GPCID Guest Blog Post: Curt Thompson
2020 Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Candidate (Democrat)
Introduction: Gwinnett Place CID has asked candidates running for both the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman and the Gwinnett County District One Commissioner to answer several questions explaining their vision for the County and Gwinnett Place.
Learn more about Curt by clicking here.
Guest Blog Questions:
Why are you running for Chairman, Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners?
Answer: I am running for Chair of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners because I feel I have a unique set of leadership skills and experience and feel Gwinnett County needs bold leaderships to best help our diverse communities in it to “build a bridge to Gwinnett’s future”. Those skills include experience creating and running Community Improvement Districts such as the Gwinnett Village (now Gateway 85 CID). Those skills also include political experience serving 16 years in the State Legislature, leadership experience serving 8 years as the Chair of the Senate Special Judiciary Committee, management skills, 12 years of experience dealing with government budgeting as part of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and legal experience as an attorney. I have the ongoing relationships with leaders in both the cities of our county as well as our state and the federal government needed to help make sure Gwinnett has a seat at the table in any intergovernmental negotiations that affect Gwinnettians. With this experience and a bold vision for our future addressing issues of mass transit, affordable housing, equity in how our county invests in our communities, employs members of our communities and does business with and works with our diverse communities is what our county needs and what I have to offer.
Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Gwinnett Place area and why?
Answer: I used to enjoy spending time at Gwinnett Place Mall itself (where I had my first job as a teenager).The mall was essential in terms of my growing up and socializing when I was younger., As an older adult, I can say that I spend a fair amount of time in the amazingly diverse restaurants in the Gwinnett Place Area. It is still a great place for “nightlife” for those who love the international flair and diverse choices of restaurants and taverns. Some that come to mind are Green Olive, Iron Age, Sweet Hut, Paris Baguette, Poona, K-BBQ Factory and Jeju Spa all jump out at me but there are others. It helps that my law office is here in the Gwinnett Place Mall area so I get to try and taste a lot of what the area offers. There is also plenty of other shopping here as my gym, my community bank, the grocery stores I normally use are all located in the Gwinnett Place CID area. Even Shorty Howell Park is at least adjacent to this area and is the closest park to my home.
What do you see as the role of CIDs in Gwinnett, and how would you work with the Gwinnett Place CID, if elected?
Answer: I worked to get the law passed to allow CIDs in Gwinnett and helped found the Gwinnett Village CID (now Gateway 85) serving at its founding president and for a long time as a board member. CIDs are invaluable to redevelopment and smart development in a community’s commercial areas – especially the older and more established ones needing reinvestment. As someone who lead the passage of the statute allowing CIDs in Gwinnett and went on to lead the formation of a CID, the Gwinnett Village (now Gateway 85) and worked in and with CID’s during much of my legislative career I am uniquely experienced in the potential CIDs offer to Gwinnett if we work with them, coordinate with them and partner with them to the fullest extent possible to redevelop and revitalize some of the core parts of our county. I would partner with the existing CIDS in as many areas as possible and look at how other counties and other states have worked to maximize the things CIDs can do rather than try to limit them to a few planning functions.
If elected, will Gwinnett Place be a priority for you? If yes, what is your vision for the Gwinnett Place area?
Answer: It absolutely will be a top priority. Gwinnett Place is where I grew up shopping, had my first job and continue to work and play. It is also near to where I live. I see the Gwinnett Place area itself as a potential site for a public-private partnership along the lines of the Lindbergh Station (Marta Station) area in Atlanta where a mass transit hub can be located along with a mixed-use development that includes workforce housing, bars, restaurants, and office space that also addresses the county’s need to go “vertical” in its development if it wants to handle projected population growth without overrunning other more rural or suburban parts of the county. Such a hub could recreate Gwinnett Place as the major “Center of the County” especially for those in western Gwinnett.
What is your vision for transit in Gwinnett County?
Answer: We need a comprehensive mass transit plan is well integrated into the existing MARTA system. This includes the above-mentioned transit hub on the site of the current Gwinnett Place Mall area. It should also be countywide with an emphasis on light rail and where appropriate bus rapid transit. While there may be an obvious need for more stops in such a system in the more densely populated 85, Buford Highway and Peachtree Industrial / Peachtree Parkway corridors there is also a need for similar transit options with a more commuter focus along our 78 corridors and into south Gwinnett along the GA 20 and 124 corridors. We need to recognize both the need to move people in and out of other parts of metro Atlanta while not forgetting the need to move people “cross-county” within Gwinnett. Particular attention should be placed on the more unique transit needs of persons with disabilities, the elderly and student populations as all three communities in Gwinnett will only grow in the coming years.
How will you bring transit to Gwinnett Place?
Answer: Again, the Gwinnett Place Mall area should be redeveloped to the extent possible with a public-private partnership into a mixed-use transit hub similar to the Lindbergh Station area of Atlanta. Please refer to my answers above for more detail.
Do you endorse the Transit Review Committee’s plan submitted to the Board of Commissioners in February?
Answer: I would endorse it if we are going to put it on a referendum in the 2020 General Election Ballot. Given the competition from other parts of Metro Atlanta, competition from other cities in the Southeast and the projected 500,000 people expected to move to Gwinnett the need to have this passed in November of this year to avoid getting mixed in with other SPLOST and ESPLOST referendum or the risk of another special election is probably our clearest example of the “fierce urgency of now” that we face in Gwinnett. That said, if elected as Chair I would represent the whole county and not just part of the county. If the existing county leadership is not going to put this plan on the November 2020 Ballot then I think it is fair to look at the Transit Review Committee’s plan to make sure that it makes sense when it is put on a ballot for passage and that it addresses the needs of the entire county. I am keenly aware that there may be needs to add elements to the plan to serve South Gwinnett. This is especially true if leaders are going to depend on votes from South Gwinnett to pass such a plan. Ultimately the key is to have the plan (whether it is the current Transit Review Committee plan or some version tweaked by the current or a future group of County Commissioners) on a General Election ballot and that will pass not in a special election or in an election with multiple other revenue related initiatives (such as SPLOST or ESPLOST Referenda) that jeopardizes its passage.
Gwinnett Place Mall has extended beyond a local issue to become a national punchline, around the topic of the “dead mall.” How will you address Gwinnett’s dead mall problem?
Answer: The County needs to be a leader in addressing the dead mall problem. A public-private partnership is needed to acquire the mall parcels to build a Lindbergh Station style mixed-use development and mass transit hub would be the best option for this area. You could incorporate some larger-scale entertainment elements such as a concert or sports venue as part of a comprehensive plan but I don’t think that would or should be the primary option or focus or such a plan. I don’t think “bringing the mall back is reflective of the times and replacing it with a “prettier modern version” of a shopping center will only lead to recreating the same problem over again. Other tools such as TADs and TIF may also need to be considered for the tool kit to deal with Gwinnett’s “dead” or dying mall problem. We need to be creative and be willing to look at what other areas have done.
If elected, what would be your plan for the mall site?
Answer: See 6a and my other answers above.
How will you work with the Gwinnett Place CID to accomplish your plan?
Answer: The Gwinnett Place CID would be the obvious principal quasi-governmental partner to help organize and harness the local communities in the Gwinnett Place area to accomplish this. I think the two have to work hand in hand to develop a proposal and market it and most importantly to enact and build it.
During the last SPLOST, of the $486,343,270 in transportation funding available, the Gwinnett Place area only received $9 million. Had the CID not had a list of potential projects prepared and shared information about transportation needs in the area with SPLOST committee members, it is likely even less in SPLOST transportation funding would have been allocated for the area. How will you ensure greater equity in future SPLOST funding distributions for Gwinnett Place?
Answer: We may want to consider amending how local SPLOST Committees are initially created to allow for representation from the CID communities. At a minimum, we need to formalize asking for input from the various CIDs in the form of mandating that the various CIDs develop and present proposals for project lists in their area to be addressed and considered by the SPLOST Committee as one of the separate line items it considers in terms of allocating funds. As someone who served on 3 prior SPLOST Committees, I think formalizing that process is important.
Gwinnett County and the Gwinnett Place CID collaborated on the ACTivate Gwinnett Place plan focusing on area infrastructure. However, most of the projects outlined in the plan are not fully funded. What is your plan to address this issue and move these projects forward?
Answer: I think we need a broad review of this plan that incorporates and prioritizes them into various funding streams to be sought (local budget, state budget, bonds, federal funds and hopefully passing a one-cent sales tax for mass transit among other sources) and then actually follows through. We spend a great deal of time and money on consultants and plans that we then unveil and promptly put on a shelf as “aspirational” goals that never become “operational”. If we are going to build a bridge to Gwinnett’s future then we need to be realistic about what can be done short, medium and long term and not simply “study the issue” with an outside consultant but implement a plan with actual funding.