Atlanta Suburb to Get Mixed Hotel, Retail, Residential Development

May 16--A Pennsylvania developer plans to build a 405-room hotel, shops, offices and more than 1,000 residences near the intersection of Jimmy Carter Boulevard and I-85.

Representatives of Preferred Real Estate Investments Inc. of Conshohocken, Pa., told an Atlanta Regional Commission review committee Monday the developers plan to spend $200 million to $300 million to redevelop about 76 acres that is now owned by OFS Brightwave, a fiber optics manufacturer.

The developer said Monday that redevelopment of the property, site of a factory that once was among Gwinnett's largest employers, should improve the economic fortunes of the surrounding area.

"That area really screams for new residential to be brought in," said Michael O'Neill, Preferred Real Estate Investments' chief executive officer. "It's a fine canvas. We don't want to make a strip shopping center."

The company's plan has been hailed by nearby business owners. Shiv Aggarwal, whose company owns the Global Mall, located across from the OFS site, said it should make aging shopping centers in the area more attractive to developers. Aggarwal also chairs the board of the new Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, which plans to raise money for increased police protection and landscaping in the area.

But some business owners, including Aggarwal, worry about increased traffic on Jimmy Carter Boulevard. They say new residents and shoppers would have to share the five- and six-lane road with trucks from nearby distribution centers.

"Before they can do anything, the Georgia Department of Transportation and the county have to get involved to improve these intersections," Aggarwal said. "They have to add additional lanes, especially if they have this development coming in."

The developer projected an increase of up to 10,000 trips a day along parts of Jimmy Carter Boulevard and nearby streets, according to a study it presented to the ARC on Monday. But they said that the fiber-optics plant once employed thousands more workers than it does now, and the roads were able to absorb the traffic easily.

ARC officials said this project alone won't persuade them to recommend the road be widened. "You're not changing Jimmy Carter [Boulevard]," Mike Alexander, a review coordinator for the ARC, said. "Jimmy Carter is what it is."

The ARC committee did ask for a closer study of road intersections near the site owned by OFS Brightwave. The plant was formerly owned by Lucent Technologies and Western Electric.

The first phase of construction to be completed in 2012 would bring more than 1,300 upscale loft condominiums to the site, along with a 405-room hotel and about 450,000 square feet of shops, according to plans submitted to the ARC.

A second phase of the project would add 72,000 square feet of restaurant space and 150,000 of office space, as well as about 400 more condos and more retail space.

County leaders still must approve the project. The developer has a rezoning hearing next Tuesday before the Gwinnett County Commission.

OFS Brightwave doesn't plan to stop making fiber-optic line in its five-story manufacturing tower on the property quite yet, complicating redevelopment of the surrounding land. "They really couldn't figure out what they could give up, and when," O'Neill said.

Dozens of other developers had looked at buying the property, but very few actually pursued it when confronted with the site development issues, Preferred Real Estate Investments notes in its letter to the planning commission.

O'Neill settled on a plan which treats the property like it's a tic-tac-toe board, with a manufacturing tower at the center square.

"Whether they give other squares up in a year or two years or 10 years, we'll be able to fit the land in the master plan," he said.