Mayor Newton recently participated in a Zoom panel discussion hosted by the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce about COVID’s impact and recent city updates, along with fellow mayors Lois Salter of Berkeley Lake and Mike Mason of Peachtree Corners. Find a recap of Mayor Newton’s responses below:
Q: In what ways has your city dealt with COVID in your community and among your constituents?
Gwinnett currently has the highest confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia, with 11,882 confirmed cases and 187 deaths. Additionally, our city’s zip code (30071) has the second highest number of confirmed cases in Gwinnett.
When we realized the potential negative impacts that this virus could have on our community earlier in the year, the council and I met with staff to create a mitigation strategy to address both economic and public health concerns that this virus posed. We began pushing as much information and resources out to the community as possible via social media, email and our website–and we continue to do so.
Our council, boards and staff have all transitioned to virtual meetings in order to safely continue operations. We also approved a forbearance program for all city-owned properties as a good-faith effort, sending the message that we are all in this together.
Watching the data and listening to health officials, we made the call back in April to cancel all city-sponsored events through August 1, and now again we’ve pushed them back through October 1. We continue to monitor the situation and will revisit the calendar again as more data and projections become available.
We have also been bringing in the director of the GNR Health Department, Dr. Audrey Arona, to give expert advice at our council meetings. This keeps the public directly informed with firsthand information, and provides a platform for their questions on health and mitigation efforts to be answered.
Q: Please tell us what new things are happening in your community this year?
Last night, I received the incredible news from our city manager, Rudolph Smith, that our city’s 2020 tax digest for real and personal property has reached the one-billion-dollar mark in assessed property value. What a great milestone to reach in the year of our sesquicentennial (150th anniversary)!
We also currently have about $400 million in recent and ongoing residential investments throughout the city. We are no longer that hidden jewel north of Atlanta. The word is out, and we are working keep up with the ever-growing demand for housing in our area! We have more than 900 new residential units under construction throughout Norcross:
- The Brunswick [Gateway Ventures] – A $40 million project, this development is scheduled for completion by the end of Fall 2020, and leasing is already in progress. There will be 193 units, nine of which are live-work units.
- The Broadstone [Alliance Residential] – A $100 million project, this development is scheduled for completion in Spring 2021 and is also already leasing. It will contain 354 units, of which 200 are apartments, 90 are lofts and 64 are townhomes.
- Other projects currently under review include several townhome communities such as Bromolow Park (70 units) off Buford Highway and Pinnacle Townhomes off Pinnacle Way (24 units). A second phase of Sierra West (14 units) is also in the works along with a new unnamed development at 370 Thrasher Street (5 units). A multifamily development is also under review at Jimmy Carter/Peachtree Industrial.
Right before COVID hit, we were of course pleased to announce the city’s first 4-star hotel, The Crown Plaza Norcross. It was scheduled to complete in the fall but ran into COVID delays; we are now looking at year end or January 2021.
Our new county library (a $12 million project) is on course for a Fall 2021 completion. At 22,000 SF, it will include a community room and larger areas for computer services, creative projects and interactive programming and services. There will also be 1,500 SF of “maker space” equipped with a 3-D printer and additional equipment to facilitate entrepreneurship development.
The Greenway and Trail project also continues. Not too long ago we implemented an LCI Greenway Plan that integrates regional storm water improvements with a proposed bicycle and pedestrian network on the southeast side of Norcross. Noted improvements from the effort can be seen along Beaver Ruin Road, as this project also provides a safe route to local schools like Summerour Middle and Baldwin Elementary.
And that’s just an abbreviated snapshot of some of the community development and economic development activity in Norcross!
Q: How is COVID impacting your budget for the next year? What cutbacks are you seeing that you’ve been prompted to make?
As I mentioned earlier, because of the proactive approach that we took about 5 months ago, we were able to begin cutbacks by minimizing spending on planned city-sponsored events. While it was done primarily for health and safety concerns, the canceling of events and putting planning on hold for future events had the added benefit of significantly cutting back our city budget. In addition, we did cut back on capital expenditures. I would like to point out that through the years Norcross has a history of using a conservative approach to spending, and while we did see some revenue decline, it was minimal at this time. Once we close out this fiscal year, the city will conduct a fiscal impact report to truly see the impact. We are now in budget mode and based on the numbers I’ve seen so far the impact will be minimal.
Q: What changes due to COVID do you see as possibly permanent? (e.g. vacant office developments)
After some discussion with local economists and our economic development team, I believe that the that the “death of the office market” is wildly overstated by the media. I do believe that Work From Home (WFH) has been more legitimized, particularly in certain sectors. Comparatively, it’s like having an epiphany when you discover a long lost friend who was there the whole time. I believe that the WFH phenomenon will be a part of the new normal, and that we will see more workplace flexibility in that regard. (For example, WFH allowed once per pay period). I think it will have very little effect on how much total space establishments will require.
I DO think that COVID will have much more significant effect on developers and builders of office space, who now must consider built-in safety measures, such as designs that makes the work environment safer.
Q: What impact on your city has there been with any new council members added?
Our entire council works together very well in moving the city’s agenda forward in a succinct and progressive manner. Our new councilmembers are doing great with a short learning curve. They’ve rolled up their sleeves and are working hard to make Norcross a fantastic place to live. They’ve brought new ideas and a fresh prospective to our council.
Q: What ideas has your city generated to assist local businesses to navigate through this period? To perhaps make adjustments in their business models?
Our Economic Development Department retooled to create a retention strategy which focuses on helping local businesses complete local and federal grant applications like the Cares Act funding. Our accounts payable and billing departments also arranged for new payment options and established a non-cutoff policy for businesses and residents that needed it. Furthermore, the city provided through our PR agency, Accent Creative, frequent promotions of our downtown businesses (both retail and restaurants) as they modified business hours and recrafted their business models to reflect the governor’s and CDC’s safety guidelines.
Q: Are there any other issues or developments happening in your cities that you’d like to tell us about? Any new businesses and how have their openings impacted your community? Are there specific success stories you can share with us?
On a smaller scale, in partnership with the Guadalajara chain we are announcing the Norcross Market. This is the first food market west of Buford Hwy in more than 50 years. The Norcross Market will be located in a prime spot on the corner Buford Hwy and Lawrenceville Street, and will provide local residents with an international selection of fresh fruit and vegetables along with other grocery essentials. I’ll have to turn in my Peachtree Corners Publix card to Mayor Mason!
We also have a new ice cream shop, Freeze Cream, coming to downtown. It is currently in its build-out phase and anticipates opening in the next 4-6 weeks.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that we are in the process of partnering with our CID to fund the Buford Highway Corridor study. The scope includes the stretch from Jimmy Carter Blvd. to Old Norcross Road. The study is aimed at creating a 20 year vision for the area as a gateway into the City of Norcross. It includes creating another “live, work, play” model that complements our downtown district.