 350,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space, 580,000 square feet of Class-A office space, a full-service hotel, a Lowe's building supply store and 700 residential and senior living units. The name of this mixed-use development is, appropriately, Terraces at Suwanee Gateway. The first building to be completed will be the first of three office buildings.

The meetings kicked off a campaign to bring existing businesses on board with marketing and branding the Suwanee Gateway initiative. One of the strategies suggested to business owners was a referral program, in which businesses in the area are encouraged to refer neighboring businesses to visitors.

Brinson also encouraged business owners to include the new Suwanee Gateway logo on their billboards, marketing material and even business cards. The idea is to get people to start thinking of the area as a desirable destination for shopping, working and dining, rather than a necessary evil to be endured to travel to Suwanee or Lawrenceville.

There are specific areas within the Suwanee Gateway that will be designated a tax allocation district, or TAD. "There are a lot of redevelopment opportunities, since this is an aging area," Brinson said.

The first year of the branding campaign will see streetlight banners in the area, billboards introducing the Suwanee Gateway to commuters and streetscape improvements (as soon as the drought allows). The Georgia Department of Transportation has already approved the planned streetscape improvements.

Year Two of the campaign will bring more billboards, the referral program, a Web site presence and an investor packet drawing private money into the area. No district overlay has been created yet, but architectural standards are in the works. Business and property owners will have plenty of assistance from the city when planning improvements of their own. "The city is behind this effort 100 percent," Brinson said.