N.A. riverfront plans include hotel, conference center, new GreenJackets stadium
North Augusta could see a return to a former glory in the years to come, following the announcement of a proposed development project on the river, revealed Wednesday morning by North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover at the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce business breakfast, A.M. Connection.
Referred to as Project Jackson, the proposal still is in the early stages and includes a $150 million mixed-use development on North Augusta’s riverfront with a 225-room, $60 million hotel resort; a 20,000-square-foot conference center, structured parking for 900, a $28-million City-owned sports and entertainment facility, restaurants, a retail area of about 30,000 square feet, 40,000 square feet of office space, 225 luxury apartments and 75 town homes.
Glover explained the plans for the effort are still in the proposal stage, and a great deal of work is ahead before the project becomes a reality.
He mentioned the proposal came from two separate approaches to the City, neither of which were initiated by North Augusta.
First, he said, a developer called and wanted to build a hotel, initially on land in the vicinity of Exit 5. But as the discussion continued, Glover said the developer wanted the City to build a conference center; however, City officials quickly pointed out if they were to enter into such a project, it would more likely be in the Town Center, which currently includes the Municipal Center. “They came and looked … and fell in love with the river,” Glover said.
The City Administrator said he met with the hotel’s architect and brought with him some of North Augusta’s history, including pictures of the Hampton Terrace Hotel. “The architect fell in love with it,” he said. The result is a proposed hotel that “looks like the Hampton Terrace reborn.”
“We talked about a regional, national draw,” he added, regarding such a facility.
Then, separate from the hotel proposal, the City was approached about building a new stadium.
“They wanted the City to build the stadium and lease it to them,” Glover said, referencing the GreenJackets organization, which is currently in flux in Augusta.
He said there is a guarantee of a 20-year lease, which Glover noted is also backed by the minor league baseball organization. “They’ve guaranteed a team would be there for 20 years,” he said, adding the GreenJackets are in the process of being sold — which was also a factor in the discussions.
Glover noted that talk centered on the need to bring enough development to the area to make it worthwhile for the City to enter such a project. “It’s essentially self-supporting,” said Glover, who said no money would come out of the general fund. He listed, instead, a variety of revenue sources, such as a Tax Increment District, revenue bonds, accommodations taxes, revenue from parking, lease price for the stadium and more.
The City’s commitment totals about $40 million (infrastructure, parking deck, conference center, stadium), while the commitment from the private sector is more like $110 to $120 million.
Glover emphasized that his presentation at A.M. Connection was, at this point, a proposal.
“This is not a done deal,” said the City Administrator. He explained that Council hasn’t voted on anything yet.
He said typically when such an announcement is made, it’s further along in the process; however, he said City officials felt the need to get ahead of the rumors that already are being bandied about.
“We want to put out the true story,” he said, explaining why he chose the Chamber breakfast as the venue for introducing the proposal to the community.
“We’ve gotten past ‘Is it doable,’” he said, noting that was the first step. Now, the question is “should we do it?”
Glover said this is where the public weighs in. He noted that included in the discussions will be traffic studies regarding getting in and out of a stadium in an efficient manner.
“For years, the City has had a vision for a mixed-use development on our riverfront,” said North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones.
“Hammond’s Ferry is an excellent beginning. This proposal is the most exciting thing to happen in North Augusta since the building of the Hampton Terrace,” Jones said. “For years, our citizens have been clamoring for more restaurant and entertainment opportunities in the City, and we have long needed more lodging space. This project would fulfill those demands and be a catalyst for other development in our downtown area and the rest of our City. There will be a detailed approval process that requires the consent and cooperation of the Aiken County Council, the Aiken County School Board, City Council and most importantly, the citizens of North Augusta.”
To that end, Glover said the Economic Development Partnership already commissioned a study regarding the need for a hotel. “What came back is that the market can support a hotel with up to 225 rooms and 18,000 to 22,000 square feet of conference space,” he detailed, pointing out Aiken County doesn’t have rooms and meeting space together anywhere. “There are tons of groups who are not going to leave the county or the state to hold a conference,” he said.
Meanwhile, if the City Council moves forward with the proposal, Glover said the goal for the new stadium — from the baseball officials’ viewpoint — is to hold the team’s opening day in 2015.
Cal Ripken Jr., who has the sale of the GreenJackets, said, “We have built wonderful relationships in Augusta and want to see baseball succeed in the region. The way I see it, we aren’t leaving Augusta, simply changing roles. Multipurpose development along the river has always been exciting to me, and I look forward to the success of our new ownership group.”
The team’s sale is led by Agon Sports & Entertainment whose principals are Jeff Eiseman, former Ripken Baseball vice president, and Chris Schoen, of Greenstone Properties, an Atlanta-based developer who has had Minor League Baseball ownership with previous teams.
“Greenstone is delighted to have the opportunity to work on such an exciting mixed-use waterfront development. The riverfront offers extraordinary investment appeal as a sustainable addition to both North Augusta and Augusta. The proposed public-private investment would be delivered at a quality level consistent with the original vision of Hammond’s Ferry and would create a pedestrian and live-work-play environment unequalled anywhere in the Southeastern United States,” said Schoen.
According to the City, the GreenJackets and Greenstone Properties of Atlanta expressed interest in developing some of the mixed-use components of the project at Hammond’s Ferry, along with master developer LeylandAlliance LLC.
“The Hammond’s Ferry Riverfront Center will help the City fulfill its vision to complete North Augusta’s original 1892 master plan by bringing downtown North Augusta to the riverfront,” said Howard Kaufman of LeylandAlliance.
“This comprehensive development plan, particularly with the multipurpose public facilities, will truly create a meaningful destination for the citizens of North Augusta and offers a tremendous economic development opportunity for the City.”