Last Thursday, October 16, the Council for Quality Growth co-hosted with Partnership Gwinnett the sixth annual Gwinnett Redevelopment Forum. With over 250 people in attendance, the focus of the afternoon highlighted the connections between changing demographics and the influx of redevelopment around the region, especially within Gwinnett County. Speakers included Egbert Perry, President and CEO of The Integral Group, Bryan Heller, Senior Vice President of CBRE, Kirby Glaze, President of Public Private Partnership Project Management, Carson Bise, President of Tichler Bise, Ellen Dunham-Jones, professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia, and a discussion panel that included Steve Hiatt, Director of Existing Buisness Development for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, Teresa Tomlinson, Mayor of Columbus, GA, and Tom Weyandt, Deputy COO of the City of Atlanta.
The morning began with Chuck Warbington, Executive Director of Gwinnett Village CID, interviewing Egbert Perry. Perry and his company, the Integral Group, have recently acquired the former GM plant site in Doraville, GA, which has the potential to be one of the biggest redevelopment projects in the state. Perry stressed the importance of changing demographics as well as the importance of planning to “cross political borders”, saying “the health of our region is dependent on the ability of our leaders to ignore political boundaries for planning.” People are demanding great locations in urban areas, a trend that speaks for itself, and also stated that every redevelopment site should have the opportunity to be something different, not in competition with each other, but to become the best it can be. This extends to the realm of transit, as Perry noted, “whether we like it or not, issues like transit will be forced on us out of necessity. Transit needs to be part of the future and I don’t mean bus transit. We need to embrace transit for all it can be and think of long term connectivity, making the hard decisions now even if they aren’t politically popular.”
Bryan Heller continued the talk about infrastructure, saying “in order to satisfy the demand for density, you’ve got to have infrastructure.” Heller also elaborated on the shift of demographics, explaining that more people are renting now out of choice, not necessity, and it is becoming a lifestyle choice. People are embracing walkable communities and amenities within reach. Businesses are beginning to realize this, and “successful real estate developments are focused on talent and millennials are their #1 priority. More and more companies will shy away from areas that do not offer housing choices.” Kirby Glaze also spoke of the market demand being present for an urban lifestyle, stating that “downtown is not a place; it’s a lifestyle,” and if the private sector is unwilling or unable to keep up with the demand for this type of development and redevelopment, Glaze encouraged public sectors to “consider being the master developer. Stop spending and start investing.” Carson Bise spoke about weight the cost and benefits of innovative redevelopment, highlighting the use of Public Private Partnerships as a tool for local governments, sharing both the risk and reward of the full partnership. Similar to Perry earlier, Bise elaborated that municipalities had the opportunity to “control your destiny as a community. There is a cost of doing nothing,” stressing not only economic but also social benefits of redevelopment.
Steve Hiatt, Teresa Tomlinson and Tom Weyandt sat down for a panel discussion offering examples from Chattanooga, Columbus, and Atlanta, respectively. Columbus and Chattanooga both recently redeveloped their waterfronts, which created a “halo effect” of project investment for both locations. “Columbus’ waterfront redevelopment really transformed the quality of life; people are choosing now to stay in Columbus, or if they leave, they come back. We’re gaining many highly educated young professionals that are seeking that high quality of life.” Weyandt discussed the redevelopment in Atlanta centralized around Historic Fourth Ward Park, a redevelopment of a brownfield industrial site and storm water solution off the Beltline that has spurred a community and fostered over a billion dollars in redevelopment around the park. Weyandt claimed, “the Beltline is our river,” siting the influx of development and redevelopment the project has allowed. All three speakers stressed the importance of community involvement for their projects, and sited it as a source of their redevelopment success. “What is the issue in your community? What is the plan of attack? Be persistent. Have a vision and stick to it, but be able to evolve as time goes on,” explained Weyandt.
Ellen Dunham-Jones wrapped up the morning and afternoon sessions, continuing on about community input and involvement. “Communities are demanding more with their retrofits than ever before. They want sustainability, storm water strategies, affordability, vibrant urban centers,” said Dunham-Jones. Baby Boomers and Millennials are the two largest generations, and they are wanting the same things out of cities. Demand for walkable urbanism can command an increase from 70% to 400% in rent pricing. People are shifting from the suburbs, and since 2005, there is more poverty in the suburban region than in cities, bringing into question if the suburbs are sustainable or even affordable. “We tend to think of the suburbs as affordable and family focused; this is just not true,” said Dunham-Jones, who then highlighted several examples of what communities are doing to redevelop around the country. Dunham-Jones then spoke of Gwinnett in particular, explaining that “Gwinnett was once on the edge of the metropolitan region, but it now is a relatively central location, with the ability to become a more urban destination. The opportunity exists to use private parcels and redevelopment of the public realm to create great space.”
The Council for Quality Growth would like to thank all that attended, especially the sponsors, for a successful and informative morning and afternoon.