By Camie Young
Gwinnett Daily Post
April 5, 2014
Two days before Christmas, Nick Masino pulled into Gwinnett Place Mall to get a gift for his daughter from a specialty Asian mart.
Inside, he found not only the treat he was hoping for but also the biggest selection he had ever encountered at Macy’s, the trendy Abercrombie & Fitch and a Spencer’s store, which has the same naughty back corner that he remembered from younger days.
“It’s not what I thought,” said Masino, one of Gwinnett’s business experts as the leader of the Partnership Gwinnett economic development effort. “The fact is the mall is vibrant. The reality is, it’s very strong.”
With a new owner for the mall and projects like a recently opened diverging-diamond interchange nearby, the area known as Gwinnett’s central business district is experiencing a revival 30 years after it opened as the county’s first mall on what had been a mobile home park.
Masino’s Partnership Gwinnett effort hosted a breakfast Friday to discuss the future of the unincorporated area between Duluth and Lawrenceville, and the topic was enough to pique the interest of nearly 200 business and civic leaders, resulting in a standing-room-only crowd.
“You may have had some unfair perceptions of Gwinnett Place, but Gwinnett Place is where it’s happening,” said Joe Allen, the executive director of a community improvement district formed by business property owners in 2005, when the aging commercial center faced dark storefronts, litter, graffiti and an increase in crime.
In recent years, the investment has returned, from the DDI and other road and sidewalk improvements to a police focus on code enforcement and a crime-free multi-family housing program.
“The Board of Commissioners is committed to this area,” Commissioner Jace Brooks said, as part of the panel. “It’s absolutely key and critical to the health of the entire county. … We’ll move mountains, if necessary, to make sure the Gwinnett Place area is successful.”
The business community has also responded, with opportunity zone tax breaks drawing 475 jobs in 2013 and millions in investments in offices and other establishments.
Statistics showed a well-educated, middle-class workforce and residential neighborhoods filled with the millennial and GenX population so many other communities covet.
For years, the missing piece remained with the mall that had once laid the foundation for the area. After years stagnating in foreclosure, new owners with Moonbeam Capital Investments closed on the mall in October.
For the first time since formalizing the deal, Moonbeam CEO Steve Maksin traveled from New York City to Gwinnett to talk about the plans for the mall.
At Friday’s breakfast, Maksin said deals have been reached to fill 25,000 square feet of vacant space at the mall, and he has been in talks with national retailers. But Maksin added that his company is being selective and working out a long-term vision for the future.
With partners willing to put capital down, at a time when few people were willing to invest in malls and banks aren’t financing, Maksin said his company is acting strategically.
“We realize there is a bigger picture in place … what’s going to be needed five to 10 years down the road,” he said, describing Gwinnett Place as “a diamond in the rough.” “It’s ready to be developed to match the 21st century. … The big box concept is dying out. It’s no longer the mall concept that is going to be carried into the future. It’s the mixed-use concept.”
While discussing the possibilities of chopping up spaces and maybe going vertical, Maksin did not describe specific plans. But he said retailers tell him that the foot traffic is increasing and that the mall has stabilized. Soon, he hopes to execute a plan to revitalize it.
“The timing, obviously, is yesterday. We’d like to move as quickly as possible,” he said. “It’s going to take some time for us to be comfortable with our vision, and we’d like to make sure the community is supportive. “ … This meeting is a testament to that (support),” he added. “We should be successful.”
Young, C. (2014, April 5). " Mall owners, others discuss Gwinnett Place's future". Gwinnett Place Mall (April 7, 2014), http://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/news/2014/apr/05/mall-owner-others-discuss-gwinnett-place/