Massive redevelopment to change Buford Highway in Norcross

Credit: Tyler Wilkins

Credit: Tyler Wilkins

A long-neglected stretch of Buford Highway will unite the diverse city of Norcross with new homes, retail, parks and office space, if all goes to plan, officials say.

Norcross City Council unanimously approved a high-level guide for the properties located near the road from Jimmy Carter Boulevard to Beaver Ruin Road. It could take anywhere from 10 to 20 years to complete the redevelopment, but residents will likely see changes within one year.

“Without a blueprint, you can get lost,” said William Corbin, economic development director for the Gwinnett city. “I think it’s important for this community to have a state of directions... I think we’re at the point where leadership’s ready to accelerate development where appropriate.”

Credit: City of Norcross

Credit: City of Norcross

The plans could slightly deviate throughout the years, but the plan includes townhomes, mixed-use buildings with residential units, office and retail space and stormwater parks. A performing arts center, new parks and even pedestrian bridges near downtown are all on the table.

The city also hopes to expand Skin Alley, a narrow paved road downtown once used by delivery trucks and now home to string lights, small shops and a brewery. Officials hope to attract nearly 1,000 apartment units and townhomes, some with luxury price points and others more affordably priced.

It’s unclear how much the plan will cost, Corbin said, but developers will front most of the bill. Officials plan to apply to a variety of federal, state and local funding sources to pay for city-managed projects like streetscape enhancements, parks and trails.

The Norcross Development Authority and Downtown Development Authority may acquire some of the properties listed in the plan and bid them to developers, Corbin said. The city will dangle “carrots” in front of developers — such as density bonuses — to make the plan happen, he said.

Norcross’ piece of the road currently consists mostly of auto repair shops, used car lots and restaurants that serve food from a variety of cultures. The redevelopment could be a catalyst for future growth throughout the city, said Councilmember Matt Myers.

“Buford Highway has been a development waiting to happen for a lot of years,” said Councilmember Bruce Gaynor. “It’s not a terribly attractive section right in the middle of Norcross. Turning that into a vibrant economic center is the exciting part.”

The intention of the plan is to help longtime businesses along Buford Highway to continue to thrive, Corbin said, whether they remain at their current location or another part of the city.

Credit: City of Norcross

Credit: City of Norcross

Buford Highway, a busy road that stretches from the Lindbergh area in Buckhead all the way to Buford, is home to more than 1,000 immigrant-owned businesses and known for its international cuisine. The road runs through Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties and sees thousands of drivers each day.

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.

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.

“That’s where the development is needed and where it’s going to give everybody the most economic benefit,” said Gaynor, referencing the east side.

City leaders say they want 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.

Credit: City of Norcross

Credit: City of Norcross

A few projects along Buford Highway have already broken ground or wrapped up over the last few years. The Brunswick, a 193-unit apartment complex named after a former hotel in Norcross, opened in late 2020 across from a used car lot at the corner of Buford Highway and Holcomb Bridge Road.

A new $12 million branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library will open later this month at the corner of Buford Highway and Britt Avenue.

Here’s a copy of the Buford Highway Master Plan, adopted by Norcross City Council on Monday, Oct. 4.