Gwinnett commission approves additional $23.7 million for Rowen project

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners recently allocated $23.7 million to build a street that state and local officials will break ground on Friday in a much-heralded celebration of the Rowen project’s first construction.

“It’s a really exciting time to see Rowen coming to life,” Rowen Foundation President Mason Ailstock said.

Officials expect Rowen to become the region’s next hub for jobs and research in agriculture, medicine and environmental science. Often compared to Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, it will be located on 2,000 acres between Dacula and the Apalachee River.

The county commission voted to spend a little under $15.5 million to build the two-mile stretch of street that will lead from Route 316 into the massive development. The board also approved a $6 million increase in publicly funded loans to the Rowen Foundation for infrastructure related to the street, with an additional $2.2 million over the next two years if revenues allow. The county’s development authority is scheduled to vote Monday on the loan increase.

The county had already approved $74 million in bonds and loans for Rowen, funded through a two-year-old economic development tax that has raised more money than initially projected due to Gwinnett’s increasing tax base and property values, said county spokeswoman Deborah Tuff. At the same time, inflation and increased construction costs raised the price tag to build the street, officials said.

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The Rowen Foundation will spend about $16.5 million from county loans on infrastructure for the street, including storm water management, trails and smart lighting. State law prevents any of the loan proceeds from being used directly to build roads or streets, County Attorney Mike Ludwiczak said. The county and Rowen agreed to build the street as a joint project so they could collaborate on the design.

“This will form the backbone of the Rowen project,” Ludwiczak told commissioners last month at a meeting. “These amounts will ultimately be repaid to the county as these properties are developed by Rowen.”

The foundation will repay the loans with 2% interest as companies buy land to build facilities at Rowen, said Ailstock.

The Rowen Foundation ran a competitive bidding process and will announce the contractor building the street at Friday’s groundbreaking, he said.

Ailstock estimated the first two miles would take 15 months to complete. He said the foundation is communicating with companies who could become the development’s founding partners and the first agreements could be announced while the street and infrastructure are being laid.

The street itself will include trails, sidewalks and a storm water system that directs all runoff back into the earth on site, Ailstock said. Other environmentally friendly features include landscaping with diverse native plants and a lack of traditional curbs to limit concrete, he said. The foundation is pursuing a platinum certification for the street from the U.S. Green Building Council.

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County commissioners also removed a year-end deadline for Rowen to buy additional land. The foundation might acquire a few more parcels, Ailstock said.

Rowen’s buildout is expected to last about 60 years. At capacity, it should house hundreds of companies, from Fortune 500 corporations to startups looking to expand, Ailstock said.

The foundation’s board includes representatives from area higher education institutions whose graduates could come to work at Rowen, he said.

“That is the success we’re looking to have, in part, in creating Rowen,” Ailstock said. “There’s a place for these brilliant minds to pursue their dreams and make this their home.”