Gwinnett Place Mall is technically outside Duluth’s city limits, but don’t think that means city officials aren’t watching the likely sale of the mall with interest.
In fact, Duluth Economic Development Director Chris McGahee thinks the sale is important to all corners of Gwinnett County. It just happens to be that the mall, while technically in unincorporated Gwinnett, carries a Duluth address, tying the two together in the public eye.
“Every person in Gwinnett County should care about Gwinnett Place Mall,” McGahee said. “Every city, every town, every part of (the county) should care what happens there. It’s not just localized to Duluth.”
Earlier this month, Colliers International announced it had been retained by the mall’s owner, Moonbeam Properties, to facilitate the sale of the mall, generating big waves in Gwinnett’s business community.
There is a lot riding on the sale of Gwinnett Place Mall, namely the future of what officials in Gwinnett County government and the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District consider to be the county’s “central business district.”
“It is close to the center of the county (and) it’s right there on one of the main transportation corridors,” Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said. “All of those things mean that it is bound to play an important part in Gwinnett County.”
There have been hopes and goals to redevelop the area around Gwinnett Place Mall for years. That includes efforts by the CID to market the area’s redevelopment potential and the creation of the nearby Venture Drive Redevelopment Overlay District by the county.
That has borne some fruit — plans for redeveloping the Gwinnett Prado site in the overlay district are an example — but Gwinnett Place CID Executive Director Joe Allen has often said the fate of the mall has a big impact on the fate of the surrounding area.
“It’s in the strategic heart of our community, and so it’s a part of us,” Allen said. “Also, for so much of this area, it’s the namesake: Gwinnett Place Ford, Gwinnett Place Nissan, Gwinnett Place Business Commons, on and on and on and on ...
“It’s such a vital part of who we are as Gwinnettians.”
The mall ‘was a sign that Gwinnett County had matured’
The mall is generally described by local officials who remember its opening in 1984 as being a crown jewel for Gwinnett in the 1980s and 1990s.
“It was a sign that Gwinnett County had matured to a different sort of community from the one I’d grown up in,” Nash said. “Prior to that mall opening, to go to a mall meant we went to DeKalb or Fulton.”
McGahee said opening of the mall had an impact on downtown Duluth, although it was not a positive one as business dried up due to the competition from Gwinnett Place.
“The mall killed (downtown Duluth) years ago,” he said. “It destroyed us.”
The openings of the nearby Mall of Georgia in Buford and Sugarloaf Mills in Lawrenceville in 1999 and 2001, respectively, began a period of decline for Gwinnett Place.
In recent years, it has been known more for the vast number of vacant storefronts, for being a “Stranger Things” filming site last year and for a dead body being found in a vacant space in the mall’s food court in 2017.
Nearby car dealerships also use parts of the mall’s parking lot owned by Moonbeam to house surplus vehicle stock these days.
Northwood Ravin weighing its options
One issue that complicates the Gwinnett Place Mall site is there is not one single owner for the entire site. The mall’s three remaining anchors — Macy’s, Mega Mart and Beauty Master — each own their respective parts of the mall property as well as parking lot space for their stores.
Meanwhile, apartment developer Northwood Ravin bought the former Sears space, and its parking area, last year with plans to redevelop that part of the site.
Northwood Ravin Director of Development Ben Yorker said the company is still working on its plans for what to do with its part of the site, but the impending sale of the mall has given the developer a new, unpredictable factor to deal with.
Northwood Ravin’s priority is ensuring the mall’s sale does not hurt investments made by the developer’s investors.
“That could be supporting, maybe indirectly, a concept that’s out there, or a capable purchaser who will do something that we feel is beneficial — or it could be perhaps our direct involvement and making an offer ourselves,” Yorker said.
What if Gwinnett Place remains a “mall”?
There is always the possibility that whoever buys Gwinnett Place Mall could decide to keep it as a mall.
But what kind of mall could it be?
At Partnership Gwinnett’s Metro Atlanta Redevelopment Summit on Thursday, Jones Lang LaSalle Vice-President and Adaptive Reuse Director Rainey Shane said the type of tenants going into malls is changing.
Where stores such as The Gap, Sam Goody’s and K-B Toys were once located in malls across the U.S., government agencies, health care facilities and gyms are now moving in.
“Twenty percent of the malls, right now, are generating 75% of the revenue,” Shane said. “Those are the ones that are doing it right, that are looking at how people are living in the community where they are, they’re addressing those needs (and) that’s what they’re upgrading their malls to be.
“And those are the ones that are surviving.”
Gwinnett Place Mall has already seen some of this trend.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties have located their Gwinnett headquarters in the same wing of the mall. The Center for Pan Asian Community Services’ Gwinnett office is also located in the same part of the mall with the political parties.
“(The chance it stays a mall) is always a possibility (depending on) whomever purchases it,” the CID’s Allen said. “As a CID, our strong recommendation was that a mall is not going to be successful (and) that we need to move beyond that to more of a mixed-use, green, sustainable development.”
But, while there is uncertainty about the mall’s future, one common refrain among officials who are familiar with the area is that it should not be counted out.
The CID estimates the Gwinnett Place area has a $9.5 billion annual economic impact for the county with about 1,900 companies, a thriving dining scene and approximately 34,000 households in the area.
At the heart of that area is its namesake mall.
“The greatest redevelopment opportunity in all of Gwinnett County is centered right there at Gwinnett Place Mall,” Allen said. “In the (county’s) 2040 Plan, when citizens across the county were asked ‘Where would you like to see change occur?’ the vast majority pointed to Gwinnett Place Mall.”