Norcross has seen some big projects that transformed parts of the city open in recent years — including the Broadstone Junction, Pinnacle Park and Brunswick developments. But those projects were really just the beginning of big changes coming to the city.
Imagine, if you will, a dining, retail and entertainment cluster similar to Duluth’s Parsons Alley in downtown Norcross or a redeveloped Buford Highway that has a mix of residential, dining and retail options similar to the new Brunswick mixed use development between the highway and Lillian Webb Park.
It won’t take too much imagination actually because those are some of the projects and ideas that are either being looked at by Norcross or is already underway, according to city Economic Development Director Will Corbin.
One way Corbin said one way to describe it is to say development is ramping up in Norcross.
“As an economic development professional, I saw it firsthand because my phone began to ring more and I got a lot more inquiries and more of ‘Hey, can you tell me a little bit more about the city,’ “ he said. “There are a lot of investors looking at opportunities (in the city) because Norcross has a lot of opportunity.”
There are several projects underway, on the books or set to begin soon in the city, so the town’s leaders have plenty of things to crow about.
At the same time, the next few months are going to be very busy in Norcross as a number of significant projects or studies for future projects wrap up and begin opening to the public. Some of those efforts are being taken on by the city itself, while others are being undertaken by Gwinnett County and others are happening in the private sector.
New library set to open this fall
Drivers who use Buford Highway to get around in Norcross will have seen the new library that has been going up at the corner of Buford Highway and Britt Avenue.
The county and the city worked together on the $12.4 million project, which will see the existing Norcross branch relocated to the new site, with the county handling construction. Gwinnett County Support Services Director Angelia Parham said construction is currently expected to wrap up in September with the library’s opening currently penciled in for October.
“The library is in the final stages of construction,” Parham said. “The parking deck, library, and plaza facilities are complete with landscaping, road improvements, and interior finishes underway. (The) remaining items include final finishes, installation of library operating equipment and computers, installation of shelving and furniture, moving the library collections, and additional landscaping, plaza area hardscapes and road improvements.”
The new branch will include reading collections for adults, young adults, teens and children as well as computer stations, study rooms, learning labs, a teen gaming area, a story time area, a large meeting room, a parking deck and exterior seating with views of Lillian Webb Park. There is also a staircase that was installed between the library and the Brunswick to connect Buford Highway to the park, and a second staircase is being installed as part of the library’s exterior as well.
“The county wanted to design a facility to provide services meeting the needs of the Norcross area, and the city wanted to bridge the existing areas of Norcross with the newly developed areas along Buford Highway with access to activities downtown,” Parham said.
Crowne Plaza Hotel renovations nearing completion as well
Another big project in the city — which the city itself is not actually involved in — is the renovation of the former Garden Plaza Hotel on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. It is being converted to become a Crowne Plaza Hotel.
When the renovation was announced in 2019, city officials expressed excitement about it because the Crowne Plaza is set to become the only four-star hotel in Norcross.
Like the library, the hotel is also expected to open this fall, although Corbin said it will be opening a little later than the library is expected to open. It is tentatively expected to be fully open around October or November, but some parts may open sooner.
“They’re still working on the ballroom,” Corbin said. “There’s a couple that they need to work through.”
Buford Highway Master Plan also coming soon
Another big project than will come up soon is the Buford Highway Master Plan.
Redeveloping the Buford Highway in Norcross is something city leaders have been talking about for years.
Sizemore Group LLC has been working on the Buford Highway Master Plan and Corbin said it is tentatively expected to come before the City Council sometime within the next one to two months. Although the plan is still pending City Council approval, Corbin did tease some of the desired redevelopment residents can expect it to highlight for the corridor.
More projects like the Brunswick are one possibility, but the legacy of Buford Highway being a dining destination corridor — something that is more common on stretches of the road south of Norcross — isn’t being forgotten either.
“You can expect to see a variety of new restaurants and retail as part of this as the plan moves along,” Corbin said. “That’s something that we haven’t had in a while in terms of new places to eat and hang out at, and I think that’s something that our new residents will be happy to enjoy, as well as existing residents.”
Corbin added that the opening of the Brunswick, as well as the construction of the new library, has already begun attracting attention from developers who are now giving that part of Buford Highway a look.
New downtown restaurant, entertainment destinations set to open soon
Anyone who has visited downtown Norcross will know that much of its dining and retail options are concentrated around a small area. That area includes the corner of Jones and South Peachtree Streets, as well as along Skin Alley and on the stretch of South Peachtree Street located between Jones Street and Holcomb Bridge Road.
That will soon change.
Two storefronts south of Holcomb Bridge Road on South Peachtree Street, which had previously housed an auto parts and sales business and a machine repair shop, are being renovated to house additional dining and retail options in downtown Norcross.
One of those store fronts, the former B&W Auto Sales space, is in the process of being converted to become B&W Burgers, which will offer street-level and rooftop dining. The restaurant has already installed signage on its windows to promote itself, although Corbin said it may not open until next spring.
“The owner behind B&W Burgers is the same individual who owns the very successful Jimmy’s Tequila & Carnes off (Peachtree Industrial Boulevard) in Doraville,” Corbin said in an email. “So we are definitely excited.”
Meanwhile, the former three-building storefront and machine repair shop that was located between B&W Auto Sales and the 173 Carlyle House is being converted to become the Southend mixed use entertainment district.
Southend, in particular, has the capability to be a big project for downtown Norcross. Corbin, who previously worked in Duluth’s economic development department, compared Southend to that city’s Parsons Alley mixed-use development which offers restaurants, retail shops and outdoor gathering space.
It would also have spaces for food trucks, outdoor seating, food stalls, string lights, a retractable fabric roof and an outdoor movie screen according to concept plans presented to the city.
“It’s going to be a community gathering space and it’s going to activate that end of the (downtown) corridor so that’s a pretty big deal because up to now, if you know Norcross, all of the activity or a lot of it has been on the other end with Paizanos and Zapata and all of that,” Corbin said.
One business, The Rose and Hemp, is already promoting itself as “Coming Soon” to Southend. Corbin said other businesses are coming to the redevelopment project — which will use all three of the existing buildings rather than entail repurposing and new construction — as well.
Southend is being developed by Western and Atlantic, which also owns the buildings that house Zapata Tacos and Tequila Bar and VSOP Oil and Vinegar Taproom in downtown Norcross.
In addition to the two projects on South Peachtree Street, Corbin said efforts are proceeding to replace Chase’s Wingery in the Historic Norcross Cotton Gin on Lawrenceville Street. The city’s economic development director said he could not say who is moving in there yet, but he did offer a teaser.
“The Downtown Development Authority has backfilled that with a very exciting restaurant concept that the local population is very familiar with and knows and loves,” he said.
Additional residential projects also planned in Norcross
Corbin said Norcross has been in the process of gradually adding about 1,000 new housing units in the city.
Some of those units are in the Brunswick mixed use development, with 193 units at the corner of Buford Highway and Holcombe Bridge Road. Others are in the Broadstone Junction development that opened with 354 units on the former WestRock headquarters site.
But, other new residential units included in that number have not been built or at least opened to residents yet.
There are 24 townhomes planned on Pinnacle Way, behind Pinnacle Park, in a $7 million project that Yost Communities is developing. There is also another project with nearly 150 units in a multifamily development that is being planned off Peachtree Industrial, behind a Zaxby’s by Pinckneyville Park.
Another project is being planned off Giles Street by Buford Highway that is expected to include 70 townhomes.
Corbin said the addition of new residential options, while they can be controversial with existing residents, is key to plans for redevelopment in the city.
“A lot of these redevelopment projects, these new retail and restaurants that I’m thinking about, that would not be possible without the new residents,” he said. “That goes hand-in-hand, and these new residents bring more disposable income so we’re able to attract some of these nice residents that the community has expressed a desire for.”
And with developers now starting to give Buford Highway a fresh look, Corbin said there are potential for the city to add housing at a variety of price points, and with different products.
“The variety of price ranges will be more accessible to young professionals, for younger families who are not looking for something that is at the top end of the range,” he said.
Part of Jimmy Carter Boulevard will be widened too
Drivers in Norcross and Peachtree Corners are likely all too familiar with the congestion that can occur on the eastbound lanes of Jimmy Carter Boulevard at Buford Highway during peak traffic times.
Gwinnett County and the Georgia Department of Transportation are taking steps to address that.
Last November, county approved an agreement with GDOT to widen Jimmy Carter Boulevard, between West Peachtree Street and Buford Highway from four lanes to six lanes in an effort to relieve some of the congestion seen there. The agreement set the parameters for right-of-way acquisition for the widening project.
“This agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation establishes the process of right-of-way acquisition for a project to improve the intersection of Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Buford Highway,” Gwinnett transportation director Lewis Cooksey said at the time. “Both Jimmy Carter and Buford Highway are state routes at this location, and following these requirements allows for the use of federal and state funds in other phases of the project.”