A massive and one-of-a-kind development project is being planned on 2,000 acres forming the triangular region within Athens, Atlanta and Gainesville by the Rowen Foundation, a nonprofit created by Mason Ailstock in August 2020. Ailstock presented the project and provided insight on his vision for the region's future to members of the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce Dec. 7.
Although the project is still in its early stages, Ailstock’s vision is well-developed, fine-tuned and ready to share with anyone with an open mind and desire to expand their horizons from what’s familiar into more uncharted territories.
In a nutshell, Ailstock’s vision encourages us to think much, much bigger.
“We need to position ourselves. We want to be competitive. We want to be able to create our own future, as opposed to being victims of the future and other people's opinions on what that should be,” said Ailstock during his presentation to members of the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce.
“When you step back and you think about the growth that is occurring in our area, Rowan is committed to contributing to that, but in a thoughtful, planned and intentional way,” said Ailstock, “a way of curating.”
A graduate of Clemson University, Ailstock has created and led nonprofit innovation communities for over 15 years. Ailstock was previously the chief operating officer and vice president of Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, N.C., the largest science park in North America.
The project aims to bring together various elements of research with a particular emphasis on agricultural, environmental, and medical research and integrate its findings throughout the community with the overall goal of optimizing the community’s future.
Rowen will look very different from existing developments across the county as it will not build large format shopping centers or heavy manufacturing, said Ailstock. An example of his vision is his idea of a “knowledge community”, which includes a combination of offices, research facilities, public spaces, residences and preserved greenspace.
Rowen also seeks to provide multiple opportunities for a variety of businesses to be involved across the estimated 30-year build-out.
According to Ailstock, Rowen is expected to function as an integrated, well-designed community with a global reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship, yet open and accessible to small businesses throughout Barrow, Gwinnett and the larger region.
While Rowen anticipates most businesses to be knowledge-based and rooted in research and discovery, particularly with roots in the medical, agricultural, and environmental fields, there will also be opportunities for ancillary businesses to support the knowledge-based firms, as well as neighborhood amenities to serve Rowen’s workforce, residents and vendors.
The community will include a variety of amenities such as cafes, parks, and public space. For the limited space devoted to residential, we will focus on multi-family housing near a town center designed to promote an accessible, walkable, integrated community and conserve greenspace.
With a threefold focus on environment, agriculture and medicine, Rowen’s multi-generational and mission-driven project is anticipated to provide economic benefits, jobs, education, collaboration and the preservation of the region’s natural beauty and rich history.
According to a preliminary economic impact analysis conducted in March 2020, Rowen will generate an estimated 18,500 jobs by 2035. Being planned and built with a long-term view, Rowen is estimated to bring 100,000 jobs to the Georgia economy, generating $8-10 billion in ongoing labor income annually by its completion.
Within Rowen’s triangular region of Atlanta, Athens and Gainesville, there’s a $45 billion gross domestic product. “If you actually take that and you look at it on a global metric, that would make this area the 30th largest country by GDP in the world,” said Ailstock.
“There’s tremendous economic opportunity and a network of higher education institutions graduating 75,000 students every year, within just this general proximity. It's that generation of talent , that strength in economic diversity, that really helps to support and give me great encouragement around a project.”
When growing and launching a project on such fertile ground, “we can be intentional,” said Ailstock.
“We can be thoughtful in how we understand our property, how we understand the connection to the community, infrastructure and the investments that are ahead.”
Other major elements being incorporated into the Rowen project include:
FUNDING AND PARTNERSHIPS
The Rowen Foundation partners with Gwinnett County to fund land acquisition, design and installation of needed improvements and the curation of valuable public and private partnerships.
Rowen receives funding through a loan agreement with the Development Authority of Gwinnett. As the project is developed and land is sold, the Rowen will repay the loan plus two percent annual interest.
Land conservation and environmental stewardship are high on the Rowen priority list. Rowen is committed to incorporating greenspace, trails, parks and environmentally-protected areas throughout the project, which will be developed and operated with sustainable, zero-emission strategies with the mission of setting new global best practices.
What’s more, Rowen is performing a cultural resources study in partnership with the University of Georgia to identify historically significant areas for protection or restoration.
MUTLTI-MODAL TRANSPORTATION COMMUNITIES
The Rowen property is easily accessed from both State Route 316 and Highway 129, so construction traffic will arrive on heavily traveled traffic routes, but will occur over a long period, which is expected to help minimize direct impacts.
The Development of Regional Impact process is assessing overall project impacts. Through its analysis, Rowen will work with its design team to appropriately address any resulting transportation issues and improvements will be planned over the course of the next ten to fifteen years to further help minimize the potential impact of growth on the surrounding community.
Ultimately, Rowen envisions the creation of a variety of transportation options to ensure accessibility for everyone throughout the community. Rowen is actively working with county and state officials to ensure its long-term planning incorporates multimodal transportation solutions.