Community requests for Gwinnett Place project include housing, jobs

Spooky drone footage shows inside of abandoned Gwinnett Place Mall

Spooky drone footage shows inside of abandoned Gwinnett Place Mall

Hundreds of Gwinnett County residents told a committee advising the redevelopment of Gwinnett Place Mall that they want the area to better support affordable housing, small businesses, job opportunities, social services and cultural events.

That’s according to a document the advisory board recently released synthesizing feedback from meetings, interviews, an open house and comments on the project’s website.

“The mall is the most diverse area in the most diverse county in the state,” said Roman Dakare, the county’s economic development director. “We view that as the strength of Gwinnett Place Mall. That’s something we would like to keep. ...We want to make sure that the mall is developed in a way that’s equitable and inclusive of all of our citizens and we want to measure our return on investment in a way that takes all of our citizens into account.”

The county is hosting a Reclaim Gwinnett Place Mall block party Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. at the mall, 2100 Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth. Those in attendance will hear feedback on the mall’s future and can provide their own. Food and drinks will be available from partner groups. Online registration is required to attend. Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, Korean and Cantonese interpreters will be available, according to the county.

Gwinnett County gained control of the dilapidated mall’s redevelopment last year by purchasing 39 acres of the property for $23 million.

More than 100,000 people live in census tracts that are fully or partly within two miles of Gwinnett Place, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis. The tracts’ median household incomes range from about $41,000 to $91,000, but more than half the tracts have median household incomes that fall in the lowest 20% of Gwinnett County.

The mall redevelopment advisory board distilled community feedback into 18 recommendations for the area. Among them were new affordable housing; technical assistance in multiple languages for small business owners; ample green space and accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists; community services, such as affordable child care and youth activities, in multiple languages; and new jobs in growing industries.

The committee also plans to release results soon from an online questionnaire about the future of the mall.

The county is still gathering feedback from area residents and small business owners, Dakare said. The responses will be part of a study on redeveloping Gwinnett Place equitably that the county and HR&A Advisors expect to finish in May or June.

The guidelines and advice that come out of the equity plan will then inform an Atlanta Regional Commission study, scheduled to be conducted in the fall, to determine the strategy for revitalizing the mall.

The ARC study will, among other things, look at transit possibilities for the area.

County leaders expect some kind of mixed-use development at Gwinnett Place, but beyond that, few specifics have been determined.

County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said she envisions retail, restaurants, housing and an activity center that includes all cultural groups.

After Gwinnett Place Mall opened in 1984, it drove an economic boom in the surrounding area, where I-85 meets Pleasant Hill Road near Duluth. The district was once considered Gwinnett County’s unofficial downtown. Hendrickson said she wants the area to become an attractive destination for the entire state.

“We don’t want a cookie cutter project that looks like what we already have or what we’ve already seen in other areas,” she said.

The county has researched other projects in search of mall redevelopment practices that don’t displace residents or fuel gentrification. Their case studies include Essex Market in New York, Market Creek Plaza in San Diego, City Foundry in St. Louis, Highland Mall in Austin and Fruitvale Station Village in Oakland.

The Austin Community College District bought the former Highland Mall, in a working-class area, and turned it into a college campus with mixed-use and green space. The development includes some apartments designated for affordable housing, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this article.

Demographic breakdown of 15 census tracts within 2 miles of Gwinnett Place Mall:

29% Hispanic

25% Black

23% White alone

20% Asian

3% Other, including American Indian, native Hawaiian, Pacific islander or multi-racial

Source: U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by Jennifer Peebles