PROGRESS: Gwinnett leaders planning expansion, redevelopment of Infinite Energy Center

www.gwinnettdailypost.com

By: Katie Morris

Published: Tuesday, February 27, 2016


Imagine coming to the Infinite Energy Arena to see your favorite musician and arriving early so you can tailgate alongside other fans on a large green space.

Or maybe you’d rather walk to the entertainment district situated across from the Infinite Energy Forum to eat at one of the restaurants or browse through the shops before the show. Perhaps you’d rather stay late after the show and eat a late evening meal then walk over to your room at the high-rise Marriott hotel that’s attached to the Forum.

By the year 2040, when Gwinnett’s population is projected to exceed 1.5 million people, these fantasies could be realities.

Explore Gwinnett leaders have been working on a long-term master plan that calls for the Infinite Energy Center and the surrounding area to be redeveloped. The 30-year plan was created 20 years ago and has been evolving ever since, according to Explore Gwinnett Executive Director Lisa Anders. While there are key components to the plan, nothing is set in stone and proposed ideas could be reimaged in the years to come.

The master plan includes a four-star, full-service Marriott hotel that’s set to be built at the convention center and will bridge the center’s conference and event spaces. Other proposed ideas include residential housing, a green space with an amphitheater, expanding the conference center and adding concert seating to the Arena, increasing its capacity to between 14,000 and 15,000.

The proposals also include expanding the Arena’s lobby club space and including a waiting area as well as expanding club-level spaces.

One of the master plan’s key components is to create a walkable entertainment district across from the Infinite Energy Forum that offers eateries and shops, said Anders.

The idea is to create a place where residents can “Come Early and Stay Late.” Currently, concertgoers drive to the Arena, park and attend the show. If you want to eat at a restaurant before the show, typically you have to drive to one of the nearby establishments.

“Our vision is if there’s a Carrie Underwood concert, you can come early and walk down and have food or a drink and lengthen the experience,” Anders said.

Another important element is the proposed parking decks with ground level shops and restaurants that will replace the current parking lots.

“In order to accomplish the vision of the master plan; in order to utilize what’s currently parking space, surface parking, to either build the residential component or have amphitheater space, we’re essentially going to take from what is now surface parking and repurpose it,” Anders said. “So we’re going to have to replace it because we can’t afford to lose any parking.”

The source of funding for the redevelopment and expansion is still under discussion, but Anders said there are private and public components to the overall project.

She said the next step in the process is to put out a request for qualifications to private developers. Once interested developers respond, leaders will then narrow the number down and move on to the proposal process.

“We think it’s a pretty big step and we do think there’s a lot of interest in it,” Anders said. “It’s prime real estate and there’s a great opportunity for someone. There is already a built-in audience locally. There’s an even bigger audience built in from a visitation perspective. The complex had over a million people go through it last year, so that’s a pretty strong base to start off with.”

The center’s expansion and redevelopment is timely for Gwinnett’s expected growth and should help to accommodate that larger population, creating a town center in the heart of the county that offers residential housing alongside entertainment and pushes walkability in the area.

Anders said a ways down there road there’s even the possibility of connected the Infinite Energy Center with nearby destinations like Sugarloaf Mills and the 75,000-square-foot Sugarloaf Market project that’s under development.

The Infinite Energy Center is a major economic generator for the county, Anders said, and at its current size the exhibit hall and meeting space competes for 20 percent of the meetings market because that’s what the space will accommodate.

If the space is expanded from 50,000 square feet to 125,000 square feet, it will allow the center to compete for 80 percent of the meetings market, she said.

According to Anders, a recent economic impact study for the convention center conducted by Georgia Tech showed that at its current size its impact was around $173 million a year.

“If you double that, the possibilities are so strong,” Anders said. “For its size it’s a very, very successful convention center, and we just know that we have so much more opportunity.”

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