Do you remember Gwinnett in 1984? I certainly do. As we celebrate Gwinnett County’s bicentennial, I find myself reflecting on our history and the lessons we can learn going forward.
Back then, we were in the early stages of dramatic growth that would put us among the fastest-growing counties in America. The growth of the metro area was pushing outside I-285, and I-85 offered an easy commute to downtown Atlanta.
Gwinnett’s population had more than doubled from 72,349 in 1970 to 166,903 by 1980. As farms became subdivisions, our rapid growth attracted huge investments by commercial developers. In early 1984, our first shopping mall opened, with three anchor stores – Rich’s, Davison’s and Sears.
For the next 16 years, Gwinnett Place was a leading regional mall, attracting shoppers from all over metro Atlanta and surrounding states. Gwinnett Place continued to evolve as Davison’s became Macy’s and later Mervyn’s, Parisian and J.C. Penney arrived. The Gwinnett Place area boomed in the 1990s with both retail and office developments.
In 1999, the Mall of Georgia opened, followed by Discover Mills in 2001. Our population reached 588,448 in 2000 but the internet was also starting to change the American retail landscape. Today, much attention is being given to how to reinvent Gwinnett Place Mall, but the area around it is still the major economic heart of Gwinnett.
Nearly a quarter of Gwinnett’s Class A office space and seven percent of all jobs in Gwinnett are based in this one percent of our land area. Food and beverage sales total $60 million from 170 restaurants that provide a wide range of international cuisine, and retail sales still make up more than a billion dollars a year. Today’s direct economic impact comes to $4.5 billion annually with a total overall impact of $9.5 billion.
The County is working closely with the Gwinnett Place CID to upgrade area infrastructure and improve zoning and other incentives for redevelopment. As our population surges beyond a million in the coming years, I expect to see high-rise housing and office developments here as we continue to make the area more pedestrian friendly. In addition, the County plans to expand the Gwinnett Place area transit center in the future. A purchase of about 10 acres of land is already underway for this purpose.
We’ve seen a lot of changes in just 34 years, which doesn’t seem long compared with our 200-year history as a county. Yet these are the trends we must keep in mind as we chart a course to 2040 and beyond. We must build on our strengths and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
I believe that Gwinnett Place is poised for renewal. We are breathing new life into the beating economic heart of Gwinnett County as we head into our third century.
This blog post was written by Gwinnett Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlotte Nash.
About Charlotte Nash
Charlotte J. Nash was employed by Gwinnett County government for 27 years, including nine as the appointed County Administrator. She was president of a governmental consulting firm when she was first elected as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners in 2011. Her current term ends in 2020.
Charlotte is a Gwinnett County native who has lived her entire life in the Dacula/Harbins community. She graduated with honors from both Dacula High School and the University of Georgia, where she received a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Charlotte and her husband, Michael, have two grown children and two granddaughters.