GCVB Board approves mixed-use plans around Coolray

BUFORD — Plans for a full-service hotel have continued since a lease was approved last month, and officials believe ground could be broken by the end of the year.

Preston Williams, Chief Executive Officer of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, said on Wednesday that an architect for the developer is looking at an actual location before design work begins.

“There’s a chance this thing could get in the ground by the end of this year,” Williams said at a Board of Directors’ meeting of the GCVB at the Buford Community Center.

Williams added that the project is also waiting certain deliverables from the hotel developer. Last month, the board signed off on a lease of the land at the Duluth facility, where the hotel is slated to be built leading into the convention center on Sugarloaf Parkway.

An agreement with Nilhan Hospitality calls for the company to fund the entire $57 million investment in a Marriott hotel. The 300-room hotel is expected to open in 2016.

Williams also added that a contract renewal with the Gwinnett Gladiators is looking positive, but there is still work to be done.

In what has been long awaited, the first stage of a multi-use development around Coolray Field is expected to break ground in April, said Stan Hall, executive director of the Gwinnett Sports Commission.

The board also approved a relocation of parking in right field to behind home plate across a stream at Coolray to make way for a high-end apartment complex.

“The way it’s going to be setup is you can literally lay in a raft in the pool and watch the ballgame,” Hall said. “It’s going to be nice.”

A walkway would have to be built for people to walk from the parking lot to the stadium. The agreement is subject to county approval and Brand Morgan, the developer, receiving building permits, said Lee Tucker, attorney for GCVB.

“It would be such a game-changer for that whole facility over there,” Hall said. “They’ve talked about it, and talked about it, and talked about it. Just the possibility that we’re getting ready to do a groundbreaking over there is really exciting for us and the Braves, and all the people who support the Braves to make it a destination point other than just going to a ballgame.”

The Gwinnett Center also reported 40 percent of its groups came from the faith-based market, said Lisa Anders, executive director at Explore Gwinnett.

“The Arena is the perfect size and you don’t have to deal with downtown areas, parking costs, and a lot of the groups we’re bringing in are youth and youth leadership training,” she said.

Some of the larger groups include Greater Atlanta Christian, the BAPS Hindu Temple and 12 Stone Church.

“There’s just such a proliferation of mega-churches, and faith-minded stuff like the John Maxwell Leadership Institute,” Anders said. “It’s a huge focus for us.”

Anders also said her organization has made a concerted effort to market to the Chinese, the largest inbound market, including medical tourists who travel to the United States for physicals.

Anders said she expects to hire a Mandarin-speaking intern to work on the effort, but the organization is going into it slowly while utilizing existing resources.

In other action, the board approved Laura Grams as secretary, and created a board member emeritus position, which was immediately filled by Art Rilling, who recently retired after 50 years at the Yellow River Game Ranch.