Gwinnett Place Mall might be sold — and become a cricket stadium?

This file photo shows a vacant food court area in Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth on Jan. 10, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

This file photo shows a vacant food court area in Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth on Jan. 10, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

An investor who wants to build a 20,000-seat cricket stadium at Gwinnett Place Mall says he has a contract to purchase most of the once-proud retail center.

If it’s pulled off, the project would be an unconventional way to spur long-desired redevelopment there. But there’s a long way to go before cricket, or anything else, comes to Gwinnett Place.

Philadelphia-based investor Jignesh “Jay” Pandya confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he and his partners in CricRealty Co. Atlanta LLC – who want to start an eight-team cricket league in cities across the United States – are under contract to acquire all but the mall’s remaining anchor stores for an undisclosed sum.

“We believe that we have a product which is very good, the second most-watched sport in the world,” Pandya said.

The mall property would be purchased from Moonbeam Capital Partners, which acquired Gwinnett Place in 2013.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Moonbeam CEO Steve Maksin said before hanging up: “I have no comment. You’re going to have to read between the lines.”

Pandya, whose team announced in December plans for a similar project near Dallas, Texas, said Moonbeam would no longer be involved with Gwinnett Place if the sale goes through. He conceded that Maksin – described in a previous press release as "a key member of The CricRealty Company" – could have bigger-picture involvement with the hoped-for cricket league, which was first pitched in 2016.

Cricket is a popular sport in parts of Europe and southern Asia. Gwinnett has the largest Indian population in Georgia. The county and the city of Johns Creek have cricket fields in their parks master plans, though there is no time frame for when they might be built.

Pandya said his vision is not just for a stadium but a “complete full blown, mixed-use development” at Gwinnett Place, with retail, commercial and residential components. He said he wants to break ground in 2019.­

Getting there would likely be tough and expensive.

Officials in Gwinnett declined to speak specifically about the project but said they would be happy with any redevelopment at the mall, which was the center of Gwinnett’s retail life for two decades after opening in the mid-1980s.

Much of it is now empty. Last year, a 19-year-old woman's body went unnoticed for weeks in the back room of a vacant food court restaurant.

“Partnership Gwinnett is enthusiastic for the active redevelopment happening throughout Gwinnett and the recent momentum specifically in the greater Gwinnett Place Mall area,” said Nick Masino, senior vice president for economic development at Partnership Gwinnett, the economic development arm of the Gwinnett Chamber.

Joe Allen, executive director of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District, said there’s been more activity in the last year or so than in his previous nine years at the CID. “There’s a lot of things percolating over there right now,” Allen said. “The last year is the probably the most optimistic I’ve been about redevelopment.”

One developer still hopes to turn the aging 32-acre Gwinnett Prado complex, not far down Pleasant Hill Road from the mall, into a sprawling mixed-use development. And last June, luxury apartment developer Northwood Ravin purchased the mall's now-closed Sears site.

Northwood’s presence would be one of several hurdles to bringing cricket to Gwinnett Place.

The interior of the mall is largely empty, but remaining anchor stores Macy’s, MegaMart and Beauty Master own their own buildings and parts of the parking lot. Pandya said he would be willing to buy those if the owners are willing to sell.

Gwinnett County itself has purchased more and more property surrounding a nearby transit hub in recent years, including part of the Macy’s parking lot.

County officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Moonbeam, meanwhile, has its own issues. Officials in Gwinnett including Masino and Allen have publicly called for it to get out of the mall. Masino harshly criticized Moonbeam at a 2017 forum, saying its leaders "talk and talk and talk and do nothing."

It’s not a complaint unique to Gwinnett. Other media reports have highlighted struggles at Moonbeam properties from Louisiana to New York.

Earlier this month, officials outside Pittsburgh ordered the closure of Moonbeam-owned Century III Mall after deeming it an "unsafe and uninhabitable structure." The mall was already in foreclosure.