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Sugar Hill hopes new Hindu temple will bring development to downtown

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

SUGAR HILL -- Sugar Hill hopes its planned $14 million downtown district catapults it from an easily missed place to a sought-after destination.

A $3.5 million Hindu temple planned a mile away might make that destination an international one.

"Apparently, it'll be quite spectacular when it's done," said Sugar Hill Community Relations Director Don Kelemen. "The mere fact that we'll have another activity that close to our future downtown is great."

Sugar Hill plans this winter to begin transforming its half-mile downtown on Broad Street between Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Ga. Highway 20 into the vintage world of wide sidewalks and old-fashioned double-globe street lights, with much constructed of brick and stone. Crowned by an $8.5 million, 30,000-square-foot city hall, the hope is that developers will be lured to build shops and restaurants.

Gwinnett's fourth-largest city didn't set out specifically to entice an international influence, but one might develop once Shiv Mandir of Atlanta breaks ground on its temple at 890 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., a quarter-mile from the city's 18-acre expansion of E. E. Robinson Park. Expectation is that temple will spawn Indian retail influence downtown and nearby, particularly shops and restaurants.

Shiv Mandir said studies show there are roughly 2,500 Indian households within 10 miles of the planned temple. The temple considers that a viable demographic to tap.

"When people come to worship, they also want to combine the trip with shopping, etc.," said Ajeet Das, chairman of Shiv Mandir's 11-member board of directors. "After people go to church anywhere, they like to go out to eat, run errands or whatever else."

Shiv Mandir plans to relocate from its 8-year-old, 3,500-square-foot space within Global Mall at Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard to a Sugar Hill facility seven times larger. The initial phase of construction, slated to begin late next year, will comprise a main worship hall on the first floor with offices, classrooms, a kitchen and dining hall in the basement. No day care facilities are yet planned, but among additional phases is an auditorium for weddings and other events.

"The project might exceed even what we're planning," Bhupendra Gouri, Shiv Mandir's former head of land development committee, said of the Indian community's enthusiasm. "We might wind up buying even more land and making it even bigger."

Shiv Mandir bought the 11 acres on Peachtree Industrial just south of Spring Hill Drive for $700,000 in 2005 and finished paying for it earlier this year. The temple plans to use the land as collateral for construction, together with $250,000 to $500,000 of cash donations from the temple's few hundred parishioners.

Das said Shiv Mandir won't be nearly as opulent as Lilburn's Shri Swaminarayan Mandir at U.S. Highway 29 and Rockbridge Road, a $19 million temple for which stone was shipped from India. The Sugar Hill temple's eventual 55,000-square-foot facility, completed in several phases, is expected to cost about $10 million, though will likely be of similar color with domed ceilings.

Shiv Mandir recently performed Bhoomi Poojan, a pilgrimage from its current temple to its new one and a ritualistic blessing there. On May 16, about 20 parishioners completed a 17-mile walk from Global Mall to Peachtree Industrial. Several hundred were at the Sugar Hill site by the end and were joined by the city's mayor, Gary Pirkle, as well as city council member Mike Sullivan and Planning and Development Director Kaipo Awana.

Pirkle hopes a developed downtown so near its largest international influence will create beneficial synergy.

"It's the right time for development in Sugar Hill," Pirkle said. "(These places) complement each other. They're both things that'll draw people."

Das said Shiv Mandir was unaware of Sugar Hill's planned downtown when it bought land nearby, but after learning of the city's anticipated boom, it feels fortunate.

"We bought in Sugar Hill because of its accessibility," Das said. "It just so happened that afterward, we found we'd made such a really, really wise decision. To attract interest in a bedroom community like Sugar Hill, you have to have things like a downtown and a place like ours.

"It's a win-win situation for everybody."