Nothing is set in stone, but ideas include townhomes, mixed-use buildings with residential, office and retail space and parks with stormwater features. A performing arts center, new parks and even pedestrian bridges near downtown are all ideas city officials will consider.
It’s still too early in the process to know how much the redevelopment and associated infrastructure could cost and how it’d be funded, said City Manager Eric Johnson on a Monday phone call.
Norcross will likely purchase and renovate properties before selling or leasing them to developers, who’d repay the city’s initial investment possibly with the help of tax breaks.
Residents have viewed the highway as an unofficial divider between Norcross communities. The historic downtown area is located to the west of the road, while lower-income households reside to the east of it.
City leaders hope to repurpose the highway to unify their residents rather than divide them. Officials want to connect the 6-square-mile city with better sidewalk systems, crosswalks and alleyways.
“Buford Highway moving forward will be a unifying spot, where cultures meet (and) where cultures are celebrated,” Hixson said. “... There’s already a lot of good stuff going on there. We want to elevate it and make sure no one gets left behind.”
City Council plans to hold open houses to gather public input and participate in “Walk with Council” events to show where development will occur.
Thousands of drivers each day travel along Buford Highway, which passes through Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. More than 50,000 people live along the road and more than 1,000 immigrant-owned businesses operate on it.
Norcross is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities in Gwinnett County, which is the most diverse county in the state. Nearly half of the city identifies as Hispanic or Latino.
Kathleen Allen, chair of the Norcross Development Authority, said the city needs to keep in mind Buford Highway’s cultural identity throughout the redevelopment process. It’s important that active, thriving businesses are not displaced, she said, but rather brought into the new developments.
Norcross, like other Gwinnett cities, has several extended-stay hotels in which low-income families reside. The council has spent thousands of dollars on a program over the past few years to move some of the families in its eight hotels into permanent homes.
The median income level among Norcross residents is $55,000. Allen stressed that city leaders need to include affordable housing options as part of the highway master plan. Officials favored placing mixed-income housing near Jimmy Carter Boulevard.
“We do not want to displace people that are in our community,” said Councilmember Matt Myers. “We want to empower them, embrace them and help those individuals grow their businesses.”
A few projects along Buford Highway have already broken ground or wrapped up over the last years.
The Brunswick, a 193-unit apartment complex named after a former hotel in Norcross, opened in late 2020 across from a used a car lot at the corner of Buford Highway and Holcomb Bridge Road. A new $12 million branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library is currently under construction, set to open later this year at the corner of the highway and Britt Avenue.
“For years, people referred to what we call east Norcross as ‘the other side,’ even in rooms like this,” said Hixson at the Friday meeting. “We’ve been intentional and more inclusive about the language we use... now we’re putting real money where our mouth is.”