Gwinnett congresswoman unveils legislation to revitalize dead shopping malls

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux talks during a press conference flanked by Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson (L) and Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District Director Joe Allen (R) at the mostly vacant Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux talks during a press conference flanked by Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson (L) and Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District Director Joe Allen (R) at the mostly vacant Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Local officials hope to repurpose dead, decaying malls that drain the economic lifeblood out of their communities. But they’ll need dollars and developers to breathe new life into the shopping centers.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee, pitched legislation during a Wednesday press conference while standing in front of empty storefronts and under worn ceilings in Gwinnett Place Mall. Backed by county officials, the congresswoman’s proposal could bring economic rewards to blighted areas around malls.

The GREATER Revitalization of Shopping Centers Act of 2021 would authorize $50 million in grant subsidies for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 to help spur public and private investment in abandoned and underused shopping centers. The grants would be paired with federal loans from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The county purchased most of Gwinnett Place Mall, which has fallen into disrepair in recent decades, for $23 million earlier this year. It’s still unknown how the county will repurpose the property, but county leaders praised Bourdeaux’s legislation for its potential to help with future redevelopment.

“Gwinnett Place Mall, now 36 years old, was once a jewel in the economic landscape of Gwinnett County,” said Nicole Love Hendrickson, chairwoman of the county’s Board of Commissioners. “... For the past couple of decades, the once-vibrant mall has been struggling and slowing improvement in this area.”

Bourdeaux listed several ways that malls could be rehabilitated or repurposed. They could be turned into commercial office space, transit centers or mixed-use developments with retail, restaurants and affordable housing.

“It is my hope that the (legislation) will provide communities with the resources they need to successfully jumpstart successful developments on these sites,” said Bourdeaux, who represents Gwinnett and Forsyth counties and took office this year.

The Democrat pointed to Emory Healthcare’s move into the former Sears building at Northlake Mall, located in northern DeKalb County near Tucker, as an example of repurposing malls. Alpharetta officials are working to redevelop North Point Mall with new office, residential, retail, restaurant and open spaces.

Caption
Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson talks during a press conference at the mostly vacant Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth Wednesday, August 18, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson talks during a press conference at the mostly vacant Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth Wednesday, August 18, 2021.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson talks during a press conference at the mostly vacant Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth Wednesday, August 18, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Located in the heart of Gwinnett off Pleasant Hill Road, the mall served as the county’s unofficial downtown area for years after its build-out in 1984.

Joe Allen, executive director of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District, said he recalls the mall’s hallways once teeming with shoppers and taking his son to see Santa during Christmas season.

“As I look over that sea of parking just out the window, I’m taken back to the time as a teenager when I remember those same parking spaces filled with vehicles,” Allen said.

The mall’s heyday came to a close when the Mall of Georgia in Buford opened in 1999, followed by Discover Mills — now Sugarloaf Mills — in Lawrenceville in 2001.

Moonbeam Capital Investments purchased the mall in 2013 with a promise to revitalize it, but it never came. Instead, producers and actors have used the mall as a filming location for movies and TV shows.

As of this year, the county owns 39 acres of the mall property. The Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale County Health Departments operates a mass COVID-19 vaccination site in the former Sears. Macy’s, Mega Mart and Beauty Master still own their own properties.

Caption
Gwinnett Place Mall stands mostly vacant in Duluth Wednesday, August 18, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

 Gwinnett Place Mall stands mostly vacant in Duluth Wednesday, August 18, 2021.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
Gwinnett Place Mall stands mostly vacant in Duluth Wednesday, August 18, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The Atlanta Regional Commission is currently funding a $220,000 study of the area to solicit community input and determine how it could be redeveloped, which Hendrickson expects will be completed by the end of the year. It will also take a look at how transit could be incorporated into the site.

The county has launched a diversity, equity and inclusion plan to ensure minority communities are not displaced by redevelopment at Gwinnett Place Mall, Hendrickson said. The feedback of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, many of whom live and work near the mall, will be included in the final product, she said.

Members of the Gwinnett Place CID will likely choose a consultant to redevelop the property in September, Allen said. From there, county officials and developers will work with residents to determine the best fit for the property.

Shopping centers across metro Atlanta have struggled to attract customers for years as shopping habits shifted and anchor stores left the premises. Local officials have tried to reinvigorate decaying malls, like Greenbriar Mall in southwest Atlanta and North DeKalb Mall in Decatur.

Bourdeaux’s legislation, backed by the National Development Council and International Council of Shopping Centers, could be incorporated into other infrastructure-related bills heading through U.S. Congress, she said. For now, she’ll focus on pushing it through a U.S. House committee.

“This mall is a mere shell of its former glory,” Allen said. “But with the introduction of (Bourdeaux’s legislation), our congresswoman and her team have a solution-driven focus regarding the redevelopment of aging malls like Gwinnett Place.”


Struggling malls in metro Atlanta

  • North DeKalb Mall in Decatur (Opened in 1965)
  • Greenbriar Mall in southwest Atlanta (Opened in 1965)
  • North Point Mall in Alpharetta (Opened in 1993)
  • Gwinnett Place Mall (Opened in 1984)
  • The Mall at Stonecrest (Opened in 2001)

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