What’s next for Gwinnett Place?

Moderated by Rick Badie

A Duluth resident challenges leaders and the community to invest more in Gwinnett Place Village, the central commercial district of Gwinnett County, in light of the recent closure of a Super Target in the area. Meanwhile, an executive with the board that oversees the region’s enterprise zone highlights the recruitment and relocation of firms to the district that occurred last year.

A call to action for Gwinnett

By T.J. Lane

The Super Target on Venture Drive near Gwinnett Place Mall unceremoniously closed its doors forever one recent weekend. Now, residents of some of the most densely populated areas of Gwinnett County will be further away from a Target store than just about anybody north of I-20 in metro Atlanta.

In 2001, Target closed its location on Pleasant Hill Road to open the Super Target on Venture Drive, leaving behind empty real estate that took years to fill. Now, it’s doing the same thing with an even larger space.

This is an area that has recently lost retailers like J.C. Penney Home Store, Barnes and Noble, and Belk. That can be attributed to poor economic conditions overall, but what does it say about an area when Target no longer believes it can support one of its stores? The influx of international businesses including several restaurants and Mega Mart were heralded as saviors for Gwinnett Place, but they have accomplished precious little to help it thrive.

And what of the mall? Gwinnett Place Mall was recently acquired by Moonbeam Capital Investments, which has promised to revitalize it with a mixed-use project. This begs the question: What does it mean by the term, mixed-use?

When most people think of mixed-use, they think of experiences like Town Brookhaven or Avalon, which combine high-end restaurants and residences with retail. However, mixed-use can also mean including governmental offices, medical facilities and trade schools. Metro Atlanta has a mall that exemplifies this definition of mixed-use: Greenbriar Mall. Is Greenbriar Mall the model that we would like to see Gwinnett Place follow?

This is a call to action for residents and lawmakers. Like it or not, the Gwinnett Place district is the commercial hub of Gwinnett. What happens there affects the entire region. The absolute last thing it needs is more businesses that will allow the area to slide further. We don’t want more retailers that will convert Waffle House signs into “We Buy Gold!” signs, locate out-of-place grocery stores in shopping malls, or start “Who knows what it is?” businesses with blacked-out windows. Sure, they fill space, but what do they do to improve the area?

Gwinnett is at a major crossroads where it will either compete effectively with smart areas like Alpharetta and Brookhaven, or slide into obsolescence. The choice is ours. What will we do? And if we turn Gwinnett Place into the thriving commercial district that we know it can be, will we allow Target to return? Gwinnett has a lot of work to do, but it’s work well worth doing.

T.J. Lane lives in Duluth.

Gwinnett Place adds jobs and firms

By Leo Wiener

Investment and growth are occurring regularly throughout greater Gwinnett Place. The Board of Directors of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District has focused on improving the area’s physical infrastructure and creating an environment conducive for economic redevelopment in Gwinnett’s central business district. Our efforts are bearing tangible results.

Businesses are moving to, and investing in, the Gwinnett Place area as a result of the cohesive working partnership of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, GPCID and the Gwinnett Chamber’s Partnership Gwinnett initiative. Proactive strategies and incentive tools are in place.

During 2013 alone, 475 new jobs were created in the area. Private-sector investments in greater Gwinnett Place include:

• ViaSat Inc., a producer of satellite and digital communication products for government and commercial customers, expanded its building — a $10.5 million investment — and added 275 jobs.

• National DCP, a sourcing, purchasing and distribution partner for Dunkin’ Donuts, added 125 jobs.

• The Dennis Group, a construction management firm, opened its corporate offices in Gwinnett Place and added 35 jobs.

• VetConnexx, which specializes in customer service for Fortune 500 companies, opened a contact center with 300 jobs.

Gwinnett Place’s global presence grew with the addition of the U.S. headquarters of HAMACO Industries Corp., a subsidiary of a Japanese trading company in the automotive parts business; and Okaya (USA) Inc., an importer and exporter and iron and steel products. TravelSky, a China-based IT solutions developer for the airline and tourism industry, will bring 50 jobs to the area with the opening of its U.S. Development Center.

National real estate firms continue to invest in the greater Gwinnett Place area. The district welcomed Moonbeam Capital Investments LLC., the private real estate equity firm that purchased Gwinnett Place Mall in October, 2013. Additionally, Rivercrest Realty Investors’ purchase of Gwinnett Marketfair is a significant win for area retailing. Biscayne Atlantic purchased the Gwinnett Commerce Center, a 10-story, 214,000 square-foot Class A office building in the district in a joint venture with Red Starr Investments and PointOne Holdings.

These successes are a result of strong partnerships and a strategic plan to transform Gwinnett Place over the coming years. More expansions and relocations to the area will be announced soon. We will continue with our commitment to bring economic redevelopment and success to the central business district of Gwinnett County.

Leo Wiener chairs the Board of Directors of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District.

We need well-managed workforce agencies

By Natallie Keiser

As I read details about the investigation of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, I was incredibly saddened. Thousands of Atlantans need job training, apprenticeships and jobs; apparently, some funds were mismanaged. I also had a sinking feeling as I read that this may taint the public perception of job-training programs. What a shame it would be if “workforce development organization” became a negative term to Atlantans.

Since 2006, The Center for Working Families Inc. has worked in the five neighborhoods surrounding Atlanta’s Turner Field, providing low-income families with skills and training to ensure economic success. We have successfully connected residents to more than 1,800 jobs, and we are on target to realize our 2,000th job placement this year. We have managed this work with limited funds while serving those who are often deemed the hardest to employ. I say that not to promote our individual success, but to refute assumptions that all programs mirror the unfortunate revelations from the investigation into the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency.

We are not alone in this effort. Atlanta has an array of innovative, resourceful, non-profit organizations that serve the unemployed and underemployed to guide, train, encourage and connect them to jobs. These include New Hope Enterprises, Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency and others. We partner with each other and with technical colleges, local businesses and other entities to help people overcome obstacles in their path to employment. The obstacles we address go beyond job readiness and technical skills to include lack of quality child care, low literacy, unstable housing, health issues and unreliable transportation.

The news media recently announced that the U.S. labor force participation rate has dropped to the lowest level since 1978. The contributions of so many are not being tapped; we all lose when our citizens are not effectively prepared and matched with employment. We need more, well-managed workforce development, not less.

Atlanta does not have the liberty of years to redesign its workforce center. The influx of residents daily at our doors demands an urgent, thorough and thoughtful response. Atlanta’s residents deserve better than a tweak of the existing model. We need a coordinated strategy that draws on Atlanta’s assets.

Natallie Keiser is interim executive director of The Center for Working Families Inc. and TCWFI Solutions LLC.


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