The Exchange at Gwinnett begins opening sprawling retail, residences near Mall of Georgia

Credit: Aerial Photography, Inc.

Credit: Aerial Photography, Inc.

Stores are starting to open for business at The Exchange at Gwinnett, a $350 million mixed-use development billed as an “urban hamlet” near the retail epicenter surrounding the Mall of Georgia.

The Exchange at Gwinnett, a 106-acre project on Buford Drive near I-85, will offer nearly 465,000 square feet of retail and restaurants. Fuqua Development also plans 1,000 units of apartments, townhomes and senior housing, giving about 3,000 people a new place to call home.

In terms of offerings and scale, the Exchange will be comparable to Avalon in north Fulton County and Halcyon in Forsyth County, offering high-end multifamily housing adjacent to retail, restaurants and office space.

The Exchange will be the first mixed-use development of its scope and style to locate near the Mall of Georgia. Open since 1999 in what was once a little-developed area of northern Gwinnett, the mall has brought a “halo effect,” drawing in other retailers stretched along either side of Buford Drive.

In an area already considered a retail destination, The Exchange at Gwinnett is styled as a walkable city surrounded by suburbia where residents and visitors can shop, eat and entertain themselves.

Jeff Fuqua, founder and principal of his namesake development company, said he has pondered what to place on the land since the mall opened. A few years ago, he chose a mixed-use development — his company’s specialty — because it will keep residents on site rather than hitting the highway to another destination.

“What’s big in the business now is suburban with place,” Fuqua said. “This creates an urban hamlet in what’s more of a suburban market.”

Fuqua and county officials predict the Exchange will attract further development near the already retail-heavy Mall of Georgia area and across the county. Already in the works are other apartment complexes behind the Exchange and a large Northside Hospital medical facility across from the development.

“There’s really no property left in the (Mall of Georgia) corridor anymore because people want to be here,” Fuqua said. “Once you start something, it really draws everybody else. Everybody wants to be around the action, and we’d probably even intensify this project over time.”

Fuqua said construction started in December 2019, with crews blasting rock for a full year before building commenced.

The Exchange still has a ways to go before full completion — the first 400 residential units won’t be finished until the end of the year — but it will happen rapidly, Fuqua said. Chipotle, Les Mains Nail Bar, Starbucks, Thrive Affordable Pet Care and the largest Rooms to Go in the Southeast have already opened, the first of about 70 businesses that will open over the next 18 months.

Top Golf will open near to I-85 by the end of April. An Andretti Indoor Karting and Games will open next door. The development will also offer a Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel, Sprouts grocery store, 18-kitchen food hall, dozens of chain and local restaurants, office space and entertainment venue.

Gwinnett County officials expect the Exchange to give an economic boost the already booming area around the Mall of Georgia. The developer projects bringing in about $9.4 million in annual tax collections, employing nearly 2,000 people with full-time jobs and hiring about 1,500 construction workers during build-out.

“This is going to enhance what’s already there in this particular area,” said Gwinnett County Board of Commissioner Marlene Fosque, whose district includes the Mall of Georgia area. “We know just coming through a pandemic, there are so many people who really want to get back to work. If we can have opportunities like we have with these new employers, that’s what we’re after.”

While the developer didn’t receive any tax breaks for the project, the county created a tax allocation district for the Exchange. A tax allocation district, or TAD, freezes property tax values for a number of years, allowing developers to use would-be tax dollars to fund their projects.

There will be an estimated 36,000 trips in and out of the development each day, roughly equal to the trips generated by the mall, Fuqua estimates. An approximate $20.7 million new Ga. 324/Gravel Springs Road interchange on I-85 will help traffic flow in the area, said Joe Sorenson, spokesperson for the county.

Mixed-use developments are in demand right now, Fuqua said, as they allow residents to live near everything they need to meet their needs and find entertainment. “People live differently now and want to live where they play and dine,” he said.

“I think people really do like the walkability aspect,” Fosque said. “If you live right in the multifamily housing or close to the neighborhood, you can park your car and walk from one location to another. You can go to the movies, go out to eat dinner and even groom your animals ... It’s like a destination.”

Employment projections for the Exchange at Gwinnett, according to Fuqua Development:

  • Retail: 550 jobs
  • Restaurants: 280-290 jobs
  • Grocery: 35 jobs
  • Entertainment: 400 jobs
  • Office: 500 jobs
  • Multifamily residences: 40 jobs
  • Hospitality: 90-100 jobs
  • Construction: 1,500 temporary jobs

Projected annual tax collections from the Exchange at Gwinnett, according to Fuqua Development:

  • Real property: $4.86 million
  • Personal property: $948,000
  • Sales: $3.18 million
  • Annual occupancy tax collections: $314,000
  • Business license fees: $120,000