Writer: Brittany Pressner
3 min read October 2021- Although the pandemic affected municipalities across the Atlanta Metropolitan Area in different ways, community leaders remain bullish on their respective cities as they continue to experience significant population growth and development. Focus: Atlanta recently spoke with both Bobby Cartwright, the mayor of City of Lovejoy, and Craig Newton, the mayor of the City of Norcross, about the effects the pandemic had on their cities, key economic drivers for their communities and the strategies they are implementing toward sustainable, long-term growth.
What is the current state of your city and how are you navigating the lingering effects of the pandemic?
Bobby Cartwright : The state of the city is very good but everybody is dealing with the ongoing labor crisis. Businesses are having a hard time filling spots and the price of doing business is going up. The supplemental unemployment income delivered to the American people has hurt a lot of businesses because it has become more difficult to hire workers in the $10 to $15 an hour range. Overall, the city has survived this crisis and we’re just moving things around and making it work.
Craig Newton: COVID-19 has spread at an unprecedented rate. It is wreaking havoc on life as we know it in many different ways — jobs, inequities in education, healthcare and ultimately the loss of precious life. Cities are inspired to innovate within and across their community as they recalibrate, finding different opportunities to provide services and technology to continue to grow. We’ve been working to mitigate this virus in several different ways. We’re working with our citizens and citizens committees to help them navigate through this. All of this is new for everyone, but we are finding ways to do that well, in tandem with our community.
What are your city’s key economic drivers?
Cartwright: I think relocation is one of the growth drivers. People are relocating here because the government is in the right place and the real estate is attractive. It’s a good area with good accessibility. Of course, the low interest rate environment is also helping the housing sector.
Newton: The majority of the growth that we have seen over the past couple of years is centered around single multifamily housing developments. A balance in our taxable digest is more important, however. Most cities like to have a 60-40 ratio of tax digest coming from businesses with the remaining balance coming from residential. Diversification is important. You do not want to have all of your taxes focused on residential because that market is too volatile. That is the same principle used by brokers in balancing a financial portfolio. You want to have a good mix. The logistics, distribution and warehousing industry in Norcross remains strong. It is one of Norcross’ highest concentrated business sectors compared to the national average. Continued growth in that area will benefit the local economy. Our area has been touted as the seventh-largest distribution hub in the Atlanta region. Professional business services is another strong sector here. This sector includes establishments such as data centers, for which Norcross has seen a significant increase in demand. Much of this can be traced to the tightening of cryptocurrency regulation by the Chinese government.
What key infrastructure or development projects is your city undertaking?
Cartwright: We’ve got three red light projects: one installation, two improvements. The remaining work involves major infrastructure improvements related to walkability, which means that people are able to move from subdivision to subdivision and from subdivisions to public facilities like Walmart or the parks. We’re also improving sidewalks and providing safe crosswalks. We’re going to do a million-dollar improvement to our pedestrian crossways along the railway. As far as development, I am in the business of governing people, so we are very pro-affordable housing and by affordability, I mean gated-community townhomes in the city that start at $269,000 for 1,200 to 1,500 square feet, with two-car garages. In fact, residential development is doing very well in the city. I can’t think of any development in town that is not selling faster and that’s great.
Newton: As several major projects have reached their completion in 2021, Norcross is turning its attention to two connectivity-focused projects. One is the LCI Greenway near Buford Highway, parallel to the Buford Highway Corridor. The greenway is slated to be complete by 2023. Whenever you create these types of greenways, surrounding property values increase exponentially. We’re creating the greenway for connectivity through and around the City of Norcross, but we hope to connect it to our sister city, Peachtree Corners, all the way out toward Tucker. This greenway will incorporate stormwater improvements with bicycle and pedestrian paths. The Buford Highway Quarter Project is still in its planning stages, but ultimately it is charged with transforming a traditional corridor into a safe, connected and walkable area.
We’ve also been working to expand our Downtown center beyond our historic district down to Buford Highway. This project includes the addition of a new state-of-the-art library adjacent to our famous Lillian Webb Park, encouraging mixed-use development projects around that park — apartments, townhomes, retail and dining establishments and green spaces. For 2021, we’re excited to announce that we have welcomed The Brunswick apartment building on Buford Highway, offering 200 units with balconies and ample amenities. The Broadstone Junction, a multifamily mix of townhomes and apartments featuring about 400 units, also opened this past year. The Kelly is a townhome development that just opened up within the last couple of years. Combined, these projects represent roughly $400 million in investment in the city, bringing well over 1,000 residential units to Norcross.
What is your outlook for the next three to five years?
Cartwright: I think it’s business as usual. There may be a little downturn in the housing market if there’s an increase in interest rates. To be honest, that would not be such a bad thing. Overall, I don’t see anything in the next few years that changes the outlook at all. We will continue to thrive; we will continue to adapt and that is because we have the right mindset among our staff and government here.
Newton: As older businesses retire, new restaurants and retail developments are taking their place. We are trying to usher in a new era of commercial interest in Norcross. Visitors to the city have noticed some recent additions to our Downtown area, including two new breweries. We’ve never had breweries in Norcross before and they have attracted a lot of young people to our city. We have murals that we’ve just begun to display throughout the city. We have pocket parks and other pleasurable assets that further accentuate the changing atmosphere.
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