Gwinnett Place: Apartment developer buys soon-to-close Sears store

Signs on the door to one entrance at the soon-to-be-closed Sears store at Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

A luxury apartment developer has purchased the soon-to-be-closed Sears building at Gwinnett Place Mall.

County officials have long desired redevelopment of the mall, which is largely empty after once spending decades as the county’s crown jewel of retail. North Carolina-based Northwood Ravin’s purchase of the Sears property could be a big step toward the revitalization of the property, a key piece of real estate in the middle of a significant job and population center for both Gwinnett and metro Atlanta.

“The Gwinnett Place Mall is a catalyst redevelopment site for the [northeast] Metro Atlanta region and our goal is for an experienced and successful redeveloper to take on the project,” Nick Masino, Gwinnett County’s top economic recruiter, said in an email Tuesday. “We are happy to see the recent interest and progress being made.”

Northwood Ravin — which has nearly three dozen properties in the Carolinas, Florida, Texas, and two in the Decatur area — closed last month on its purchase of the 11-plus acres that holds the mall's location of the long-struggling department store. Sears announced May 31 that the Gwinnett Place location was among the dozens of stores included in its latest round of closures.

The store was originally expected to close in September. It was unclear if the sale would affect that schedule.

Northwood Ravin did not respond to several requests for comment regarding the purchase on Tuesday. It was unclear what they may be planning, or when. Joe Allen, the director of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District, said the developer did not wish to comment but was “currently very active researching all of their options.”

“They are looking at various concepts, various options for what can be done with that property,” Allen said, before adding, “this could be a game changer for this area.”

Gwinnett County Commissioner Jace Brooks, who represents the area, called the purchase “a very positive move toward meaningful redevelopment” at the mall.

Signs on the door to one entrance at the soon-to-be-closed Sears store at Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

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Gwinnett Place was booming in the 1980s and 1990s, but has struggled recently, in part to the decline of large retail box stores as consumers shop online and the opening of the Mall of Georgia in Buford.

The mall is now about half full in terms of non-anchor tenants. Earlier this year, a 19-year-old woman's body went unnoticed for weeks in the back room of a vacant food court restaurant.

Gwinnett Place Mall's current owner, Moonbeam Capital Investments, also did not respond to multiple requests for comment over the last week. Some local officials, including Allen and Brooks, have complained about Moonbeam's lack of action to revitalize the mall, and others, including Masino, have openly suggested that Moonbeam should be replaced.

Moonbeam, which bought the mall in 2013, has in the past said it still plans to redevelop the property. In a statement released last year, the company said that, among other possibilities, “a number of national-caliber real estate development teams [had] proposed joint-venture opportunities to us.”

It was not clear if Northwood Ravin is actively working with Moonbeam, or if it plans to.

“The interest and involvement by a firm with the experience and reputation of Northwood Ravin is encouraging and exciting,” Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said. “We look forward to hearing about the firm’s plans as those solidify.”

It is not uncommon for a mall's anchor stores to own their own buildings and surrounding property. Property records suggest each of Gwinnett Place's remaining three anchors — Macy's, MegaMart and Beauty Master — also own their buildings. (Macy's has, in fact, recently sold part of its parking lot for Gwinnett County to use in the expansion of its nearby transit center).

The remainder of the mall, including the long-empty anchor location originally occupied by Parisian, is owned by an LLC with the same address as a Las Vegas penthouse registered to Moonbeam CEO Steven Maksin.

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