Staff Photo: John Bohn Suwanee Mayor Jimmy Burnett, left, talks with Suwanee resident Jimmy Spiro, right, prior to Burnett giving the annual State of the City address on Wednesday evening, in Council Chambers at Suwanee City Hall.
SUWANEE -- Longtime resident Scott Auer remembers when Town Center was a big, pine forest.
"There was nothing here," said Auer, standing outside City Hall on Wednesday night following the annual State of the City address. "It's just amazing how far we've come."
Mayor Jimmy Burnette thought so too. He spoke to a group of about 50, laying out the past year of progress.
Among recent additions: a $1.99 million police substation near Interstate 85, an application for a national historic district in the Old Town area and continued feedback through a strategic plan called "20/20."
"City Hall is the most iconic of city facilities, but it's no longer the newest," Burnette said.
He told the group that beefing up police presence through state-of-the-art facilities was a message "indicating to residents, bad guys and others that Suwanee is serious about its commitment to public safety."
He said the city is also committed to continued growth, as evidenced by an increase in the number of residential building permits, which went from 55 in 2011 to nearly double that in 2012.
Its focus on parks and landscape improvement continues, Burnette said, as officials rehabilitated the Suwanee Creek Greenway and began a landscaping project of the medians along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.
In addition, Burnette said, the city has reduced its millage rate and taxes for three straight years now.
But the best thing to come out of 2012, Burnette said, was what's been learned in conversations with more than 800 residents as part of the city's 20/20 Vision strategic plan process.
"These people talked about what kind of community we want to be tomorrow," Burnette said. "Through interviews, committees and roundtable discussions, our end result is a vision, with 33 goals and 140 potential strategies ... which offer a clear idea of where we want to go from here."
Despite such gains, Suwanee is a work in progress, Burnette said.
One possible area of improvement: "a more attractive gateway area" near the Interstate 85 exit.
"That's where the city will likely focus much of its energies over the next several years," he said. "It isn't going to be an overnight success story, and it will require significant investments from the public and private sectors."
Auer, who was a member of the strategic plan committee, said the gateway was indeed a major topic of conversation. "It's something that will be looked into," Auer said. "But we've come a long, long way in the past 10 or 15 years. I consider myself very lucky to be a resident of Suwanee. It's a wonderful city."