In a year where Norcross celebrated 150 years of history, the city ended up making some history, according to its mayor.
Mayor Craig Newton said in his virtual State of the City Address that, in the past year, Norcross’ tax digest surpassed $1 billion for the first time ever. That was part of the reason why, despite acknowledging a negative financial impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, Newton opened his speech with an optimistic message about the city’s financial standing.
“You know the life change that accompanied COVID-19 has affected us all,” Newton said. “The impact to our revenue stream was about 11% of our $13 million budget, but even with that encumbrance, the city of Norcross is in good financial standing.
“The city is debt free, we made cuts where needed (and) we ramped up our efforts relative to our financial viability as a city. I’m also pleased to announce that this year, 2020, is the first year that our tax digest has reached a milestone of over $1 billion in assessed property value for real and personal property ... in our history.”
The virtual format of Newton’s State of the City Address included the mayor traveling around the city and talking about progress made in the city in the last year, as well as projects on the horizon. Newton also had Norcross History Center manager Kate Kitchens join him at one point in the video to talk about the history museum.
The center was a key stop in the video due to 2020 marking Norcross’ sesquicentennial, which is the 150th birthday of the city.
“Our heritage is a large part of our community,” Newton said.
Although there were positive messages contained within Newton’s speech, there was also the inescapable topic of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Newton pointed to Gwinnett’s high case total, which is the second highest in the state, as well as its high death toll from the disease. He also said the Norcross area was hit hard by the disease early in the pandemic.
“Our zip code, 30071, had the second highest number of confirmed cases in Gwinnett when this virus first began,” the mayor said. “Now, it is in the lower 25th percentile because of you, because you were patient, because you followed our lead in encouraging you to wear masks, wash your hands, (practicing) social distancing and limiting your gatherings.”
Newton said he and the City Council sat down with staff months ago to come up with a strategy that would mitigate COVID-19’s negative affects on the city’s economy and public health. They used social media, email and Norcross’ website to disseminate information and resources to residents about the pandemic, he said.
The City Council also transitioned to virtual meetings so the city could continue operating while also keeping city leaders and residents safe from COVID-19, Newton said. City events scheduled through August were cancelled in March in a move that later extended to include events scheduled through December.
“We’ll continue to monitor the situation and we will revisit this calendar again as more data and projections become available,” Newton said.
But, the speech was not all about finances and COVID-19.
Newton talked about some of the art pieces located around downtown, including the Norcross Frog and a sculpture depicting the eastern continental divide, and promoted downtown Norcross’ shops and restaurants.
The mayor used the discussion of the city’s downtown district to talk about future economic plans for the area.
“To increase our economic viability, and our vitality downtown, we must expand out city center,” Newton said. “The area on the southend of our downtown is targeted for redevelopment and is the one and only pocket of underdeveloped property in the downtown district.
“We’re excited and we look for opportunities to attract quality development with a focus on sustainability on this site in our near future.”
Newton also highlighted the city’s parks and trails, including the Hunter-Walker Trail at Rossie Brundage Park where art has been created along the trail. Newton said there are expansion projects planned for the park and trail, including a new trail connection tying in the Holcomb Bridge corridor, Norcross’ downtown sidewalk network and the new LCI greenway that is under construction.
The mayor visited the 1.5-acre site of the new Norcross library that is under construction between Lillian Webb Park and Buford Highway; the adjacent 3.5-acre Brunswick residential development; the Broadstone mixed use development at the former West Rock site; and the renovation site for the Crowne Plaza hotel, which will be the city’s first four-star hotel.
Newton eventually ended the video in his office, where he talked about the hiring of the Sizemore Group to conduct the city’s Buford Highway Corridor Study earlier this year.
“As you know, Buford Highway is a regional transportation route,” Newton said. “It’s 1.8 miles linear miles handles roughly 30,000 average daily trips and serves as a prominent gateway into the city. The corridor now has become a target area for re-investment and future growth for the city of Norcross and is already generating interest from local developers and investors.
“We anticipate in the near future, this area’s energy generated will be an extension of that already experienced in our downtown and will be a focal point for new multi-family living, retail shops, commercial activity and entertainment right here in our city.”