A friend of mine asked me to go with him to see national recording artist Ben Folds in downtown Sugar Hill. Did I miss something? Last time I was in downtown Sugar Hill there was a large cemetery and traffic. And then I crossed Peachtree Industrial and it was gone.
Yes. I missed something
In the last six years, Sugar Hill has very aggressively planned, marketed and executed developments that are turning the area into a very impressive little downtown. City officials first worked to seed the whole thing by building a new City Hall backing up to a 1,750-person amphitheater called The Bowl. The amphitheater is just that – a bowl with terraced seating leading up a hill and away from the stage to a big lawn. Behind the stage is a large pond.
The success of these two projects, along with the city’s willingness to work with the private community, is today leading to more than $200 million in private investment in the downtown area, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post, and a new development that will go up eight stories.
The city’s Downtown Development Authority has been busy buying land and working with developers on projects that fit within the theme of what city officials would like to see done. It initially bought more than 16 acres which is now being developed.
The latest project is called EpiCenter, which will host a gymnasium, a 350-seat movie theater, retail, restaurants, performance space and offices. It will stretch along Broad Street away from City Hall, and the back of the entire project will overlook The Bowl. It is under construction and expected to be complete by the end of this year.
On the heels of that project, is Iconic. It’s huge and it’s awesome. Built by JWM Ventures and designed by Avalon and Braves Battery designer Wakefield Beasley, Iconic will go up eight stories and include a full-service Wyndham hotel with views of The Bowl, a 20,000-square-foot convention center on the roof, a rooftop restaurant, 37,000 square feet of retail, 60,000 square feet of office, a grocery store, 80 condominiums and a parking deck suited for 999 spaces. I’m told the city and developer are working through the finer details, but the project could start later this year.
Sugar Hill is also another community that is committed to building a greenway loop throughout the city. Theirs will be called the Sugar Loop Greenway and will stretch 16.5 miles connecting the downtown to many of the city’s parks. Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle recently unveiled an impressive double-loop that will encircle its downtown, Avalon and some Alpharetta parks. Roswell recently opened a new section of its Riverside Trail, and Chamblee has a loop trail system in the works.
This is a lot of activity for a city of only 21,000 residents, some of whom tried to dissolve the city in 2001.
Commercial development seems to go in big cycles. Right now, nine years out of the Great Recession, we are certainly in one of those cycles. And cities like Sugar Hill that had plans at the ready are cashing in. Alpharetta, Doraville, Chamblee and many other suburban and urban communities throughout Metro Atlanta are reshaping their downtowns in this cycle.
They are planning and developing live-work-play communities that will ultimately keep their residents within the city limits.
Cities are starting to embrace the live-work-play concept as not just a style, but as a way to maintain economically viable communities. Successful office developments will provide daytime customers the shops and restaurants, while residents will enjoy the amenities when they get home at night and on the weekends.
Sugar Hill Mayor Steve Edwards certainly believes in that concept and is doubling down. He was recently quoted as saying, “We’ve got a ‘go big or go home’ mentality.”
Little Sugar Hill is definitely going big.