Ballpark remains key for Project Jackson's supporters, opponents
Many aspects make up the proposed North Augusta riverfront development project, and the suggested ballpark continues to be a huge factor in the discussion.Project Jackson has run into new challenges this month, and a developer helping guide the project is looking to emphasize the project's interdependent parts, including a stadium that could become the home of the GreenJackets.The project, which has a foundation of both private and public financing, is currently stalled.Municipal officials had planned to make a presentation to the Aiken County Board of Education on March 12 to discuss the proposal for tax-increment financing, but an earlier Aiken County Council vote against the TIF helped lead to a change of plans. A presentation to the School Board, which would have voted on the project that evening, was postponed.Peter Schoen, managing member of Greenstone, the developer of all of Project Jackson's private elements, addressed the stadium aspect Monday."Everybody has it in their head that if the ballpark goes away, the other parts march merrily on, and that's just not the case," he said.North Augusta City Councilman Arthur Shealy made a similar comment."Council knew four months ago that the whole project was contingent on the ballpark. Without the ballpark, nothing else happens," he said.Schoen touched on the upscale nature of the proposal."The apartment developer ... will not proceed without a ballpark. The mixed-use development provides the highest projected rent in the whole region, and they're projecting rent of $1.24 a foot."Why are they getting those kinds of numbers? Because of the kind of environment that's being created and the kind of people who want to live adjacent to that kind of activity, so you've got to have those kinds of rents to be able to pay for the granite countertops and the elevators and the four- to five-story construction."Project Jackson, as currently proposed, would include restaurants, 225 luxury apartments, 75 town homes, a retail area of about 30,000 square feet and 40,000 square feet of office space. Also planned is a $150 million mixed-use development, which includes the baseball facility and also a 225-room, $60 million hotel resort; a 20,000-square-foot conference center and structured parking for 900."We're talking about 300,000 to 350,000 people coming to the venue to see baseball on an annual basis," Schoen said. "We're talking about another 100,000 people coming annually for special events."He said the bonds that are ultimately issued would include the stadium, parking deck and conference center."Those are paid back from the revenues generated by the private elements such as the hotel, the retail, the apartments, the office and the residential that we're responsible for delivering."The project, he said, has received solid support from the local business community and population in general, with "very vocal" and sometimes understandable opposition also joining the discussion.Some of the project's most outspoken opponents (and some of its backers) so far have been residents of Hammond's Ferry and The River Club. Hammond's Ferry resident Wendy Cunico, however, pointed out that she had heard plenty of opposition from people "in town" as well as from Hammond Hills and Leyland Place.Cunico, who moved to North Augusta from Martinez, Ga., described Project Jackson's proposed footprint as "too large and too disruptive to the area.""I enjoy the small-town feel of North Augusta. ... It seemed like the small-town America of years ago, so that was our draw, so to have it now kind of moving away from that ... where a lot of the natural woods area would be taken away, that's mainly what I hate to see."Jon Dawkins, owner/operator of the North Augusta Chick-fil-A, is among the project's boosters. He pointed out that North Augusta plays host to the Nike Peach Jam and other major athletic events each year."Those visitors stay in Augusta and they eat in Augusta, and this project will allow them to stay in North Augusta and eat in North Augusta. I'm obviously interested in that. It would just bring so many more dollars to our side of the river that we're currently losing," he said."We're not able to leverage what we currently have, which is Riverview Park. We can't leverage it, because we don't have the other resources, such as the proposed hotel."Sandy Haskell, an Aiken County Council member representing North Augusta, addressed the question of when the topic might resurface at the county level."That ball is not in our court," Haskell said. "That ball is in North Augusta's court, and until they bring something back to us, I can't tell you when (or) if it will come back."Aiken County Councilman Chuck Smith, also representing North Augusta, added, "It's really up to North Augusta. If they bring it back, we'll certainly look at it."