Amazon facility spurs south Gwinnett growth

A massive new Amazon facility opens soon, but its “halo effect” is already attracting developers to south Gwinnett.

The high-tech distribution center, poised to open with 1,000 employees, sits near the Gwinnett-DeKalb county line in the Evermore Community Improvement District, a 7.5-mile stretch of land between Snellville and Stone Mountain where property owners pay an extra tax to fund infrastructure projects.

Developers seem up to the challenge of transforming the Rockbridge area, despite the ongoing pandemic that’s altered the economic landscape.

More than 100 homes and a new hotel have been approved for construction, and developers have expressed interest in redeveloping nearby shopping centers, said Jim Brooks, the CID’s executive director. The county and state have completed improvements on surrounding roads and sewers. But the Amazon facility paired with another project walking distance away could keep the momentum going.

The site of the former Stone Mountain Tennis Center, used for competition in the 1996 Olympic games, has already been primed for a new use. Gwinnett County bought it from the state of Georgia in 2016. The county demolished the dilapidated tennis facilities in 2018 with the intent to use the site for something new, likely a mixed-use development project.

The county now has proposals in hand for what the 27-acre site could become. Those proposals are not yet public and will be first reviewed by county planning staff before being put in front of the Board of Commissioners, Chairman Charlotte Nash said.

The former tennis facility site is a “huge opportunity” for the area to add more homes and stores while reducing traffic congestion on U.S. 78, the main artery running through the district, Brooks said.

“We would like the opportunity for people to live closer to where they work,” Brooks said. “There are a significant number of businesses on West Park Place — warehouses from 10,000 to 100,000 square feet — and the area is exactly at the end of a limited access highway. People could avoid a lot of traffic.”

The original deadline for proposals was March 25, but the county postponed that deadline four times because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The final deadline was Sept. 30, spokesman Joe Sorenson said. The delay allowed for developers to adapt their plans to an unexpectedly changed economic environment. Shifts in retail shopping and office work patterns could have thrown a wrench into pre-pandemic plans, Nash said.

“The entire development community and local governments alike are trying to get our heads around what local development is going to look like in the future,” Nash said. “What we’re seeing now with working remotely and folks' reluctance to return to dense working situations — will that continue, or diminish when a viable vaccine becomes available?”

One aspect Brooks hopes the site will include is a hub for public transit. The unincorporated Stone Mountain area has no easily accessible public transit on the Gwinnett side currently. More bus routes and bus rapid transit could be in the area’s future if Gwinnett voters approve a transit referendum in November.

“This is a huge opportunity for mass transit to be injected into this southern part of the county,” Brooks said. “If we had a facility that would accommodate multimodal transportation and, potentially, structured parking, we believe that this could become the southern gateway to Gwinnett.”