BRASELTON – Growth in the quad-county area surrounding Braselton has outpaced experts’ predictions. Few in Hall, Barrow, Jackson or Gwinnett Counties could imagine the scope of what lied ahead for the sleepy town whose population was 1206 as late as the year 2000; even those who expected “big things” have been pleasantly surprised.
One of those experts who foresaw strong growth for Braselton is Frank Norton, Jr. of The Norton Agency.
Norton addressed the South Hall Business Coalition on Thursday from the Highpoint Medical Campus on Friendship Road, a new 42,000-square foot facility constructed on 22-acres by his agency through a collaborative effort by The Longstreet Clinic and the Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic.
“I’m a history nut,” Norton began. “I thought we needed to talk a little bit about why right here. Why did the hospital locate here?”
Highpoint is just down Friendship Road from the Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton and across the road from the new Northside (Hospital) Braselton.
Norton referred to the time many heard of Braselton for the first time: 1989, when actress Kim Basinger and several other investors purchased the town’s 1751 privately-held acres for $20 million. Five years later personal bankruptcy forced her to divest of her investment for $4.3 million.
Norton pointed back even further in time to 1969 and the construction of Road Atlanta, nearly half a century ago. “In 1972 they held their first major race,” Norton said.
Norton then jumped to 1984 when Elan Pharmaceuticals founder Don Panoz decided to try something he was told wouldn’t work: growing wine grapes in Georgia. Panoz purchased the land and Chateau Elan was born.
“That established our wine industry in all of northeast Georgia.”
But the move toward becoming a medical mecca, Norton said, was when the Northeast Georgia Health Systems announced plans to build a hospital near Braselton. “In 2004 Northeast Georgia Medical Center strategically purchased 112-acres and the 52-acres across the street which will eventually be a medical office park.”
Norton said in 2006 he saw the potential and in his annual Native Intelligence Forecast pointed to Braselton as a “heavy-weight along the business pipeline called I-85.”
But he admitted even he has been surprised by the scale of Braselton’s growth. “This Rip Van Winkle has awakened and will be the largest community on I-85 by 2030/2040,” he told Coalition members.