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Leaders find encouragement in community, even with failing mall

Gwinnett Place Mall is one of the three major indoor malls in the county. If trends continue residents will have more choses in outdoor malls that are targeted for the communities.

Gwinnett Place Mall is one of the three major indoor malls in the county. If trends continue residents will have more choses in outdoor malls that are targeted for the communities.

DULUTH -- The newsletter last week sang praises: "More positive news for Gwinnett Place CID." But it couldn't be referring to newspaper headlines.

Not in the same week that Belk announced it would pull its location from Gwinnett Place Mall, another hit for the metro Atlanta shopping center that went through foreclosure a year ago.

The mall, once a symbol of the growth and glory of suburban Gwinnett, has been a sore spot along Pleasant Hill Road for years, so much so that the surrounding business owners signed up to tax themselves in the community improvement district to try to find a way to help it thrive.

But while some of the area businessmen wonder if former owner Simon properties (which owns the nearby Sugarloaf Mills and Mall of Georgia) abandoned the nearly 30-year-old mall last year, they have hopes that the new owner, McKinley Inc., will find a way to revive it. And they take solace in the success of the surrounding area, where new investments have brought a new shine to storefronts and restaurants and a pride back to the community.

With or without a revitalized mall, leaders find things to celebrate.

"It is important to know that the overall rebirth of the area is no longer completely tied to the success or failure of the mall," CID Director Joe Allen said. "Over the last decade, greater Gwinnett Place has begun to evolve while the mall declined."'Coming of age'Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash remembers when Gwinnett Place Mall opened in 1984.

Working in the community where she grew up, Nash knew that the county had grown from its rural roots, but "we all thought that (developer) Scott Hudgens was crazy. How could it possibly draw enough people to be successful?"

For the first month or so, the stores were packed, but the novelty wore off quickly and Nash thought people would go back to Athens, Gainesville or Northlake to do their shopping.

The next Christmas, it was evident that Gwinnett had a place as a shopping mecca.

"It was a symbol of a coming of age for Gwinnett County in some way," she said. "It demonstrated that we were (growing)."

And as the county's budget manager at the time, she said the impact to the local tax digest was tremendous.

But over the decades, Gwinnett's shopping options grew. Not only are strip centers dotting every highway, but in the late '90s an even bigger mall opened less than 15 miles away. Along with the niche Sugarloaf Mills, which offers outlet stores, the county has two of the trendy outdoor malls in Peachtree Corners' The Forum and Snellville's The Avenue Webb Gin.

"That began to dilute the novelty, the uniqueness of Gwinnett Place Mall," Nash said. "But that whole area is still very important to Gwinnett County."

Allen described it as "a vibrant marketplace of many distinct cultures and experiences."

One of the most culturally diverse sections of the county, it has become a melting pot of Asian and Hispanic businesses, something that mall managers tried to embrace several years ago while trying to hold on to traditional anchor stores like Macy's.

One of the anchors was vacant for years after the merger of Macy's and Rich's, but it was filled a couple of years ago by Asian superstore Mega Mart.

Citing corporate policies, current mall manager Debra Irving said she could not discuss McKinley's plans for the mall or comment on the Belk announcement.

But Allen said the relocation of corporate giants like NCR and Merial to the office space surrounding the mall is one of many recent accomplishments of the "greater Gwinnett Place" area.

Recently, Kaiser Permanente of Georgia completed a $52 million expansion, and local auto dealers have invested millions of dollars in renovations along Satellite Boulevard. Eateries like Red Lobster, Chili's, McDonalds and KFC have also undergone expensive remodeling, and hotels like the Marriott Residence Inn and Candlewood Suites have gone through remodels.

In terms of government investment, construction on a diverging-diamond interchange on Pleasant Hill is expected to greatly relieve traffic, and miles of sidewalks and streetscapes were installed last year, Allen noted.

"These investments would not occur if there was no hope for this area," he said. "Greater Gwinnett Place's strategic location in the heart of the region's most vibrant community has many of the amenities, infrastructure and transportation needed to complement the rebirth of the area. With all these advantages, greater transformation is possible, ahead of any rebirth of the mall."'Long journey'Both Allen and Nash said retailers have all had to adapt in recent years, not only since the economic recession cut people's spending habits but because of the growth in online shopping.

In a place with newer and more attractive options, Allen said Gwinnett Place Mall may have to do even more to remain competitive.

To that end, the CID has partnered with county and regional officials to find a better way to mix uses in the area, provide transportation options and embrace the diverse population. Tax incentives have been created to draw jobs and businesses.

Nash said the county is keeping its eye on the area, and many agree that change has to come.

"As an entire community, we must understand that doing nothing or maintaining the status quo would lead to failure because it places the area at a disadvantage relative to other competing communities," Allen said. "Gwinnett Place must continually evolve and remake itself if it is to be competitive again in the marketplace."

The process has been slow, but Allen said the signs -- most of them -- are good. And a new and energetic owner for the mall could be the last key to the community's re-emergence.

"These are only the first steps in a long journey to transform the area. There are still many details to be worked out," he said. "But we are beginning that journey toward transformation and re-emergence. So, yes, there is hope."

Comments

BuzzG 1 year, 5 months ago

"the CID has partnered with county and regional officials to find a better way..."

Please don't waste my tax dollars on this private mall. It is not a place I will go to even with a diverging diamond or "new transportation options."

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Why_not 1 year, 5 months ago

Your tax dollars won't be used on the mall. Other improvements in the general area can help bring in more businesses and therefore additional sales taxes. And believe it or not, even though you won't go there, Pleasant Hill Road is a heavily traveled roadway and the new interchange will be a welcome improvement.

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Mack711 1 year, 5 months ago

Ask your self this question: Should we pay more in additional sales taxes for the same item we can get else where to pay for all these improvemts? The answer should be NO! As for the new diamond that is being proposed have seen them around the country as well as Dekalb County and must say that they are a nightmare. But if it speeds up traffic to get us out of this CID so be it. Stop wasting tax dollars on this area and sell the land to a used car dealer.

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Why_not 1 year, 5 months ago

Mack, where did you get the idea that sales tax is higher there? That's absurd. Also, the Dunnwoody diamond exchange has made driving thru there much smoother and faster.

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Karl 1 year, 5 months ago

You pay NO additional sales tax for "the same item [you] can get elsewhere". Your understanding of how a CID is funded is lacking.

As far as I know, the only diverging diamond interchange in the metro area has been newly installed at Ashford-Dunwoody and I-285. It works well.

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Karl 1 year, 5 months ago

My comment was meant for Mack711, but somehow didn't get placed in the 'reply' box properly.

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Mack711 1 year, 5 months ago

You may not pay additonal sales taxes but rest assured that some of our tax money will be used some where. The CID may get some of the funding from the reatilers who pass this along to the customers who purchase items from them. There by raising the cost of an item the reataile can not afford to lose money. Any way you look at it this may cost the taxpayer in the long run. Believe in giving tax breaks to attract business to a certain area but not in this case for Gwinnett Place Mall.

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Why_not 1 year, 5 months ago

The CID members imposed a "self tax" to pay for improvements and added security patrols.

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R 1 year, 5 months ago

Really anyone who continues to offer the position as fact that CIDs draw all their operational funds from the self imposed tax from within the district property owners are either misinformed or less than honest.

So lets see how do you handle state issued grants? From a government that is underfunding its general business needs and still the grants pop up... your STATE tax dollars at work.

Next Federal grant moneys be they matching or otherwise- where are those funds coming from if not taxes at the federal level? 17 Trillion in debt but here there are...

Then you have county grants - a group telling us things are rough and taxes must increase... so where do they get the funds from?

Lastly you have private org grants = 100 percent perfectly good and great, just not very many floating around.

So the claim that its all sales taxes or sacrifice by the property owners is a bit disingenuous, if you crack the books and look at cash flows.

If you think they do a good job FINE, heck they may even be the pillar of rebuilding - but they consume tax dollars as sure as you breath air...

Heck they may even give the county 5 or 6 bites a the same government monies' under different formal names , but that is increased access to tax revenues.

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year, 5 months ago

Anyone who thinks that Gwinnett Place Mall is going to return to its former glory of yesteryear (circa-1984 to 1999) is kidding themselves.

In the days since GPM was the dominant suburban shopping mall in Northeast Metro Atlanta, 4 other shopping malls have opened in Gwinnett County along with the rise and proliferation all over the region of the one-stop-shop Wal-Mart Supercenters and the advent of virtual/online shopping on the Internet, not to mention that the average per-capita income in the area has declined noticeably.

There has also been much talk of there being increasing interest by real estate developers to develop Braselton into the next big super-suburb with a concentration on building heavy commercial development around the Hwy 211 and Hwy 53 junctions on I-85 which is a development scenario that could conceivably put the newer Mall of Georgia and surrounding area at-risk of a Gwinnett Place Mall-style decline in coming years.

Gwinnett Place Mall really was a sight to behold in its heyday back in the 1980's and early 1990's. But that was nearly 30 years ago and malls like GPM are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Old-fashioned enclosed regional shopping malls like Gwinnett Place are dinosaurs in this retail environment of lifestyle centers, Wal-Mart Supercenters and online retail. To think that a severely-declining and increasingly out-of-fashion Gwinnett Place has even the slightest chance of returning to its glory years is pure fallacy at this point.

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kevin 1 year, 5 months ago

If the CID imposed a self-tax on business owners, then why are they getting hundreds of thousands more from the Gwinnett taxpayer? Answer the why? That area will continue to die. Throwing our money at a private failure is not government's duty. It needs to stay out of the private sector and the CID, which is extremely close to the Gwinnett BOC. Free tax money talks and that is what keeps them going in the papers. I would not be surprised if the GDP looked into this further to find out the Gwinnett BOC will be giving even more money to help the CID, who by the way, has salaried members. Funny that our BCO claims to be so transparent but yet the papers are able to dig this stuff out. The Mall would better serve the people if it were torn down and converted into a horse racing track.

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Why_not 1 year, 5 months ago

Kevin, you really should educate yourself about the functions of a CID. And no....our tax dollars are not going to Gwinnett Place Mall.

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R 1 year, 5 months ago

Actually everyone should ... Most citizens have absolutely no clue how these things handle cash.

For instance, I wonder how many of them have separate memberships to the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce - like the BOC and Gwinnett Visitors Bureau / Atlanta's Playground do? I wonder how much they pay? I see a lot of possible revenue streams here...

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news2me 1 year, 5 months ago

LOL. Did anyone expect the Gwinnett Place CID newsletter to not put on a positive front? The other mall anchors will eventually leave when their leases expire. The diverging diamond and the aesthetic improvements to Pleasant Hill will just make driving through the area a bit more efficient and eye pleasing. Nothing more.

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kevin 1 year, 5 months ago

If anyone in the CID gets paid,our tax money is there. The CID is supposedly organized as an entity to assist local and county government in solving problems in a certain area. Therefore my tax money gets dumped into an area I may never visit. Besides, between the businesses who self-tax themselves (eventually we pay for it when we buy there) and the county's contributions, no telling what they are able to "grab" from the state and the Feds, this CID is slowing losing in Duluth and that Mall. Everyone is taking a big hit and gamble on that Mall surviving. How many more years will people dump money into this CID before this Mall gets torn down for something more interesting and safe? Where has the line in the sand been drawn and how much longer is the country going to contribute our tax money on a lame horse?

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