City Spotlight: Suwanee "Play hard, live well, smile more."
Suwanee is consistently named one of the nation’s best places to live, and residents and visitors thrive with the 500 acres of parks, miles of walking and biking trails, festivals, concerts, dining and shopping the area delivers. Founded as a small agricultural town with strong ties to the railroad, the Suwanee of today is an active, distinctive community and a regional role model for doing things right: named one of the nation’s “Best Small Communities in Which to Live” by Money Magazine several times, a “Best Communities in Which to Raise Children” by Kiplinger.com, Family Circle magazine’s “10 Best Towns for Families” and recognized by Google as having one of the country’s strongest online business communities. Suwanee is also one of only four Georgia cities to receive a AAA bond rating, proving the financial health of its community.
During the last 15 years, Suwanee has proactively transformed itself into a walkable, vibrant place. “Right in downtown, there’s a 10-acre urban park, access to miles of hiking trails, a community garden, fantastic public art, an interactive fountain, a 10,000-square-foot playground next to the library and lots of restaurants and shopping,” boasts Denise Brinson, assistant city manager who works, lives and raises a family in Suwanee. Committed to maintaining the best quality of life for its 17,000-plus residents, the community of the city is welcoming and progressive.
“We have always believed that Suwanee is an extremely desirable community — not only a place where people live, but where they want to live,” says Brinson. In 2014, the city elected to participate in the National Citizen Survey report, which captures residents’ opinions regarding the “livability” of the community. Almost all residents rated the overall quality of life in Suwanee as excellent or good (96 percent), as well as the city as a place to live (98 percent). Compared to other communities, more residents also gave positive ratings to Suwanee as a place to raise children and as a place to retire. Ratings for these aspects of community livability were similar to those from the 2012 iteration of the survey, which suggests that residents continue to experience a high quality of life in Suwanee.
Part of the assets the city offers residents is the activity of the community; more than 40 events take place at Town Center park annually, in addition to a farmers market every Saturday in May through October, a runners club Tuesday and Thursday evenings and more. “It’s an active place for all ages,” Brinson says. “There will be literally hundreds of people in the park on a gorgeous day with absolutely nothing specific going on. It’s our ‘front porch’ and a great place to just hangout.”
Innovating and Growing
The city of Suwanee is getting ready to extend Town Center down Buford Highway, which will also serve to connect Town Center with the historic district, entering into a public-private partnership with developer Terwilliger-Pappas. “The City of Suwanee Downtown Development Authority is pursuing an exciting public-private partnership that will extend our incredible Town Center,” says Mayor Jimmy Burnette. “This project would bring more residents, commercial opportunities and energy to Town Center’s vibrant ‘live, work, play’ lifestyle. This could be a win for all of us.”
The expansion includes 235 one- and two-bedroom apartments marketed to appeal to Millennials and empty nesters, and will be constructed to allow for potentially conversion into condominiums. “We fully expect that these apartments will set the bar for quality in Gwinnett County,” says Suwanee Downtown Manager Adam Edge, “and that rental rates will exceed those of any similar existing Gwinnett County development. Studies have shown that Town Center has some of the highest property values in the county. We believe that this project will not just contribute to, but enhance Town Center’s value.”
Residents await the exciting $46 million multi-family and retail building expansion eagerly, and it’s expected to be completed late 2016. “We have a proven track record with Town Center of master planning our vision and then working with the private sector to implement that vision,” says Suwanee City Manager Marty Allen. “People are always asking when we’re going to extend Town Center. We’re confident that this project will add depth and energy that not only physically extends Town Center, but also further enhances the Town Center experience.”
Art is also a priority for the city’s future landscape; Suwanee’s new public art master plan, adopted by City Council at the September meeting, calls not for placing public art everywhere, but rather for putting art where it matters most. The plan suggests that Suwanee focus its efforts on public art that is “engaging, fun, memorable and distinctive;” helps strengthen community connections; and that, in many cases, is temporary. The master plan suggests two themes for future projects: art + play and art + identity/city image. Art + play projects will be creative, likely pedestrian-focused, and encourage interactive community engagement involving sound and light, things that are kinetic or related to STEM education. Art + identity projects will promote a sense of arrival within Suwanee in general or perhaps to the downtown district. Such projects could strengthen the physical connections between areas of the city.
“One thing is a given for Suwanee: We never stop working on ways to improve our town for our citizens and business community,” Brinson says. “Combine our awesome community vibe with the assets of Gwinnett County and our fabulous school system, and it’s a great place to be.”