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Impact of Lawrenceville's downtown makeover is reverberating across the city

The biggest signs of redevelopment in Lawrenceville recently have been happening along a spine stretching from Georgia Gwinnett College to City Hall and passing right through the Lawrenceville Square.

That stretch includes the College Corridor project that is underway, the Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center that is also under construction, the Lawrenceville Lawn which recently underwent renovations and the SouthLawn mixed-use development that is approaching its final stages of construction.

A distillery is planned along that corridor on North Clayton Street and a new parking deck, which a Hilton Tapestry hotel is eventually expected to be built on top of, recently opened about a block off that corridor as well.

But, City Manager Chuck Warbington said the downtown projects are starting to have an impact across the entire city.

“What we’re looking at now is the top five redevelopable areas of focus,” Warbington said. “Those five areas represent about 250 acres and, frankly, it’s all outside of the downtown area and would be considered developable now because of the halo that has happened in the downtown area.”

Lawrenceville has a long list of projects that are either under construction or are in the planning stages.

The performing arts center, which is effectively an expansion of the Aurora Theatre, the SouthLawn Development and the College Corridor projects have gotten much of the attention. Now, the city’s gaze is moving outside the downtown area.

“We’ve really been intentional over, really, the past five to 10 years to build our core — and that’s the downtown area — and now we’re beginning to move our focus outside of that downtown core,” Warbington said. “And, frankly, some of the developers are even leading us there, and they see the benefit of it.”

Five areas of focus

Technically speaking, Warbington is considering the area between Georgia Gwinnett College and the Lawrenceville Train Depot area — essentially the College Corridor project plus some additional properties by the depot and the college — to be one of the five areas outside of downtown Lawrenceville experiencing the halo effect from activity between the square and City Hall. It will include mixed uses that are yet be developed along its route

The College Corridor project will cause a realignment of Collins Hill Road’s intersection with Hurricane Shoals road, moving it so Collins Hill aligns with the new corridor.

Just north of there, however, Lawrenceville officials are in talks to get a mixed-use development at the Collins Hill and 316 interchange. It would be located between the highway and the shopping center where Kohl’s and Walmart are located, Warbington said.

“The mixed-use development is basically the property that surrounds Walmart and Kohl’s,” Warbington said. “All of that property is owned by one property owner. We have been in discussions with that property owner to develop that property — at their request, they came to us.

“They actually wanted to put multifamily homes in that place, and that is what has led us to have a discussion before they submit for zoning. We would like to see commercial and some office on a portion of that if we go forward with multifamily. This project is a focus because we feel like it will then bring up that whole entire area that is in need of some uplift.”

Another one of the five areas is property near Central Gwinnett High School. The Villa Lodge used to be located near the school, but the city acquired the property it stood on and tore down the hotel to prime it for eventual residential redevelopment.

“We envision residential there,” Warbington said. “It really lends itself to single-family-type residential, and if you go down Lawrenceville Highway, there’s a lot of residential, single-family there as well. So we really see that as an opportunity to emphasize some more executive housing residential and we’re getting some real good interest there.”

Another area Lawrenceville is looking to redevelop is the area around the Buford Drive at State Route 316 interchange, on both sides of the interchange. Some commercial, office and possibly industrial uses could be possibilities there.

“That’s one of the major intersections coming into the city, and they’ve been underdeveloped for way too long, and that is our next big target,” Warbington said. “It used to be an old Kmart and then I think at some point it was Ingles. We’ve been in conversations with that property owner and they have some interest in doing some things there.

“All four corners, frankly, have either no development or they’re underdeveloped, and a lot of that is because of the improvements on 316 that happened several years ago. Now all of that is done and we’re beginning to see quite a bit of interest.”

The fifth area, according to a list provided by Warbington is a 70-acre area at Scenic Highway and Crogan and Ezzard Streets. City leaders envision a mixture of commercial, office and residential uses there.

Townhomes planned on Gwinnett Drive

Warbington also highlighted a townhome project, with at least 63 units, on Summit Ridge Hospital on Gwinnett Drive, near the Gwinnett County elections headquarters, that was approved for a rezoning by city leaders last year.

“It’s called The Enclave and they should be getting their permit for construction any day now,” Warbington said. “That’s high-end townhomes and that is well outside the downtown area. What we heard when we talked to the developer there is, ‘We see that there is a slew of potential home occupants that maybe don’t want to be directly downtown, but they want the aspect of being able to go downtown when they can.’ “

Downtown Lawrenceville remains a hub of construction

While the city is looking to the future for potential redevelopment opportunities, it has a lot of projects currently under construction.

Arguably the biggest is the Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center, which is getting closer to completion and is expected to begin hosting events later this year. On Wednesday, crews were working on masonry on the exterior of the building.

“We hope to have some outdoor spaces open sometime in July, and we hope to have some of the indoor spaces substantially complete in August, with a full opening sometime in early fall,” Warbington said.

Plans are also emerging about a redevelopment of the corner of North Clayton and East Crogan Streets, next to the Performing Arts Center. That development, called The Winn, will include condos starting in the $400,000 range as well as street level storefronts. Pre-sales on the condos and pre-leasing on the retail is already underway.

One big downtown project has been slowed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however.

Warbington said developers planning The Lawrence Hilton Tapestry Hotel have temporarily put it on hold for a few months because of the pandemic’s impact on the hotel industry. The city manager stressed that The Lawrence — which will be built on top of and around the city’s new downtown parking deck on Jackson Street — will still happen.

“They’re fully expecting to start back up hopefully in the fall of this upcoming year, so it’s about a six-month hibernation,” he said.

Another big development in downtown Lawrenceville — SouthLawn — is progressing and getting closer to completion.

Exterior work on the South Clayton Street facing portion of that development has been done and the retail storefronts in the section have either been leased or the developer is close to having leasing agreements signed.

“Basically, by the end of the year, all of those storefronts will be full,” Warbington said.

Warbington said the multifamily parts of SouthLawn are finished. But he added planned residential that was already slated to be built behind City Hall as part of the SouthLawn are also being adjusted to higher end townhomes. There was a better than expected response to the initial townhomes that opened at the development, prompting the adjustment.

A change of conditions request is expected to come up before Lawrenceville leaders soon for that change.

“That’s coming in in the next month or two,” Warbington said.

The final piece of SouthLawn will be the renovation of the former Hooper Renwick School, to include the new Lawrenceville library branch and a museum highlighting the history of the African-American community. Concept designs for the renovation — which is a partnership between the city and county — have been released.

“We’ve turned (the school) over to Gwinnett County and my anticipation is you’d be looking at that being open sometime in 2023 or 2024,” Warbington said. “Construction will probably start sometime next year ... It’s kind of the closing piece of the entire SouthLawn block.”