Gwinnett Daily Post
Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris put a major emphasis on one simple two-letter word as she talked about what has been going on in the city during her State of the City Address on Monday: “Be.”
Harris told a packed house of residents, staff and elected officials that the city should be visionary in looking at what it wants to be like in the future. She added that it should be healthy by not only having quality parks and recreation facilities, but using them and also partnering with Gwinnett Medical Center to develop a former Ingles grocery store.
The mayor said the city should also be a destination. It should, she said, be Duluth.
“We want you to eat in Duluth, shop in Duluth and be Duluth,” Harris said. “Everything you do needs to be about Duluth.”
Harris’ speech focused on what has been going on in Duluth in the last year and what will be coming up this year. As part of her theme of being Duluth, she paused for a moment so she and the city council handed out six Capture the Spirit Awards that recognize contributions to the city.
The awards were presented to Michael Robbins, Donna Daluga, Ann Parsons Odum, Melissa Henry, Helen Jones and Maxine Garner.
During her speech, Harris outlined some city business matters, such as working on a new 10-year parks and recreation plan to replace one that is now a decade old. She added that the city has partnered with Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Fulton County to secure a $400,000 matching grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission to study the revitalization of Rogers Bridge.
There were also some transportation projects, such as working with Gwinnett County to put sidewalks on Duluth Highway, from Buford Highway to Claiborne Drive, construction of George Rogers Road, median work on Buford Highway and landscaping at the intersection of Pleasant Hill Road and Buford Highway.
A major part of the city’s plans for the future, though, is to increase walkability, particularly in its downtown area.
“Citizens are looking for places to live that are walkable,” she said. “We may not be able to make it possible for you to walk to your jobs, but we want to make it walkable enough that you can walk to a restaurant or that you walk to shopping areas.”
Two major walkability-minded developments she highlighted were The Block, a restaurant district that will be located next to the Duluth Town Green, and Sugarloaf Market, a mixed-use residential and retail development at the corner of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Sugarloaf Parkway.
Both projects are under construction.
Walkability is a key factor in attracting young work-age professionals, the group known as “millennials,” who prefer walkable areas and both bring families with them and are attractive to businesses who are looking to relocate.
Harris said millennials make up 17 percent of Duluth’s population. That’s not good enough, she said.
“I would like to get that number a little higher,” Harris told her audience. “That’s why we’re doing a lot of the things that we’re doing — to attract millennials because that’s the age group businesses are looking at.”
Projects like The Block and Sugarloaf Market are important to the city. It puts restaurants and other retail near residential areas. The Block, in particular, is seen by Duluth officials as the kind of project that will boost the energy of the city’s city’s downtown core.
The rest of the city will benefit from it as a result, Harris said.
“When you have a strong and vibrant downtown, that’s an economic development catalyst for the entire city,” she said.
Harris also gave residents a tease of one project coming up in the next few weeks during her speech. The city council will vote on whether to approve the Residential Group’s proposed The Village At Duluth development during its Feb. 8 meeting, she said. The project is designed to include about 400 residential units and street-facing retail.
If the city council approves it, the development would be built at the current site of the Proctor Square shopping center at the corner of Buford and Duluth highways. Harris said it is being looked at carefully however because of the volume of housing it plans to provide.
The city already has 639 housing units that are in the process of being built. That includes 134 single-family attached units, 174 single-family detached units and 331 urban-style apartments.
“We’re going to look at how many apartments do we want and how many do we need,” Harris said after her speech. “We want to look at all of the data and make an informed decision.”