Riverfront project moves forward
Residents of two North Augusta riverfront neighborhoods expressed opposition to Project Jackson during a special called meeting of North Augusta City Council that ended in a 5-1 vote in favor of amending the tax-incentive financing district. Councilman Jimmy Adams was in dissent.
Proposed investments include $60 million for a resort-quality hotel, with a City-funded conference center costing about $4 million, along with a 900-space parking garage costing about $10.8 million.
Also proposed are a $28 million stadium as a future home for the GreenJackets, 75 town-home units costing $15 million and 40,000 square feet of office space, at $10.5 million.
Bond attorney Margaret Pope, North Augusta’s bond attorney, was among those addressing Council, offering an explanation of TIF principles and a commendation of Council for its consistent financial conservatism.
Local speakers included Steve Donohue, president of The River Club Homeowners Association.
He cited a recent poll of River Club residents showing that 80 percent of the responders opposed the recent proposal.
After the vote, he described himself as disappointed.
“I heard the Council say it keeps their options open, but I find that an odd way to word a resolution with as much detail as was in it. If you keep your options open, you pass a broad resolution authorizing debt, and we’ll see what develops down the road,” Donohue said.
“Instead, they put in details – a 225-bed hotel, 5,000-seat stadium, what have you.”
In his remarks to Council, Donohue took exception to any realistic possibility of the land in question being labeled as “blighted” or “in need of conservation,” as required in TIF law.
Debra Heath, a former longtime Aiken resident who moved to Hammond’s Ferry in 2009, recalled a recent visit to Aiken – Whiskey Road, in particular.
“The congestion is horrendous, to say the least,” she said, raising the specter of similar problems in North Augusta. “I don’t want North Augusta to turn into another Aiken.”
Also arising were questions of parking, restaurants and the number and nature of jobs to be generated.
One speaker, questioning whether or not the proposed development would enhance the quality of life in North Augusta, asked, “What’s wrong with being a bedroom community to Augusta?”
Another speaker questioned the proposed baseball field and hotel.
“After a ball game or after a wedding reception or whatever, at this hotel, these people are going to be walking right down into Hammond’s Ferry, and a 225-unit apartments, well, to me it just destroys the uniqueness of our downtown, as it is,” he said.
Councilman Pat Carpenter suggested that the road ahead may bring “exciting times in North Augusta.”
“I was really expecting some hard-nosed talking, but everybody handled it in a good way and ... was kind and nice in expressing their opinions.”
She added, “I just thought the meeting went really well tonight. I was thankful for the citizens coming and expressing their opinions. We just look forward to everybody working to make this a better place to live.”
Mayor Lark Jones confirmed having faced “a substantial contingent ... of folks,” mostly from The River Club and expressing opposition to the proposal.
“I don’t think anything is going to change that, but this is just the first step in a long process ... to get the financial tools in place. If a proposal is adapted, then we’ll have the ability to do our part,” the mayor said.
Councilman Carolyn Baggott issued a written statement, noting, “This resolution was an instrument to initiate possible financing of the riverfront development opportunities ... not a vote for the stadium or any other presently proposed projects!
“Rest assured that I, for one, will absolutely not vote for a stadium unless all the problems of parking, traffic, security, etc., are answered to the advantage of our citizens.”
Councilman Arthur Shealy noted that he and his cohorts need to find out how the Aiken County Council and Aiken County Board of Education are going to react to the proposal, “before the City goes much farther.”