A city clearly on the move
Expanding horizons for residential, commercial, and green space; Snellville, GA is investing in its valued residents
With deep-rooted Southern charm and a laidback lifestyle, Snellville GA is a city that is not only a great place to live, but also boasts an array of redevelopment projects that rival cities larger in scale.
Ideally located, some 40 minutes from Atlanta, the city is also “Where Everybody’s Proud to be Somebody,” as the town’s slogan goes, according to The Gwinnett Daily Post.
When English immigrants Thomas Snell and James Sawyer set up shop in what was then a rural area of oak groves in the 1870s, they probably didn’t dream it would one day be home to more than 20,000 folks. Incorporated in 1923 and celebrating its centennial in August, today, the city that bears Snell’s name is a progressive community on the move, as we learned when we recently spoke with Mayor Barbara Bender and City Manager Butch Sanders.
“We’re very excited and looking forward to a big celebration,” Bender says of the city’s upcoming 100th birthday. “Snellville grew up as a bedroom community to the city of Atlanta. In the ’70s and ’80s, it was part of Gwinnett County’s really big boom, so Gwinnett and Snellville became a lot of residential housing and single-family developments back in the ’70s and the ’80s, and then the commercial development came along with that.
“Another big point I’d like to make is that Snellville grew up around a crossroads,” she continues. “There were originally horse trails connecting Athens and Atlanta and then Lawrenceville to the southern end of Gwinnett. As the roads grew and the traffic grew, we lost any semblance of our downtown, so Snellville never really had a good core downtown area.”
“About 20 years ago, the City and the leadership embarked on the steps to create a downtown area in Snellville, and I’m very happy to say that this is now under construction. We have a $100 million private/public partnership going with some private developers (MidCity Real Estate Partners and CASTO) and a lot of City investment in creating a little, walkable downtown hub in Snellville,” he continued.
Ground was broken on the construction of this downtown endeavor nearly two years ago. It’s all part of the City of Snellville’s downtown master plan, as Bender explained, and this includes more than 280 apartments now built and occupied. The City’s participation was a 750-space parking deck, used by the apartment-dwellers. There’s free public parking.
“Part of the downtown project is that our county library system is building a brand-new library in our downtown area,” Bender informs of a coming two-story, 44,000-square-foot facility.
In addition, the City is constructing the Market Building, a structure of some 20,000 square feet and ample event space on its second floor. The first floor will feature a restaurant and market space.
Burst of development
Bender continues that Snellville City Hall was among the first buildings put up in this area 18 years ago. Situated near this downtown development core, the city hall will be in the heart of this walkable area. Adding to the redevelopment efforts, Bender notes that within the last decade, a police department was built near the new city hall as well.
“Now we have a lot of new construction going on,” the mayor informs. “And in the Grove development (a public/private joint venture of 50,000 square feet of retail, restaurant, office, and entertainment space), there are also two other mixed-use buildings. They are restaurant/retail on the first floors, and the second and third floors are two-story townhomes. And the townhomes will be rented as part of the apartment complex.”
Bender said a new greenway trail now connects downtown with the City-owned T.W. Briscoe Park. The park has a 1.25-mile walking track, and the trail will connect with it.
Sanders said Snellville is experiencing significant growth.
It has set records over the past three years,regarding residential and commercial permitting.
“It has slowed down some,” Sanders relays, “We have a lot of new single-family homes that have provided opportunities for more people to move into the community. We still have one big development that is just now moving dirt out at Summit Chase, which is a big single-family development.”
He added that the City has another application for a development that would include about 350 mixed-type homes, just east of town.
Sanders also spoke of marketing initiatives.
“There is no doubt that this has begun to change the face and the direction of Snellville,” he says. “We have almost as much rentable commercial square footage as the Mall of Georgia (in nearby Buford). This has provided a lot more housing options and a lot more walkability. We are becoming a much more walkable, greener community with a much higher quality of life.”
According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution,Snellville is moving forward. It’s moving away from the urban blight of abandoned big-box stores and striving instead to revitalize existing retail space, create new such space, and facilitate green space.
“We are changing the image and direction of Snellville,” Sanders says. “For the last six or seven years, we’ve added a little pocket park, a neighborhood park less than a mile from the Grove in Oak Road Park. We’ve tried to spur more green space and more quality-of-life activity. It’s exciting to see the changes, and it’s a matter of multi-generational support from the community,” he states.
“We have a lot more young people that gravitate to the apartment style. They are a more mobile population, and they want the type of housing that we’re building now. Millennials and younger people are not interested in the three-bedroom, two-bath house on a quarter of an acre. We’re seeing a lot of older folks, close to being empty-nesters, who are looking for the type of housing we are putting in place. It’s good to see that we are attracting both young and old in the efforts that the mayor and the city council are putting forth.”
Some 10 years ago, as Bender reveals, the City created the Snellville Tourist and Trade Association, recently renamed “Experience Snellville.” It’s an organization simultaneously working to maintain that famous small-town feel whilst also bringing in new business and drumming up tourism.
Winter markets and farmers’ markets bring folks in as well, as Bender points out.
“The farmers’ market is a great way to socialize and meet people,” she says. “We do lots of fun community events. We also do the Beach Blast in May. We do Fourth of July fireworks. We have a fall festival. ‘Food Truck Fridays’ are held every Friday during the summer. We do ‘Live on the Lawn’ concerts once a month during the summer months. There’s always something going on, on that Towne Green.”
The mayor continues that the City publishes the Snellville Spirit magazine every quarter. It has helped to create more tourist-driven efforts. Every edition has a feature called: “Twenty Things to Do Within 20 Miles.”
“We are drawing in people,” says Bender, “both locals and tourists and letting them know what there is to do around the Snellville area. We’ve also been actively marketing with the film industry, which has become very big in Georgia.”
The Mayor elaborates that roughly five or six years ago, the State of Georgia instituted some film credits: tax credits for production companies. Things have just really taken off since then mainly attributed to Georgia being a non-union state and the relatively low cost of living which has resulted in many film companies being drawn to the area and several studios have been built here to support the thriving industry.
“(Noted film actor and comedian) Tyler Perry built a studio in Georgia. Western Electric built a big plant here in the ’70s, and that’s (in part) where The Hunger Games was filmed. And all of that filming—most of them used all-local vendors.”
“We are a very strong entrepreneurial city,” Bender adds, “and we start that in high school. Gwinnett County, in conjunction with the City, along with a teacher at the local high school, created an entrepreneurial class, and that started a few years ago. And now, the Gwinnett County Public Schools have put that class in all of the schools.”
The City hosts a “Shark Tank”-style event every year for budding businesses coming out of the high schools. It’s modeled on the television show of the same name, in which hopeful inventors, entrepreneurs, and the like pitch their ideas to big-business millionaires.
“We try to provide a great environment to enhance our small businesses,” Bender says. “The University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Program offers a lot of help and support. That accessibility is here in the city as well.”
Sanders projects that the community’s future couldn’t be brighter.
“There’s a lot of businesses that want to come here and a lot of people who want to move here,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of interest in Snellville!”
AT A GLANCE
What: Charming town with residential and commercial focus
Where: the heart of the Peach State, not far from Atlanta
Piedmont Eastside Medical Center – Piedmont.org/Eastside
Piedmont Eastside Medical Center has been a healthcare leader for more than 40 years in Gwinnett and the surrounding counties and has been part of the not-for-profit Piedmont System since 2021. Piedmont is the largest healthcare provider in the state of Georgia. Piedmont Eastside’s 310-bed, multi-campus system of care in Snellville offers two Emergency Departments, medical and surgical programs in cardiovascular, neurosciences, vascular, orthopedics, maternity with neonatal intensive care, behavioral health, and inpatient rehab. Piedmont Eastside has won honors and recognition from bodies like the American Heart Association, the Georgia Department of Public Health, Leapfrog Group, and Press Ganey, and is DNV accredited. Eastside is a Certified Primary Stroke Center, a Bariatric Center of Excellence, an Accredited Breast Imaging Center, and an Accredited Chest Pain Center. Piedmont Eastside is also an award-winning employer of choice for healthcare professionals. With a respectful work culture that embraces and reflects the diversity in the community, Piedmont Eastside’s 1,100 employees thrive while taking care of patients, their families, and each other. Future plans for expanded services are growing from the deep roots that have been established in the community as Piedmont Eastside continues to offer exceptional care close to home. Piedmont Eastside, with its long history of providing quality healthcare and also being a sought-after place of employment, is proud to call Snellville home.