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BOC takes aim at Gwinnett Place management

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Commissioners chastised Gwinnett Place Mall officials for lowering the quality of the county's first major shopping mecca, as they approved a check-cashing facility inside.

In a decision Tuesday, commissioners gave the go-ahead for A+ Financial Services to move into an 860-square-foot storefront in the Duluth-area mall, which opened in 1984.

According to an attorney, the business offers a number of financial services, including online bill paying, but the approval of the board was needed because of its check-cashing service.

Greg Whitlock, who is a member of the Duluth City Council but was not speaking for the city, told commissioners the check-cashing facility would lead to increased crime and a lower reputation for the mall.

"My concern is Gwinnett Place would be seen as a discount mall," he said, describing the business as "just another reason to write off that mall."

He said mall managers with Simon Properties recently considered opening a tattoo parlor inside the mall but opposition from the community quashed the idea.

In defending the special-use permit, attorney Michael Sullivan said the concerns about crime was unfounded, and that the mall owners would not do anything to jeopardize the 1.2 million-square-foot facility.

"Simon has invested millions of dollars in the mall," he said. "Redevelopment efforts are not going to be thwarted."

Commissioner Shirley Lasseter, who represents the area, said the mall's standards should not be up to the board, but she said she wanted to talk to the management about pushing for a higher-end product.

"It's a shame that Simon is setting the precedent," she said. "You can't legislate goodness and kindness."

Commissioner Kevin Kenerly also rebuked the management for failing to improve the exterior of the mall, even while business owners have banned together to form the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District in an attempt to revitalize the area.

"I know the CID is doing a great job with Pleasant Hill Road," he said. "People are flying by there so fast they don't notice the sidewalks and trees. But they notice the mall hasn't been painted in 25 years."

Gwinnett Place CID Chairman Mark Williams was present at Tuesday's meeting but declined to comment on the proposal.