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CID brought pride back to blighted community

Staff Photo: John Bohn Chuck Warbington of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, views a landscaped area built and maintained by his organization, at the intersection of Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Norcross.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Chuck Warbington of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, views a landscaped area built and maintained by his organization, at the intersection of Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Norcross.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Chuck Warbington of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, removes illegal signs from a landscaped area built and maintained by his organization, at the intersection of Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Norcross.

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Special Photo — This is an artist’s rendering of what the new Jimmy Carter Boulevard bridge over Interstate 85 will look like at night time.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn The Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District has built and maintains landscaped areas at the intersection of Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Norcross. Here, traffic enters I-85S within the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.

NORCROSS -- It may not have been the first one in Gwinnett, but the business leaders who agreed to create a community improvement district in the most blighted community in the county definitely had the biggest task ahead of them.

Once a bustling vision of the potential for a growing county, the place where prosperity landed first as farms converted to offices and shops, the area around Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Indian Trail Road had become an asphalt wasteland of dilapidated buildings, weeds and crime.

Some business owners felt abandoned, forgotten as bigger and better malls and glistening office buildings were constructed to the east.

But with the adoption of the community improvement district idea, they learned they could create a new fate for themselves, simply by banding together, collecting some money and putting pride back in the community.

Thus, the Gwinnett Village CID was born.

"When the area is down, people don't like to go there," said Shiv Aggarwal, a businessman who became the CID's first and only board chairman. "That's why the need arose to create some sort of organization like the CID. ... Whenever the business owners, when they want to take charge and do something, it helps."

And from the very first move the board of business leaders made -- to landscape the shoulders of Interstate 85 at Jimmy Carter and Indian Trail -- heads were held a little higher.

"It was controversial, the idea of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on landscaping, when there were issues with security," said Chuck Warbington, who has been the executive director of the CID since its creation. "But it was symbolic that there was a change in the area, ... This was our first PR brand that there is a new dog in town and somebody does care about this area. ... It had an immediate impact."

Six years later, the renewal of the CID is up for a vote this week among the 500 property owners.

Even though the deal comes with a caveat that owners must pay 5 mils of extra taxes to fund the operations, Warbington and Aggarwal say they expect the renewal to sail through with a wide margin.

"I am very confident because it's needed," Aggarwal said. "We all as property owners are committed and we want this improvement to continue."Curb appealThanks to the efforts of the business organization, people began to recognize the fact that Jimmy Carter Boulevard provided the first impression of Gwinnett to people leaving Atlanta. The "gateway," though, left much to desire.

When the CID began to take steps to landscape the roads, business owners took notice, Aggarwal said, and they began to invest even more money on beautifying their own properties.

"Curb appeal is everything," Aggarwal said, adding that he put a new facade on his Global Mall while the CID campaign was on. "People notice something is different."

Warbington said the community found a partner in the Gwinnett County Police Department's quality of life unit, which enforced codes such as keeping the grass clipped and signs up to code.

It also helped to have more police officers on the streets each day. And adding a security force to patrol at night helped the crime stats to drop.

In fact, over the past five years, the statistics have gone down dramatically each year in burglaries, robberies and car thefts.

"There was a free-for-all here," before the CID, Warbington said, calling the police and code enforcement officers the "heroes" in the effort to bring back the community. "That has been one of the most critical things."Tackling trafficWhile aesthetics and security have helped to bring pride and business back to the Gwinnett Village community, there is one big issue left for the business leaders: traffic.

Within months, Warbington noticed something missing. There were no government plans to address the issues on the Jimmy Carter Boulevard bridge over the interstate.

Knowing the aging bridge was not far from the need for a replacement, leaders got to work, eventually discovering a solution that not only promised to move cars through the area faster but wouldn't put a strain on the shrinking transportation funds.

The diverging diamond interchange idea, which has also been adopted by the Gwinnett Place CID for its Pleasant Hill bridge, would shift traffic to the other side of the road, allowing for right hand turns on and off the interstate. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer.

"That is going to be the talk of the town," Aggarwal said. "It's a unique idea."

But it only solves a portion of the problem in the congested corridor.

To combat the rest, Village leaders have become proponents to bringing transit into the county, proposing an extension to the MARTA line, although likely as a light-rail line, through the Norcross community and by Gwinnett Place Mall.

While the proposal has been controversial for decades, the CID leaders have seen in-roads in an annual poll conducted throughout Gwinnett. And seed money to begin the project was included in a regional transportation sales tax list on ballots in July.

"It got on the radar," Warbington said, adding that it likely would not have happened without the business district. "No one was championing it. ... We're the most affected. We're the organization where it makes the most sense. ...

"I consider that to be just as big as the quality of life things."Renewed hopeWhile things have changed in the Gwinnett Village community, Warbington and Aggarwal agree that the job is not done.

The diverse area has been hit by the economy, with a number of Hispanic businesses leaving.

While there is no major anchor for the community, there used to be: A huge fiber-optics plant where employment has dwindled from 4,000 to around 200. Warbington and other leaders have searched for a new use to revitalize the OFS campus, but nothing has worked out.

Talks of a potential gambling entertainment venue has renewed some energy, but it is far from a done deal.

And the major transportation initiatives are still in the works.

But finally, there is hope in an community where there was none.

"We had an area that nobody cared about. It was kind of no-man's land. No one person, even a commissioner, could do this. It had to be a group, like a CID," Warbington said. "I think having some stability (with the CID) really helps. ... I think the business owners are very happy."

Comments

ptm4936 2 years, 8 months ago

Congrats to Chuck Warbington and the entire CID team for the work they have accomplished thus far. Without Chuck's quiet leadership none of this would have occurred. I applaud his persistence and patience in galvanizing this community to help themselves and my best wishes for the Village CID continued success.

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JimmyOrr 2 years, 8 months ago

Chuck, doggone it, if you are going to keep going photogenic in the printed news media, you are going to have to get yourself one of them glamour shots. All kidding aside, this was an excellent article and one that you and your CID can be proud of. I appreciate not only your efforts in your CID but throughout our county as a whole. Although we do not always agree on issues, it is good that we agree to disagree and drive on. I am proud to call you "friend." BTW, how close are you to letting the contract on the DDI at I-85 & Jimmy Carter?

James H. (Jimmy) Orr, Jr.

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gwinnettisgreat1 2 years, 8 months ago

Chuck is laying the ground work for the County Commissioner seat. Good work Chuck, I just hope you don't turn into "one of them." The commissioners of the county don't know what good work is. Chuck would be a fresh breath of air to the County.

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Dubbin 2 years, 8 months ago

If Warbington thinks he's changed my opinion of the God forsaken area of Gwinnett that his CID covers by putting in some shrubs he is sadly mistaken. And if he thinks that putting new landscaping in the illegal capital of the county prepares him for public office then he's just as out of touch as the rest of the politicians. The only thing that'll make the Gwinnett Place CID business friendly again is a strong police presence, mass deportations and code enforcement to clean up the slum apartments and extended stay hotels. Having business signs in English would also help draw in more than Hispanic and Korean businesses. I will give Warbington credit for finding a way to make a 100K plus income by taxing businesses to pay him to do essentially nothing while getting photo ops and love letters from the press.

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JimmyOrr 2 years, 8 months ago

For those of you who follow the goings on under the Friday Night Lights in Gwinnett here is something you may not know. Chuck holds a record at Dacula High that still stands after 24 years. He holds the record for longest pass reception, 91 yards, for a touchdown. I wish I had been in the stands that night. Must have been a gutsy call passing that deep in your own backyard so to speak. I would imagine the call was to get Dacula out of the shadow of their goalpost. FYI, Chuck went on to play wide receiver on Tech's 1990 National Championship Fottball Team. I have always thought that Chuck would have looked better of the football field dressed out in brunt orange and navy blue wearing a helmet with AU on each side.

James H. (Jimmy) Orr, Jr.

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kevin 2 years, 8 months ago

where does the Gwinnett CID get its funding?Form taxpayers via spending at the malls. What is so great about showcasing this person and/or outfit all the time? I could take money from others and spend it to beautify something anytime, anyplace. Nothing comes out of the CID's own pocktet towards this nor from Warbington's own pockets. I guess they all theink beolong to a CID and getting publicity leads to a political job higher up the food chain. Nothing more.

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Karl 2 years, 8 months ago

Once again, kevin spouts incomprehensible babble about something he knows absolutely nothing about.

Hey kev--why don't you actually do some research and learn where CIDs get their funding. You don't have the slightest clue about anything.

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kevin 2 years, 8 months ago

then get the GDP to tell us. It surely doesn't come from the people who run it.

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hbatten 2 years, 8 months ago

A CID is a self-taxing organization. All the commercial property owners with a given CID have agreed to tax themselves to support the CID. Money collected within the district is spent within the district. Nothing comes from the general taxpayers.

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kevin 2 years, 8 months ago

by the way, why haven't you responded about my other remarks? Are they true also?

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kevin 2 years, 8 months ago

"To combat the rest, Village leaders have become proponents to bringing transit into the county, proposing an extension to the MARTA line, although likely as a light-rail line, through the Norcross community and by Gwinnett Place Mall." This is a big mistake. Until MARTA can get its house in order, who in their right mind would want to destoy the lanscape to do such a project? MARTA can't run what it has now. Don't you and the CID read the papers?

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Dubbin 2 years, 8 months ago

You have that right. But some companies with Gwinnett connections would make a lot of money building the rail line just like they made money building the GBraves stadium that we're all stuck paying for.

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Mack711 2 years, 8 months ago

MARTA wants us in the system to pay for their mistakes and huge salaries of the people who run the system. Let's face it, MARTA is not a safe bet to Gwinnett. As for a light rail fun it up the NS and CSX tracks and not on the street. Keep MARTA in Atlanta and out of Gwinnett.

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hbatten 2 years, 8 months ago

For all you naysayers about MARTA, here is a fact sheet that compares MARTA to the other major transit systems in the country. Seems to me they are doing pretty good by comparison.

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NewsReader 2 years, 8 months ago

Good for them. I'm certainly glad to see that my tax dollars are yet again squandered on the political foolishness of a few subsidized community improvement districts. Keep transferring that wealth. Soon enough, there will be nothing left to transfer!

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ssilover1 2 years, 8 months ago

Several bloggers routinely expose that they write with no knowledge of what they write about. Sometimes the blog seems to be their therapy session where they get ill feelings off their chest instead of hitting someone. But Kevin and others clearly do not understand CIDs--their intention NOR their funding.

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