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Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager: Smart City Expo, Curiosity Lab, the city’s first craft brewery and more.

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This podcast also includes information about hosting a special event for the first day of the Smart City Expo Atlanta 2019, the opening of the city’s first craft brewery, upcoming developments in the city and the city’s response to urban camping.

About Smart City: “It won’t be long until, literally, you could be walking down the street and your phone’s talking to the cars driving by, talking to the phones of other pedestrians, talking to the buildings, talking to the light pole. I mean – it’s a both amazing and sometimes scary environment we’re going to be in.”

On the Chattahoochee River (Fiserv) development: “So it’s a very complicated site both from an environmental standpoint, as well as because of its sheer size, there’s a lot of, you know, back of house negotiations that the master developer has to do with lining up the team that’s going to develop it. Because this is a mix of uses, so you’ve got different contractors that specialize in different types of housing.”

On expanding the Town Green: “Essentially, the eastern side is currently in development. The city owns it, and we have wanted the town green to be activated and to watch kind of how it’s playing out, and take feedback from our citizens on what we could do on that six acres to be a value add to the town green. So that discussion will be happening over the next three to six months…”

Transcript of the podcast:

Rico [00:00]: Hey! This is Rico Figliolini, host of Prime Lunchtime with Brian Johnson, city manager. We do this every month, and we have great discussion of all things going on here in the city on Peachtree Corners. Before we start, Brian, do you mind saying hi?

Brian [00:15]: Oh absolutely! 

Rico [00:16]: Excellent. So a couple of sponsors. So first off, Prototype Prime, which is – we’re using the studio here – the podcast studio we’re at. They incubate here in the city Peachtree Corners, which is part of the Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners.

Brian [00:30]: It is. Curiosity Lab is really three things. It’s a mile and a half-intelligent mobility and smart city laboratory which has an autonomous vehicle test track. It’s a 25,000 square foot technology incubator. And it’s all the technology within both the building and the one and a half mile for you to test anything from drones to, you know, autonomous, you know, vehicles to on the uh, you know, to smart city connected vehicle. I mean, anything you could think of.

Rico [01:03]: So, this place has grown since I’ve been doing this podcast. This is unbelievable growth over the next few months than we’ve probably seen. Companies coming here from all over, not only the metro area, but the country and the world. We’re gonna be on the map. Peachtree Corners will be known, hopefully as well as Atlanta in some ways. So Prototype Prime, Curiosity Lab, sponsor of the podcast. And also want to thank a new sponsor that’s coming on – Gwinnett Medical Center. They’re now going to be insuring Peachtree Corners. You can learn more about their premier services. They’re gonna be conveniently located where the old Ippolito’s Restaurant used to be, and people know where that is. That’s the shopping center south of the QT on that side of the road on Peachtree Parkway. So they’re entering. They’re going to be having first-rate primary care services and specialty services. You can find out more about that at gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/PTC. So that out of the way, there’s just a lot to talk about.

Brian [02:03]: Sure there is!

Rico [02:05]: And in fact, the third sponsor on the radio – we’re a media sponsor – Peachtree Magazine. Peachtree Corner Magazine. Smart City Expo, Atlanta. So that’s just the – let’s start off with that.

Brian [02:16]: Sure!

Rico [02:16]: It’s such a huge thing.

Brian [02:19]: It is.

Rico [02:18]: You were in Barcelona last year. This is the first big expo on the North American continent for this.

Brian [02:24]: So, the Smart City Expo World Congress is the largest Smart City conference in the world. And, annually, it’s in Barcelona, and it has 35 to 40,000 attendees. And it got so big that they decided to create regional, kind of affiliate or feeder ones. You know, they have an Asian one, a European one, and the North American one, which started this year because of the work that Metroland and Chamber and others did. We are lucky enough to have the very first North American version here in Atlanta. And then, given that it was here, we were able to, um, kind of brief the powers that be about what Curiosity Lab is, and they were like, “Wow! We’re doing a Smart City conference and you have this living laboratory for Smart City testing and demonstration. Let’s make it an official demonstration site.” So we’re also a partner of Smart City Expo, and we’re going to be a demonstration site the morning the conference begins which is September 11th. 

Rico [03:29]: Right. Three day weekend. Three day conference. And it’s the first of three years that they’re going to do this in such a place. And the whole idea is to be able to, not only show off Smart City IMT, you know, Internet and Memory Thing – Internet talking tower thing. Um, but it’s also to bring it down to a more usable level for the common man and woman. And how sustainability, smart technology, how it affects everyone. 

Brian [03:58]: Right?

Rico [03:59]: Right, not just corporations.

Brian [04:00]: No, we’re at the cusp of really – the way we do, you know, anything, changing because of the ability to have, you know – to create that internet of things, which is everything being able to communicate with everything else. And we’re, you know, especially with 5G rolling out, we now have a wireless environment where it can happen. And so, it won’t be long until, literally, you could be walking down the street and your phone’s talking to the cars driving by, talking to the phones of other pedestrians, talking to the buildings, talking to the light pole. I mean – it’s a both amazing and sometimes scary environment we’re going to be in.

Rico [04:43]: And it’s kind of interesting because if you go onto the basic, let’s say, warehouse for example, where the sustainable – what they’re doing is, as you walk the warehouse floors and the warehouse – the lights come on as you walk through. Heat and other sensitivity things come on as this human person walking that area, occupying it. These are all things that can happen in a 5G world.

Brian [05:08]: They can! I mean, you literally can control everything wirelessly and not have latency issues where it’s lag time. All the controls – you could have so much more on the wireless environment. We’re used to 4G or even your conventional 4G LT – you could put so much on it that it starts to get, you know, have a little bit of lag, get slow. And 5G we just – we have so much more to work with. So it’s an exciting time!

Rico [05:40]: So now – because we’re demo aside – the Expo is in September. We’re not that far where we – 

Brian [05:47]: 48 and a wake up.

Rico [05:49]: Yeah, 48 days.

Brian [05:50]: Who’s counting?

Rico [05:52]: How far are you going to be. Is it going to be, like, complete almost past city hall? I mean I know the whole stretch won’t be completely – 

Brian [06:01]: Right. With every aspect of the lab on this one and a half mile section – for every single thing to be done by then, probably not. So what we’ve done is – all the work we’re doing, we’ve had them do it in a linear fashion. Normally, if some contractor is putting something in, they would – entire projects – they get to choose what order they do. In this case, we’re like, “No, we need you to start at the technology parkway 141 intersection. The Marriott. And then work north and, at a minimum, we’ve got to get it past City Hall, because that’ll be the main stretch for the Smart City Expo that people will both be coming to the demonstration site and where the demonstrations will take place. So that’ll – that’s the stretch we’re concentrating on.

Rico [06:55]: So there’ll be shuttle buses coming from the expo for people attending the demo?

Brian [07:00]: We’re gonna be – we’re gonna facilitate two things. You know – for those conference attendees that sign up to do this, we will have buses available to bring them up from the Georgia World Congress Center. But for attendees who are – who live close by, they won’t have to go all the way and cut back. They can just go right to the site.

Rico [07:22]: So what are you planning? What demonstrations? Anything particular yet?

Brian [07:28]: Yes. So, I don’t want to share the companies yet, but I can share the type of stuff. We’re gonna have everything from fully level 5 autonomous vehicles, driving a track or a portion of the track. Tele-operation vehicles. We’re gonna have drone autonomy – and these are autonomous. These are not, you know, done by human. Drones showing off capabilities of package and food delivery. You know, some of those kind of things. Also – other package delivery robot components. Let’s see, what else have we got? We’ve got some connected vehicle demonstrations to show how vehicles talking to each other can actually alter the way that the car drives itself, even with a human in it. So we’re wanting these companies to come in, and, again, we’re kind of inviting anybody who – we got a couple of like, one company – we’re not sure we can get them. But they actually have a vehicle that is – it’s kind of like the smart car, you know that really small – their vehicle contracts or expands for purposes of urban use. So when you’re driving it, it can – when you get in, it expands so that the wheelbase and everything is stable. But when you go to park it, you can actually – you can park it in the same size space that you could put a Harley Davidson.

Rico [09:07]: Really? All by itself? So you get out of it and itself – it’s like the Jetsons.

Brian [09:14]: Yes! I mean – so, that one we’d like to have. So those are some of the things we’re gonna have at this demonstration. And so it’ll be, uh, interesting.

Rico [09:24]: Excellent. Lots of stuff. There’s a lot of things happening here in the city, too, so we should probably talk about – besides the autonomous vehicle tries. So, I know we have a city council meeting. Um, the mayor also had a state of the city on Tuesday night.

Brian [09:44]: Monday night. Tuesday night was the city council.

Rico [09:47]: That’s right. So there’s a lot of things that Mike Mason talked about.

Brian [09:53]: 72 slides worth.

Rico [09:54]: Right, yeah? But he went through it fast. I gotta say.

Brian [09:57]: Oh, I mean, you know – look. We’ve learned, you know, we being staff have learned where the mayor’s real, um, his real strength is. And he is phenomenal when, you know, you put him in that environment and he’s talking with, not to, the citizens of the city. And so, yes, he knows how to, you know – we all warned him this was a lot of slides. But he went through it quick. I mean he got it done in an hour, and it was good. But he’s amazing, how he can interact and just make everybody feel like they’re part of the discussion.

Rico [10:36]: Oh yeah, you could see, I mean, he’s not a politician per se. He came from a corporate environment, so you can see how that works. And he – there was a lot of things that he talked – he talked about the infrastructure improvements. Over 2[0 million dollars since 2[015. About the town center, about the pedestrian bridge coming online soon, probably within a month or so. We might even see ground –

Brian [10:59]: Oh yeah, I mean it’s underway.

Rico [11:01]: Okay so, we’ll see – and I saw – I wish I had the slide on this. I saw the picture of the newest picture, um, where the work clock. It looks fairly good, actually.

Brian [11:12]: Just saying – now you were – you were a part of all of it to begin with, so you may be better positioned than me to comment. But I, you know, our hope was – we went from the initial versions – 

Rico [11:24]: The double spires – 

Brian [11:26]: And to one that is maybe, you know, it’s more modest, but it’s not, you know…It still has a distinctiveness that you won’t be like, oh yawn another pedestrian bridge. Distinctiveness, but it’s not over the top.

Rico [11:43]: No. And it looks really good now, from what I saw on it. And then I saw something else somewhere about the botanical gardens that might be an offshoot walk through the bridge – 

Brian [11:53]: There is. So when you go in, you know, on the south side of Lazy Dog, um, you’ve got the creek. And so for – we will have a path that goes along the creek but elevated. Kind of in between the creek and Lazy Dog, or the parking deck. So it’ll have to be elevated. And then we’re wanting to put a section that allows you to go down to that level, and then maybe put some other plant material there, make it a unique section.

Rico [12:23]: If you want to get to a cool place on a hot day, that’d be the perfect place to go. So you have that, and of course the mayor wants to talk about Georgia Tech, professional education, the on site. And we came just before, saw kids walking – they must be walking to the uh –

Brian [12:41]: Well that’s the coding for kids. That’s not Georgia – Georgia Tech is on the evening or weekend. This is a summer camp, so we actually have coding for kids camps that have been conducted here over the summer.

Rico [12:54]: It’s cool. So you have the young kids, the high school, middle school kids, and then you have the professionals who are coming back to learn a bit more.

Brian [13:01]: Well, yeah, they are officially coders when they are done with that with the Georgia Tech diploma.

Rico [13:06]: Absolutely. There’s only two – I didn’t realize there’s actually three Georgia Tech – 

Brian [13:12]: Well that’s all professional education. So Georgia Tech only teaches professional education in three locations. Their main campus, then they have their Savanna campus, and then here.

Rico [13:25]: It’s amazing. I mean Georgia Tech – everyone wants Georgia Tech. The other thing that the mayor talked about and we featured in the upcoming Peachtree Corners magazine is the, uh, Anderby Brewing that just opened. We’ll be up there – 

Brian [13:41]: Tomorrow night is their grand – their little grand opening.

Rico [13:45]: Gotta go. This is a great craft brew – 

Brian []:13:47 Craft brewery?

Rico [13:49]: Yeah! First one in Peachtree Corners. I mean, brewing their own stuff.

Brian [13:52]: Right on the end of Curiosity Lab.

Rico [13:54]: We passed them coming in. I mean, this is great stuff. I mean it’s just – the funny part was the mayor saying, “We know it’s near the high school, but it’s far enough so it’s okay.”

Brian [14:05]: We had a few people bring that up. But yeah, there – you know, all that stuff said, like state law in some cases and locally and it meets all the requirements-

Rico [14:17]: Um, so there was that, um, that – we saw the things that the mayor talked about. Then we had the city council meeting on Tuesday night. So I just want to go through a couple of things. I know Lazy Dog is going to be up pretty soon. They just, um, applied for their – 

Brian [14:34] Liquor license, yeah.

Rico [14:36]: And that got passed. The other thing is that uh this – I don’t know what this is. The MRPA – I should know what this is.

Brian [14:45]: Metropolitan River Protection Act.

Rico [14:46]: Ah. Okay. That was for the 55 law – 

Brian [14:50]: Fiserv property.

Rico [14:52]: So they got approved? Or was that public hearing?

Brian [14:54]: It did. Well, and action items. So they got it approved.

Rico [14:59]: So what does that mean to them? Because people have been asking, what is that – 

Brian [15:02]: Right. So, this is a hundred plus acres of development in the Chattahoochee River corridor. So it’s a very complicated site both from an environmental standpoint, as well as because of its sheer size, there’s a lot of, you know, back of house negotiations that the master developer has to do with lining up the team that’s going to develop it. Because this is a mix of uses, so you’ve got different contractors that specialize in different types of housing. They’ve gotta line those up, they’ve gotta line up financing, they’ve gotta come up with the timing. Because, you know, they can go as high as – and I think it’s 916 total units on the…And let’s just say that they did that, and they may not, but you don’t – at something that big, you don’t build 916 units just…You tend to do it in phases and you’ve gotta master plan it out, so there’s been a lot of work behind the scenes. But the first thing they have to do is, they have to get a certificate allowing them to develop within the protected river corridor. That’s the Chattahoochee River. So that’s what this was. The city and the Atlanta Regional Commission, the ARC, together we regulate state law. Which is the Metropolitan River Protection Act. This was us approving the fact that they’ve met the requirements when it comes to things like – how many trees that they want to remove, or how close to the river they can add impervious surface – 

Rico [16:50]: So this is going to be different size buildings. From what I understand, at least going to be four or five story buildings towards the river because that’s the lower end – 

Brian [16:56]: That’s correct. I think they can go as high as six stories up the other end that – where no one other than, like, Country Club of the South residents could see it, which is, you know, across the river, but – 

Rico [17:07]: But they’ll be able to see the river. It’s a great view for, I mean, no matter how you look at it – living in a place like that it’s a great view. And that’s – 

Brian [17:16]: And I think they recognize that. I mean, look. When you’re 20 miles from downtown, show me another location where you can go on a property and literally be outside the view of anything else like you can on that property. You get in off of East Jones bridge and you wouldn’t even know that you’re not in the middle of nowhere. Along the river. And so I think they recognize that it’s kind of – it’s a unique place to build residential. And so your’e right. They’re going to build everything from two-story detached residential to stacked flats, to townhomes, to condos, to multistory, you know…

Brian [17:58]: What they’re doing is – I think it’s supposed to be 55 and older. And as you get Ricoolder, there’s memory centers, supposedly will come on three years into the development and stuff like that.

Brian [18:10]: So it’s moving. I mean there’s no doubt about it. It’s just that, sometimes people have to have a lot of talk and public hearings for them to get their first special use permit. They think that as soon as it’s approved they’re gonna go. That was merely for the developer to know that they can do it, then they have a lot of work behind the scenes.

Rico [18:29]: Same thing with the apartment building and boutique hotel on Town Center. I mean that was approved over a year ago or longer, and they haven’t done anything.

Brian [18:39]: Well they haven’t done anything that we can point to. But there’s lining up financing, there’s deciding who’s going to build this, there’s the design of what is the building exactly gonna look like.

Rico [18:51]: Right, which they still have to come back and share. Um, Instant Mechanicsville – that area is also getting rezoned from M1, which is industrial office to residential.

Brian [19:03]: Yup.

Rico [19:04]: Um, what’s going on there as far as – 

Brian [19:07]: Well the request – so that was just the first rating. But that said developer wants to come in and build townhomes.

Rico [19:11]: In that area?

Brian [19:13]: In that area. 

Rico [19:14]: Which is the oldest part of the city, isn’t it? Mechanicsville is fairly old.

Brian [19:19]: It is. As a residential area, it is. You know, Pinckneyville and the Term is, you know, older as it relates to when it was referred to back in time. I mean the intersection and Spaulding and Medlock bridge – that’s, like a corner that has existed when the Pony Express came through. I mean, so, there’s some older sections of – But as far as a currently existing residential community, Mechanicsville is our oldest.

Rico [19:49]: So is that taking – that’s only converting – it’s converting about 20 acres.

Brian [19:53]: It’s converting 20 undeveloped acres but that were zoned for an industrial use.

Rico [19:59]: So is that all empty land?

Brian [20:01]: It is undeveloped, just tree, just wooden land.

Rico [20:04]: So obviously no one’s looking to do industrial there. There’s no demand for it, but there is for townhomes.

Brian [20:11]: I mean, there is a demand for it, actually. I mean you get out there, go along Buford highway. You know, in that area. You’ve got – there’s new recycling’s got a big wing. So there’s demand, but sometimes the demand is one thing, but the political, you know, interest in facilitating that is sometimes uh – and this, these parcels are at the edge of this neighborhood, so I would imagine…I mean they haven’t voted on it yet. But normally, cities very – look very favorably on somebody wanting to rezone on an intensive use like manufacturing, you know, industrial to a residential. Because most people are like, okay.

Rico [21:00]: I’m actually surprised that it was M1 to begin with and it butts up to residential – it almost never happens that way.

Brian [21:07]: It has probably happened because it was industrial to begin with and some parcels got residential.

Rico [21:14]: Um, the next thing was the consideration of ordinance for the city. Nuisances – urban camping – that’s the first that caught my eye. So let’s go on about that. Are we having urban campers?

Brian [21:28]: Well, I mean, so urban camping is just, you know, a municipal way of talking about people who are sleeping out in public spaces. For various reasons – probably, you know, most of the time it’s done by people who are homeless and they’re moving around. But, yes, we have had some problems of late in the town green. 

Rico [21:54]: Oh really? In the wooded area, likely?

Brian [21:59]: Yeah, or just out on the town green itself. And so we’ve had, you know, fortunately, there are instances where there are people who, you could argue, make a living from moving from location to location, and begging for money from those who are frequenting establishments there. So now we’ve got a bunch of retail and restaurant space and a location that people are going to. And so you’ve got the panhandling and…so they’ll do that, and they’ll sleep there overnight. And so we needed to have something so it’s in violation – doing so is in violation of local law because it is public property. So somebody can say “I have a right to be here.” We’re saying, “You do, but you can’t camp there.”

Rico [22:51]: In Simpson Park – because it’s a park and that’s a camping park – I think they allow camping.

Brian [22:58]: I’m not sure they do. I mean it’s because – you know – I’m not sure they do. 

Rico [23:01]: You know they let the staff – 

Brian [23:05]: Yeah, but that’s probably under special – part of a special event permit. Jones Bridge I think has done the same – but I think you apply and they give you a special event permit for that particular thing. They say, “Hey, we’re gonna be doing this.”

Rico [23:23]: Yeah, I mean you can’t just show up and camp. They’re pretty good about controlling some of those things like that. Alright, so there’s that. There was also resolution about the call for an election qualifying and all those things that have to be done on a regular basis.

Brian [23:39]: I mean, you know, so we all know that our staggered terms are every two years. So you know, this year, four of the seven are up for re-election. And so when that’s the case, we have to set certain dates um and locations for our election within the guidelines of the state sets. And so that’s what that was. Was setting the qualifying period, setting the location where you would go to the polls, setting the election dates.

Rico [24:12]: So is that – these – so this election won’t be part of the county.

Brian [24:16]: That’s correct. This is – there will not be any county vote in November. Unless they, you know, decide to hold some special election for something. If not, it will just be at City Hall.

Rico [24:30]: Do you see that changing next year during presidential election where – because I know there was a rule passed that allows cities to approach the counties that include the same election name to save space?

Brian [24:43]: Well, so, what you’re referring to is the Gwinnett County board of elections had an actual prohibition of running, managing, the election for a municipality within Gwinnett County. Which we – I know absolutely for sure that no other metro-Atlantic county is that way. I think that, of the 159 counties, Gwinnett County was the only one that had that prohibition. So you’re referring to the fact that that was removed. So now, Guinnett County board of elections could provide election services for municipality for a fee.

Rico [25:26]: Right. It’s a governmental arrangement system.

Brian [25:29]: Right – what hasn’t happened since then is there has not been a negotiated rate and all that stuff hammered out so that a city could say, “Yep, we want you to run ours.” There’s a lot of, you know, there’s a lot of details in that because there’s a lot of differences between if the county already had to open a precinct versus they didn’t have to but a city wants them to open one special. So, like, you know, if the county is already going to be holding an election anyway at a certain location, you know, I think some cities are like, “Why can’t we pay you based on whatever additional cost it would be to just add a line or add a, you know, to the ballot that they’re already having to –

Rico [26:21]: Because right now, essentially, next year for example, nothing changes. Most people know you go to vote for your local precinct, you go to vote for the presidency, the Senate, Congress, whatever. And for me, that would be let’s say at Peachtree Corners Baptist Church is my precinct. But then I’d have to go to City Hall separately to vote for my city council people. Which is, like, really – 

Brian [26:47]: Well it really came up last November when the city and Gwinnett County has a special referendum. On – well actually it was earlier this year, it wasn’t last November.

Rico [26:57]: Are you talking about the March Martyr thing?

Brian [26:59]: No no no, the Sunday alcohol sales. So they held a special referendum to change the start date – was it back from 12 to 11. And we did too. We wanted to put it to our residents. So, to go and vote for that, you had to go to your county precinct. And that was going to determine whether unincorporated Gwinnett County. And that – and then you had to go to the city – to City Hall to vote on whether the city could – and that kind of is what prompted this movement to say, “Wait a second, why is this prohibition in there? We’re not saying any city has to use Gwinnett County board of elections, but if there’s a fair price to pay to have, you know Gwinnett County board of elections, couldn’t that option be there?” And that’s where we’re headed, but that has not been negotiated yet. So in our case, November and Gwinnett County Board of Elections doesn’t have an election this November to do right now. So it’ll just be City Hall and it’ll just be municipal elections. We have four positions.

Rico [28:16]: Not bad.

Brian [28:17]: Which actually – four positions are up. There may not be candidates. In which case, they would not be on the ballots.

Rico [28:24]: Qualifying is going to be next.

Brian [28:26]: It’s middle of August.

Rico [28:27]: Middle of August? Long way off, but if you’re thinking about something, it’s time to do it I guess. Um, anything else new? I know that you had a chance to speak, but I don’t know if there’s anything else from your department, from the city manager?

Brian [28:42]: I didn’t have any updates at that meeting, no.

Rico [28:44]: Anything else that we should be aware of that’s, uh, maybe coming up?

Brian [28:48]: I mean, you know, we’re gonna be talking shortly about locations to put the video cameras that we budgeted for out. You know, we’ve talked about here soon – 

Rico [29:02]: Security cameras – 

Brian [29:03]: Right. The license plate reader video cameras that we’d like to make available to police department if we’ve got a crime that’s been committed and they want to – 

Rico [29:14]: So that’s all budgeted and now you’re just gonna decide – 

Brian [29:16]: Yeah it’s all budgeted. We’re just gonna decide which intersections we want to put it in. You know, that’s coming up, um…

Rico [29:24]: The – I know that the mayor also talked about the acreage. Um, several different options for that – almost six acres or –

Brian [29:33]: Yes. So you know, if you go to the town green, you know, two of the four sides if you consider the green a square, even though it’s a circle, but you know, two of the four sides are developed. Center Vista on one, all the shops on another. Then the north side of it will have the townhomes. They’re getting ready to go vertical. But the – essentially, the eastern side is currently in development. The city owns it, and we have wanted the town green to be activated and to watch kind of how it’s playing out, and take feedback from our citizens on what we could do on that six acres to be a value add to the town green. So that discussion will be happening over the next three to six months as we again keep activaty – because this Saturday night we’ve got the Journey cover band. You know, so, we’ve got some – right. We’ve got some good events that have happened out there already and some more to follow. And we’re learning and we’re taking feedback and, well, we’ve got some things that are, you know, will be here before – 

Rico [30:49]: So Alex Wright – city councilman Alex Wright actually pointed out a few things that people pointed out that you guys may be adjusting. For example, the playground area, which may be adding some more, um, onsite playground equipment.

Brian [31:06]: There will be. We’ve just gotta decide which type and of course how much.

Rico [31:13]: And shelter from the heat.

Brian [31:15]: Well yeah, so correct. The slide – that one’s already done. And that one’s gonna be here soon. But yes, a shade structure over the side. But those are the kind of things, you know, feedback we’re taking. Even having them manage the crowds over there. Talked about we may need to rope off an aisle or two to walk, you know, across it. Because we had the Queen Nation, literally was just – 

Rico [31:43]: Six thousand people. That place was jammed with people.

Brian [31:47]: It was. It was great to see, but little things – little things that we’re learning and our residents are telling us. “Hey, think about this.” So we’re gonna continue to improve it.

Rico [31:58]: I think some of the – I think there was some landscaping where they thought maybe – a slight hill where they could do some seating actually.

Brian [32:05]: Yup. We’re looking at that. 

Rico [32:07]: And I think the mayor also discussed either – those six acres could either be expanded into – discussed it at one point – either part of the town green maybe becomes, or it might be a pavilion that might be able to handle a hundred people at some party – 

Brian [32:22]: It could be a mix of uses. It could be on the ground floor. You could have maybe covered event space or more seating. And then higher up, you could have, you know, anything from the commercial performing art center, more seating to overlook the green. I mean, the sky’s the limit.

Rico [32:40]: And I found that interesting, you know, one of the options you pointed out was that someone actually – one of the companies actually approached the city to say, “What if we did, like, a four-story building and two stories down below would be the art center, and two stories above would be office space?” And I thought that would be a great way to actually help finance – 

Brian [33:00]: That’s correct. And that’s why we will have and will entertain some sort of potential public/private partnership on that. Because it takes what investment we make and it, you know, it – 

Rico [33:13]: Maximizes and leverages – 

Brian [33:15]: It does. Just a force multiplier to let us do more with less money coming out of our budget to go to it.

Rico [33:22]: That was exciting. That part was a decent way to go actually. Earth Fare – the empty store. Anything new on that?

Brian [33:29]: Um, well actually, there is – I mean, other – the owners just contacted us recently to say they think they may have got a scenario to where they’re, you know, prepared to take over the lease from Earth Fare. And have it go to another tenant. So, that’s about as far as I can – 

Rico [33:49]: Can’t tell us? Big boss – 

Brian [33:51]: It would – it would occupy the whole thing. If this one plays out.

Rico [33:58]: Okay. Part of the entertainment district, it is?

Brian [33:59]: It is.

Rico [34:01]: And related to that, maybe? Just curious.

Brian [34:03]: Potentially.

Rico [34:06]: I have to push.

Brian [34:08]: Oh, I don’t blame you. I mean economic development is a tough one. You know, sometimes you get excited, but you have to be cautiously optimistic because some of these things fall through.

Rico [34:19]: Oh, for sure. For sure. We’ve – I’ve kept Brian long enough. I think he has real important meeting to go to after this regarding Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners. So, great and local – well not a local, international company, really. And they have a local office. So he’s heading out that way. So we want to say thank you to Brian for coming out, sharing his time with us. And also to say, look out for Peachtree Corner Magazine. It’s going to be hitting the post office Friday, which means you should be getting it in your mailboxes early next week, if the post office delivers it on time and it’s not three weeks late. But look forward to a cover story on Titan Pictures, on the movie industry in and around Peachtree Corners. The boy scouts, the Gwinnett swim local team won the Gwinnett swim championship, which is cool. And a lot of other stuff that we have packed in there. So that’s coming out and, that’s it. Thank you all, appreciate it.

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The Colorful Woven Threads that Make Up the Fabric of Our City

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Jay Patton, Traditional Master Barber

Gwinnett County is getting more and more culturally and racially diverse. Remember the old adage ‘Variety is the spice of life’? In today’s climate of social unrest and world-wide protests for racial justice, we should move towards healing by getting to know our neighbors and broaching some delicate conversations. It can be scary and cathartic — and it can be a little heartbreaking, too.

The heartbeat of Peachtree Corners is strong because of the amazing people who live and work here. I reached out to some from a variety of backgrounds. Each of their accounts will have you shouting, Vive la différence!

Jay Patton

Jay Patton

Traditional Master Barber Jay Patton moved to Peachtree Corners two years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He noted that his hometown is less diverse, primarily Caucasian, and he’s been enjoying the “good mix” of people here.

“In Minnesota, growing up, there was more racial tension,” Patton said. He felt a larger divide between the privileged and the underprivileged. “There’s less opportunity for certain people in certain states. You come down here and if you have a good credit score, you blend in as long as you’re putting out good vibrations,” he explained.

At your service

After working near Perimeter Mall for five years at Gino’s Classic Barbershop, he decided to venture out on his own. “One of my customers told me about Blaxican,” Patton said. The fusion restaurant serves food inspired by Southern soul cooking and Mexican classics. “Being biracial, I thought that concept was catchy. I came here, drove around a bit and I felt good energy,” he recounted.

Patton opened Traditional Shave Masters Barbershop at 5260 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. “This area is blowing up. I think it’s going to be bigger than Sandy Springs,” he said. He likes the plans for the area.

The barbershop offers “male services — straight edge razor work, blades, steam towels, shaving beard work. With different packages to choose from — like The Distinguished Man, The Exquisite Man, The Classic Man — there’s something for everyone. Female clients with short hairstyles are welcome too,” Patton said. “We have competitive prices and talented, diverse barbers.”

 Things had started picking up well, “and now we’re going through this Corona stuff. It’s pretty challenging,” he shared.

Cutting through racial lines

Patton prides himself on being able to serve the whole community, no matter what race, background or ethnicity. “Most shops are racially separated. People are more comfortable coming in when they see people who look like them,” he said. “I want everyone to look in the window and feel like they can come in. I play jazz music. Everyone likes the smooth, mellow stuff.”

Men have different ways to describe how they want their hair and beards trimmed, depending on their ethnicity, where they’re from, race and even social status, according to Patton. “It’s up to the barber to ask the right questions to really understand what the client wants so you can hook him up,” he said.

He noted that since the rock and roll era, when men grew their hair out, the white barber shop kind of died off as they gravitated to salons. “But now the traditional barber is back. It’s becoming more appealing to all men, of all races,” Patton explained. “Around Atlanta, men want to look good. That’s a good thing!”

No barber school teaches how to cut across racial lines, he said. “My instructor was an old school Irish dude. It’s all hair, but the way you approach it is different. One might use different tools.”

Wherever he worked, he sought to cut hair he was unfamiliar with and learn to cut all types of hair. “I’ve been to a Russian shop, a Puerto Rican shop, a black shop. I made sure to get out of my comfort zone,” Patton said.

Patton could pass for either white or black. “The way I look, people don’t know. I’m chameleon-like. My father is Creole and my mother is Puerto Rican. That’s a loaded soup bowl,” he chuckled. “I had a mother who respected me and explained everything. She watered my seed and I had self-esteem. I love all people. We’re all connected. We’re all on this Earth together.”

He thinks a lot of people would be surprised if they did their 23andMe genetic reports. “I did it and I was mind-blown,” he reported. “I grew up Puerto Rican, but in actuality, I started off Indonesian! I have some Egyptian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Irish, German, Apache Indian, Sanda Gambian — things I had to look up! It was surprising to me. It opened up my eyes.”

He added that people mistake him for Egyptian all the time, “so it was interesting to find out I have some Egyptian in me. I love telling the dudes in Duluth, I started out Asian!”

Still, Patton said, at the end of the day, it’s all the indoctrination and cultural stuff that gets in the way. “We’re all the same color on the inside,” he said. “When we’re little, we play and hang out together. Somewhere in the mix, we get taught all these differences.”

All connected

“As soon as we figure it out and start loving each other again, it’s going to be alright,” he continued. “The message has to be delivered differently to the different communities, but it’s the same. I have to empathize with their situation first, then I can flip it around to some other perspectives.”

Patton believes that having exposure to different kinds of people is good and makes things easier. “Because of where I’ve come from, I’m able to communicate with different races,” he said. “My struggles have shaped and humbled me. I’m able to be around a lot of diverse cultures, probably more so than most people. That’s always helped me; I can mingle through racial lines.”

“Asian, Mexican, white, black — I see more people living harmoniously here. Maybe it’s southern hospitality, but people tend to be more polite here. They smile and try to be nice to each other, and that means everything. Being courteous is an initial connection with people.”

“I feel like I have a broader truth, a natural perspective in the spiritual world,” Patton continued. “We are all connected, but some people like the divisions. They’re capitalizing off of us: the red, the blue, the white, the black, and all that junk. As soon as we figure it out and start loving each other again, it’s going to be alright.”

Dr. April Hang, PharmD

Dr. April Hang, PharmD

Dr. April Hang, PharmD, hails from Petersburg, Virginia and is of Filipino heritage. Her dad was in the Army, so her family traveled a lot. She spent a long time in Germany, where she learned to speak a little of the language, and she studied at Virginia Commonwealth University – Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy.

Dr. Hang is Catholic and attends St. Monica Church. Her husband is Buddhist and their three children have been baptized in the Catholic faith.

She opened Peachtree Pharmacy at 5270 Peachtree Parkway in 2012. It’s a compounding pharmacy were medications are customized.“Our clientele is diverse. We serve Hispanics, African Americans, white Americans, Asians. We have seniors all the way down to babies and pets that we take care of, ”Dr.Hang said.“We offer compliance packaging for convenience. It’s helpful for seniors. We put medications in labeled blister packs. They can be organized by day or sorted by morning, afternoon, and evening if necessary.”

And, she said, Peachtree Pharmacy delivers, which is especially important for high-risk patients.

“Compounding is an out-of-the box option for patients who have exhausted all their options and want to try something else. We do carry some traditional medications as well,” she explained. “It takes time to make everything. You have to make sure all the ingredients are included. You’re not just pouring pills out and counting them. You actually have to melt something down, make lollipops, gummies, lozenges or capsules. We have to do our math calculations carefully to make it the exact strength the physician wrote it for.”

Mom-preneur

“I’m first generation American, as well as the first person to start my own business in my family,” Dr. Hang said. She attributes her drive to her dad, who always endeavors to find a solution.

She said that she feels welcome here. “It’s like a small town. That’s why I love Peachtree Corners,” she said. “A lot of our patients are like family to us. This is a great city, a great place to have a small business, especially with Peachtree Corners expanding.”

THC and CBD advocate

One of the things Dr. Hang has gotten involved with is the effort in Georgia to make low THC oil (less than 5%) available to patients suffering from chronic pain, cancer, PTSD, HIV, autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s and other conditions. “I feel like [CBD/THC] oil can help several patients,” she said. “It’s yet another alternative for people.”

She said that doctors can help a patient get a medical card for it. “Everything has been passed in Georgia, and there is a THC oil registry here now, but there’s no access. I think there are over 14,000 patients registered. They have the card, but there is no place where they can go buy it yet,” Dr. Hang said. “We’re just waiting for the infrastructure so people can start applying for manufacture and distribution.”

Unfortunately, the process to get access has been delayed due to COVID-19. It’s likely to be another year or two before access is available for patients.

Diversity at the pharmacy

Dr. Hang welcomes students of diverse backgrounds, some from out of state, who do rotations at her pharmacy. “Most of the time, I say ‘yes,’ because the students are up-to-date on the new things. They keep you updated,” she said. “I try to make it practical for them. They work in the store. I take them to a marketing event. I like to do a couple of little health fairs. I mix it up for them so that they see what we actually do. I didn’t get that when I was in pharmacy school.”

There have been times when a staff member has had an unpleasant interaction and they feel that some racism was directed towards them. “I have one full-time pharmacist, three part-time pharmacists and three full-time pharmacy technicians. One is Asian and the others are African American,” she said.

“When COVID-19 had just started [appearing here], there was a client looking for N95 masks; she wasn’t a regular. She was upset we didn’t have any N95 masks. She told my pharmacist, who is black, “I don’t know what you have to say that is going to carry any value.”

  As Dr. Hang was cleaning the store one day, an older lady came in, looked around and asked, “Why is everybody black in here?” She said, “I don’t see anything wrong with that. There are standards and testing that you have to pass in order to be in this position. Everyone here is qualified.” Dr. Hang added that she has never had issues with racial tensions personally. “It’s a little disheartening that it still occurs,” she said.

She suggested a city-wide cultural festival to help improve racial tensions. “If we can learn more about our neighbors, we’ll be able to understand them better. There are a variety of cultural backgrounds in Peachtree Corners, so let’s celebrate them!”

“When I’m at Peachtree Pharmacy, I post on Facebook, “Come by and see me. Come give me a hug!” Customers come in and tell me, “I miss you so much.” It’s nice to catch up with a lot of the regulars,” she said. “I always post: Free Hugs not Drugs!”

Maurie Ladson

Maurie and Ron Ladson

Maurie Ladson is a Program Director at Corners Outreach, an organization providing a multigenerational approach to helping underserved children with specialized tutoring. Parents are given assistance with career paths, workshops, unemployment and anything they may need to navigate in the education system. Their goal is to achieve a 100% high school graduation rate among the students they serve.

Ladson clarified underserved as “communities or people living amongst us who don’t have all the necessary resources.” She explained, “They may not be earning a living wage. A lot of them are immigrant families. There’s a challenge with education and the language.”

Elementary, my dear

By focusing on elementary school students, the intention is to prepare them for success in middle school and high school. “Then hopefully, to higher learning, either a four-year education or, sometimes, they prefer to do some kind of trade,” Ladson said.

“We’re not focused on one demographic,” she continued. “We welcome all the children who need assistance. The mix varies. In Norcross and on our DeKalb side, we have a high percentage of Latino children. At our Meadow Creek location, there’s a mix of children — Indian, American, Hispanic.”

The Corners Outreach offices are located in Peachtree Corners. Ladson said that Executive Director Larry Campbell liked the name, “as the goal is to touch “every corner” of the community.” The organization partners with Title 1 schools in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, including Peachtree Corners and the surrounding areas, and helps 450 families/children.

“We work with them during the normal school year; we provide after-school tutoringfor two and a half to three hours. We’re supplementing and enhancing what the school is teaching,” Ladson said. “There’s a big focus on reading comprehension and math. We then provide nine weeks of summer camp which focus on reading, math, games and a craft.”

School principals identify the children in most need. There is also input from counselors, teachers, teacher liaisons, center coordinators and ESOL [English to speakers of other languages] coordinators. “We also have volunteers that play a key role in our success. We’re so thankful,” she said. “Schools like Wesleyan, GAC, Perimeter Church and individuals in our wonderful Peachtree Corners community come out and volunteer their time.”

Masks with a purpose

Due to COVID-19, Corners Outreach was unable to tutor or assist families in person for some time. “We began communication via Zoom, WhatsApp, video chat, telephone calls. There was a big need to assist in setting up Internet. Many of the families didn’t have it,” she continued.

“Our organization was able to place Chromebooks in the community for children to be able to do their homework. It was still challenging because in a lot of cases they’re sharing either a phone or a hot spot. With two to four children in the family of various ages, needing to do homework with one device, that was difficult.”

To help underemployed parents, the organization developed Masks with a Purpose. After surveying the parents, they found they had 101 mothers with sewing skills that could be used to provide much-needed masks in the community.

“They sew masks and earn a living wage, $4 per mask,” Ladson said. “We launched the Corners Store on June 22 so people can go online and purchase a mask to support our cause.” To purchase a mask, visit cornersoutreach.org. If you don’t need a mask, you can help by giving a donation.

“We’re looking to donate 1,000 masks to farmworkers and 10,000 masks to children in poverty, who can’t afford to buy three or four masks or have the throwaways,” she said. It’s a great cause,” she said. You can donate masks to the effort through their website.

Beauty in all colors

“I’m Mexican American,” Ladson said. “I’ve been in Peachtree Corners for 20 years. My husband is black, dark-skinned African American. People might look at us a little differently. I’m different and I’m good with it.” She and her husband Ron recently celebrated 20 years of marriage.

Having frequented several places of worship over the years, they most recently identify as Protestant and have been attending North End Collective.

Ladson said she witnessed some social injustice in the workplace during her career in banking. A Peruvian teller was the number one salesperson in the bank, exceeding her numbers, yet it was an under-performing white American teller who inexplicably was moved to another location and offered a raise.

“I think in Georgia, Atlanta and in Peachtree Corners, we still have room to grow,” she continued. “I’ve seen a different level of acceptance, if we’re going to call it improvement, absolutely.”

Miriam and Ed Carreras

Miriam and Eddie Carreras
Miriam and Eddie Carreras

By pure coincidence, Miriam and Ed Carreras shared a similar history predating their marriage of 48 years. They both left Cuba with their families at a young age, and within five to seven years, they became naturalized U.S. citizens.

After a 20-year career as a microbiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Miriam is now a Realtor with RE/MAX Prestige. “I guess, given my name and former clients, I get quite a few referrals from Spanish-speaking buyers. I would say most of my clients right now are Hispanic,” she said. Hispanics, who can identify as any race, make up 15.2% of the population in Peachtree Corners.

Miriam works in residential real estate, both on listings — people selling their homes — as well as helping buyers find their dream homes. Being bilingual, she is a huge asset to the community. She is able to help English and Spanish speakers navigate the sometimes-challenging waters of real estate.

A home is one of the biggest and most important investments a family will ever make, and Miriam is happy to provide her clients with excellent customer service, every step of the way.

Ed was an attorney with The Coca Cola Company for about 20 years. He retired from the company in 2003 and joined a law firm. He retired from the firm in February of this year. “We were supposed to travel, and now we’re homebound because of COVID-19,” he said.

As an attorney, much of his work was international. “I dealt with a number of countries, like Japan, countries in Europe, in Latin America, and so on,” Ed shared.

He served on the Board of Goodwill of North Georgia for a number of years and was Chair of the Board for two years. “Goodwill had a significant relationship with the Hispanic community. One of the things I got involved in was developing a robust system for their strategic plan,” Ed said.

In studying the projection of population changes, he and his fellow board members identified the important growth of the Hispanic community and the need for more Hispanic contacts and people with language skills in the organization.

A home in Peachtree Corners

The Carreras family built their home in Neely Farm in 1998. Both are happy with the amount of diversity in Peachtree Corners. “I think there is a good mix of people. You see a nice diversity of cultures represented here,” Ed said. “My experience is more in the restaurants since I like eating. We’ve gone to a lot of different types.”

“I think there’s pretty good diversity,” Miriam added. “Even in our subdivision, we’re diverse.”

They haven’t had any negative experiences because of their ethnicity in recent years. As a teenager, Ed recalled an incident at a restaurant in Miami. His family was speaking Spanish, and a man at a nearby table addressed them, saying, “Go back to Cuba!”

“My father was surprised. He turned around and in perfect English said, “I’m sorry, does it bother you if we speak Spanish?” The guy ended up apologizing,” Ed remembered. “I was 13 or 15 at the time. It stuck in my mind because my father handled it so perfectly. The guy said, “You speak English very well.” My father said, “Yes, I was educated in the United States. I went to an Ivy League school.” The guy just kept shrinking.”

Ed said that everyone carries prejudices based on faulty stereotypes. “From my own experience, the best way to eliminate prejudice is to be made aware that the stereotype supporting the prejudice is not correct,” he explained. “Anything that helps an individual realize that the stereotype is wrong should help in reducing prejudice.”

“Education highlighting non-stereotypical members of a group could help,” Ed suggested, “as well as the promotion of events that bring members of diverse groups together in a social setting.”

Joe Sawyer

Joe and Kimberly Sawyer

As the city is building a physical pedestrian bridge over Peachtree Parkway, resident of 25 years and equity warrior, President and Cofounder of Bridges Peachtree Corners Joe Sawyer has been launching intensive volunteer efforts to build metaphorical bridges between races and social classes in the city. “I guess you can say it’s about black and white; we’re trying to bring equality up to where it needs to be,” he shared.

Bridges is a non-profit funded by grants and generous donations from the community. The board is made up of a diverse group who share Sawyer’s mission to close the gap between the affluent and the less affluent parts of town. They’ve been working on racial diversity and economic disparity since 2013.

Through school counselors, they identify needs at Peachtree Elementary and other area schools, assisting in any way they can — from electric pencil sharpeners in the classroom to Christmas dinners for families. They’re currently partnering with xfinity to provide internet access so children can do their schoolwork at home during the pandemic.

Affectionately known as Preacher Man, Sawyer would love to help more areas of the city reach their potential. He espouses the Holcomb Bridge Corridor Project , the city’s plan to revamp the area, and hopes it will get underway soon. “We’ve done the easy part, the Forum and Town Center area. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and do the hard part,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer comes clean

This is a man who will “tell it like it is.” He is refreshingly unafraid to level with you. Sawyer attends Life Center Apostolic Church in Dunwoody. His faith shines through in everything he touches, including his company name of 20 years, Alpha Omega Carpet Cleaning, inspired by the book of Revelation.

Since many are home with more time than usual on their hands, the pandemic has Sawyer busier than ever. “I build relationships with my customers. By the time I leave their house, I’m their friend,” he said. He also prides himself on his effective carpet cleaning services, which avoid harsh chemicals, as he is a cancer survivor.

The United Nations

Together with his wife Kimberly of 31 years (who is white), Sawyer has raised his two daughters, now 29 and 23. “She’s my backbone. She keeps me grounded,” he said. His daughters are now raising his five grandkids in Peachtree Corners.

The Sawyers have two blond, blue-eyed grandchildren and three who are light skinned black. “I’ve got everybody in my family — we have the United Nations over here,” Sawyer laughed.

In 1992 things were more challenging for biracial couples. Sawyer’s in-laws didn’t allow him into their home until two years after the marriage; now they’re the best of friends, despite many earlier battles. “They had to make sure I was going to take care of their daughter. I think that was one of the biggest issues,” he said. “Mixed marriages are more common now, and more likely to be accepted by both families, but you still have issues with certain people. I just try to keep it real and be myself.”

Sawyer shared a story from his senior year in high school (1982), when he was given an ultimatum: stop dating his white girlfriend or quit the football team. The young lady’s mom called the school because they had published a picture of them in the school magazine.

The girl’s mom had known about their relationship. In fact, they were among the few biracial couples at the time who did not hide it. But when other parents saw the photo, it became a problem. Sawyer elected to pass on what may have been a lucrative career and quit the team.

Sawyer noted that things have changed for the better. “It’s a new generation, we’re improving a whole lot,” he said. He’s unaware of any negative issues experienced by his daughters about being biracial.

While Peachtree Corners is very diverse, Sawyer said he still experiences some people who are prejudiced. During a recent job, a client had left the door open for him. It saddened him to learn that his client’s neighbor reached out to inform her, saying, “There’s a black man in your house.”

“[Racism] is still there, but overall, I think Peachtree Corners is a welcoming community. You might have some people stuck in their ways, but you just have to learn to overlook them. We stopped and we said a prayer for the lady,” Sawyer said.

He believes the cause of divisiveness is that some people don’t want to lose control of what they’ve got. “As long as we feel that one race is better than the other, we’re always going to have a problem. Both communities have work to do. Now is the perfect time for us to work on race relations in America,” Sawyer affirmed.

Preacher Man

When he was little, Sawyer told his dad, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” His father replied, “You don’t want to be like me, son, you want to be like Jesus.”

“So that’s what I try to do. As soon as we realize that we’re all made in God’s image, we’re going to be OK,” he said. “I don’t hate anybody. I try to get along with everybody. Don’t let politicians divide us any more than we’re divided. That’s the biggest problem. We listen to what’s on TV. I don’t need anybody to tell me who I like and who I don’t like.”

 “We have to come together,” he continued. “I’m thankful for the friends the Lord has put in my life. We have to change our perception of our neighbors. Not all people of a different race are bad. Be there for your friends.”

Sawyer added that everyone needs to work on racism as a society. “Both the white and black communities have work to do. Now is the perfect time for us to work on race relations in America. The whole world sees what’s going on, politicians fighting over this and that. We don’t have any togetherness,” he said. “Let’s take a stand and let’s be one. We claim to be one nation under God but how can we be under God if we’re at each other’s throats?”

Father Darragh Griffith

Rev. Darragh Griffith

Rev. Darragh Griffith is originally from Dublin, Ireland and has been in the U.S. for 24 years. Following 10 years at Holy Family in Marietta, he’s been the pastor at Mary Our Queen (MOQ) — the only Catholic church in Peachtree Corners — for four years.

“We welcome the community to come see our new church. It’s a beautiful, traditional church based on Saint Gerard’s in Buffalo. If you’re exploring questions about the Catholic faith, we’re here,” Father Griffith offered.

Though the present church is just a year old, the parish has been here since 1998. The pews, stained-glass windows and altars were taken from the old church in Buffalo, New York.

Mass during the pandemic

“We’ve been live-streaming masses on YouTube and our website. But now we’re back,” Father Griffith said. The church has an outdoor mass on Sundays at 8:30 a.m. for people who feel more comfortable outside, and services in the church on Sundays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 5 p.m.

Masks and social distancing are expected at the indoor services. Seating is roped off to allow for every second pew to be occupied. “It’s working out for this time,” he said.

 The parish

The makeup of the MOQ parish is quite diverse. “We’ve got people from every continent. We have a lot of Asian people from Vietnam, for example. People from the African continent, Nigeria and other countries, Hispanic and white Anglo, as well,” shared Father Griffith.

MOQ provides spiritual and financial outreach to Peachtree Corners families through The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP). Volunteers make home visits with families and individuals who call the helpline seeking food or financial help.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, MOQ SVDP has assisted over 150 individuals. The help line number is 678-892-6163.

The domestic church

For Father Griffith, what happens at home is as important as what happens at church. “In these times, I believe the home is crucial. Parents have a great and joyful responsibility. The family has never been as important, from where we stand, as it is now,” he said. “That’s where you can lead by witness to your children. Not so much by words, but by example. The family is crucial.”

He said that the church has always taught that the home is the domestic church. “The home is where parents hand on the faith to their children. I think that’s crucial,” Father Griffith said. “My work, the church’s work is not going to bear fruit if it’s not happening at home.”

Spreading God’s love

“It’s sad to see some of the things that we see on TV, some of the violence. It is kind of sad and disturbing, what’s happening,” Father Griffith said. “The church believes in treating everyone with respect and love. We’re a universal church. We love and accept everyone. In the Catholic faith, we’ve got people of all sorts of cultures, backgrounds, traditions.”

For a solution to today’s troubled climate, Father Griffith leads with the suggestion that we respect one another. “We’re all made in the image of God. Everyone is precious in God’s eyes. Every person is created through God’s love,” he said.

Father Griffith said that he knows it’s been hard during the pandemic for people to meet up, interact and socialize. “If we can get together and have that as a base, we’ll not be afraid of each other,” he said. “And love, that’s what Jesus spoke about, loving all people. That’s what our Catholic faith teaches us.”

Faith is critical for Father Griffith. “If we’re living our faith, that informs our decisions and our behavior. As it says in Scripture, our lives should be based on faith and our relationship with God,” he said. “Hopefully people will be open to God and to His Spirit at this time.”

Karl Barham

Karl Barnham

Karl Barham, President of Transworld Business Advisors of Atlanta, Peachtree, started the business with his wife, Ann, two years ago. They own a local office of the franchise in Peachtree Corners. 

“We relocated from New York City, got married and started a family here,” he said. “We found Peachtree Corners to be a fabulous place to live, work and raise a family.” They’re a Christian family and attend Close Perimeter Church.

Barham explained business brokers specialize in buying and selling businesses. “We do small, neighborhood businesses — any size, up to maybe about $25 million. We arrange to find the buyers and we help them get the deal done.”

Growing up black

“I’m first generation in the U.S. My family is from Jamaica, the third poorest county in the Caribbean. They came here, raised their kids and we’ve done well,” Barham said. “But I do see, for a lot of people who are very specifically black, they’re not looking for handouts or anything, they just want the proverbial knee off the neck.”

“When you’re in a minority, you always think about race,” he continued. “Jamaica is a mostly black country. When I spend time there, everyone looks like me. In the U.S., it’s the reverse, and as you move up in corporate America, it’s even more of the reverse. It’s always there to think about.”

Barham’s dream and hope for the future is that his kids don’t have to deal with the kind of discrimination that he’s seen in his lifetime. “Changes need to happen in this generation. Will it change in my lifetime? I don’t know. I thought it would,” he said. “When I was a young kid, my dad was saying the same things. I said, “Oh, by the time I’m your age, that stuff will all be solved.” I was wrong. It isn’t.”

Starting a conversation

When Barham received inquiries on what people could do in their companies about racial justice, he thought it would be a good topic for the Capitalist Sage podcasts that he regularly hosts with Peachtree Corners Magazine publisher Rico Figliolini. So, they began a series of podcasts about diversity and race.

“It’s been a topic discussed nationally, and we said, ‘what about here? Is there anything going on locally?’” he said. They produced three episodes, with two to three guests on each. “We talked about racial and social justice in leadership and in the local community,” Barham said. “We had stay-at-home moms, elected officials, church leaders and faith leaders, just talking about what it means and how they’ve been reacting to what’s happening with Black Lives Matter. We asked: what can citizens can do individually? What can local leaders do? We just wanted to start a dialogue.”

Barham said that one of the things that’s interesting about the South is that racism is part of the history that people don’t talk about because they’re trying to be polite, yet “there’s this undercurrent of race in a lot of conversations.”

“It wasn’t too long ago in the South that some [schools] had a black prom and a white prom,” he said. “Friends are so segregated; they get together sometimes for sports, school and some social activities, but they go home to dinner and they go to church in very separate worlds. They don’t get a chance to really learn about each other, so misunderstandings can happen more easily.”

Barham shared a little game he plays. “Whenever anyone talks about race — black, white — it’s hard; it’s too charged. I change “black” to “short”. If I were to say: What if short people, anybody under 5’10”, are not able to get all of the same opportunities as everyone else? A lot of people would be REALLY upset.”

“If I was sitting at a party and people were talking about, “Oh, those short people…”, I might say, “Hey, time out! Half my friends are short.”

A note of hope

Barham said he sees a lot of people coming together to help advance social justice, including racial justice. “I think we should lift those people up. We should elect them to office,” he said.

And he sees a lot of things to be hopeful for. “When I look at the community here, I see more people of color starting businesses,” Barham reported. “In the last 10 deals that we’ve done, more than 50% of them had a person of color on one side of the deal or the other. Things are changing in society — and things can and will continue to get better.”

Diverse perspectives, the same conclusion

It’s easy to see why niche.com gives Peachtree Corners an A+ for diversity. Let’s move forward holding hands (figuratively, of course), leaving injustice behind and making the fabric of Peachtree Corners stronger and more beautiful than ever before.

“We must continue to go forward as one people, as brothers and sisters.” ~ Rep. John Lewis

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Business

City of Peachtree Corners to celebrate safety-conscious businesses

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The City of Peachtree Corners is preparing a list of all local businesses practicing the safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Those businesses taking steps to keep citizens healthy will be published on the city website, in the Shop and Dine app, and in the monthly business newsletter as part of the city’s “Stay Healthy” campaign.

The Stay Healthy campaign is getting creative in its approach to public service announcements related to Covid19. The city is working to promote staying healthy through the use of comic book superheroes and popular TV show characters. In the coming weeks, expect to see banners, signs, posters and billboards, as well as social media posts spreading the message to wash hands frequently, wear face coverings, and practice social distancing.

Take part in the campaign! If you operate a safe business, let Jennifer Howard from the city office know so it can be added to the list of safety-conscious businesses in the city. Let the community know what steps you are taking to keep your business, patrons, and employees healthy.

Source:

Jennifer Howard, Economic Development Manager- City of Peachtree Corners

Email all entries to jhoward@peachtreecornersga.gov

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Business

Peachtree Corners Assistant City Manager Chosen for 2021 Leadership Gwinnett Class

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Peachtree Corners Assistant City Manager, Brandon Branham is among 42 local leaders chosen for the 2021 Leadership Gwinnett Class. He will begin the nine month program in August.

Brandon Branham

Established in 1985, Leadership Gwinnett was created to ensure that the community’s most influential leaders are knowledgeable about issues pertaining to the county and region. The class will take an in-depth look at the many sectors of Gwinnett – infrastructure, economics, education, health and human services, justice and regional relations.

“We’re very proud that Mr. Branham was selected for this year’s class,” said Mayor Mike Mason. “Leadership Gwinnett has a great track record of success in leadership development. Those chosen for the class learn a tremendous amount about the many aspects of leadership as well as about our county and region. Perhaps one real benefit is the life-time relationships participants develop. This can only help our city as we face the challenges of the future.”

The program includes an opening retreat, seven learning days, monthly study groups, tours and hands-on experiences within the county along with a closing retreat. The class will study topics such as leadership in a world class community, infrastructure, economics, education, health & human services, and will participate in study groups, exclusive tours and hands-on experiences.

To ensure a well-rounded class, Leadership Gwinnett uses a selection process based on occupation, qualifications and a representation that reflects a cross section of the county.

“It is an honor to be selected to be a part of the Leadership Gwinnett class,” said Branham. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the people and issues that will shape our county’s future and the chance to network with some of Gwinnett’s top leaders.”

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