FARNER: Gateway area 'super hot priority' for residents

There were several items Suwanee residents disagreed with during the last year's 20/20 vision discussions. What to do with Old Town, and how to handle public art were among the most divisive issues.

But almost hands down, the Gateway area remains an issue that residents agree is a priority, yet what steps to take next to improve it are widely varied.

The area, around exit 111 off of Interstate 85, was the first in the city to be commercially developed. And it later helped Suwanee gain notoriety when the Atlanta Falcons had their training camp and practice facility there in the late 1970s.

But today's reality is the area is an embarrassment for some residents because businesses have closed and crime has enveloped hotels. Not to mention the traffic backups that can clog Lawrenceville-Suwanee several times each day.

In the vision plan that was adopted at last month's City Council meeting, the Gateway section was labeled "Goal 1" under the section "Planning: How we grow."

"The last plan completed for the Gateway was done in a different economic setting," the document said. "The recession took the wind out of the sails of that plan, at least for the time being."

Mayor Jimmy Burnette said the council elected to wait for the 20/20 vision document to be finalized last month before it made significant plans. Now that it has, city officials can develop a master plan based on the 20/20 vision and the 2030 comprehensive plan.

Burnette called the residents' collective opinion about the area, "a super, hot priority."

Councilman Dick Goodman said the council recognizes that residents want to put resources in the Gateway.

Anecdotal proof that several businesses have avoided the area could be found in restaurants that recently opened elsewhere in Suwanee, like Tilted Kilt, Twisted Taco and Hammerhead Seafood.

Although recently, an Ultra Car Wash location is expected to open soon on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road in front of Office Depot, several years after the city granted it a special use permit.

The construction of a police substation near I-85 is nearing completion, and the city created a Tax Allocation District that could help fund improvements. Landscape improvements to I-85 are also on the horizon.

Still, the city can only do so much. In the end, it has to receive some contributions from business owners, and residents who patronize retail and restaurant locations. There needs to be a balance of private and public contributions.

"You've got to have a certain number of people to support what you're putting over there as far as improvements," Burnette said. "We don't have the ability to make it all happen. But hopefully, we can all work together."

The city has established this area as an obvious priority, but its success could depend on the private sector's contributions, and how outsiders view it.

Keith Farner covers Suwanee for the Daily Post. Reach him at keith.farner@gwinnettdailypost.com.