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Sugar Hill mulls plan options for city hall

SUGAR HILL - Right now they're just several dozen sketches taped to the wall in the Sugar Hill Community Center for public comment. Which one springs to life to become the town's new city hall is anyone's guess.

Soon, Sugar Hill hopes to begin development of its downtown streetscape along West Broad Street from Peachtree Industrial Boulevard to Ga. Highway 20. The crowning jewel of the 3/4-mile stretch will be the 36,000-square-foot city hall on the corner of West Broad and Temple streets.

Inspired by downtown Suwanee, Duluth and Buford, Sugar Hill's seven-member Downtown Development Authority is anxiously nearing its first shovel turn after seven years of strategizing.

"I wouldn't be on this committee if I didn't think it would happen," said Development Authority Chairwoman Dawn P. Gober, a 53-year-old lifetime resident of Sugar Hill. "We really have a feeling that now it's finally going to happen."

Gober and other authority members were at Wednesday's first of three public opportunities to participate in design of the streetscape and the approximately $8 million turn-of-the-century-style hall. Residents had the chance to give input for the three-story hall and surrounding grounds on Friday at a booth at the city's annual Sparks in the Park fireworks show at E.E. Robinson Park. Another chance is planned for early fall.

Expected to be funded from SPLOST, the city hopes late this year to begin the streetscape of sidewalks and street lamps, and by mid-2010 to start the city hall. Ultimately, the master plan is expected to feature shops, multi-story mixed- use buildings and residential-retail, as well as a detention-retention pond and potentially senior living.

Everything's up for discussion, even whether the city hall will be on the northeast corner or in the middle of the intersection, amid a traffic circle or city square.

The existing, smaller city hall at the other end of West Broad, near Level Creek Road, could become a police department, Sugar Hill Community Relations Director Don Kelemen speculated.

Officials of Gwinnett's fourth-largest city hope the streetscape will lure developers to build out the balance of the downtown district.

"We're hoping this becomes fertile ground and attractive to a developer," Kelemen said. "What we're doing will greatly increase value and be a developer's dream."

Though few residents came Wednesday to view designs, a few developers dropped by to see what potentially will be 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of mixed-use space, City Councilman Nick Thompson said.

The development authority's council liaison, Thompson noted that these are tough economic times to entice developers. Yet he remains confident some will get involved once the street takes shape.

"At the end of the day, it's going to take private dollars," he said. "It's the worst time in the world (economically), though, to be trying to fund development.

"We have a lot of infrastructure in place, but it's tough right now to bring something out of the ground."