For the first time in more than two months, City of North Augusta officials returned to meet with Aiken County Board of Education members with a new economic development proposal on Tuesday – hoping to stir some serious interest over a major initiative they call Project Jackson.
The City of North Augusta seeks support of a new tax incremental financing mechanism that would lead to major projects – a new minor league baseball stadium to bring in the GreenJackets baseball team from Augusta, as well as a conference center, a parking lot and a wide range of private development in the riverfront area near Hammond's Ferry.
The key for the City is that it has to have the approval of the School Board and the Aiken County Council – both agreeing to defer tax revenue to the City as a way to help the City finance Project Jackson.
However, Aiken County Council surprised North Augusta officials by voting down the request in March. The School Board never voted after North Augusta officials decided to regroup with financial advisers and private developments involved in the project.
North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones and the City administrator, Todd Glover, said they have addressed some concerns of the School Board members. Over the past two months, Glover said, the City of North Augusta and the other groups have considered 30 configurations of Project Jackson. Tuesday's presentation to the School Board was the 31st configuration of Project Jackson.
The Board members agreed to hold a public hearing at the district office Tuesday, May 21, at 6 p.m., giving people, pro and con, a venue to address the issue.
Opponents of the plan – among them Steve Donohue and Scott Gudith – expressed frustration that the School Board and administration gave them no opportunities to address their concerns after the City's presentation. They also were upset that the likely format at the public hearing will limit their ability to counter the City's efforts.
The latest proposal would reduce the tax revenue deferral from 30 years to 15, Glover said. Board members in March expressed skepticism about the use of public funding to finance the baseball stadium.
Now, the plan is to build the stadium without any funds generated through the School District's deferred revenue.
“The School Board never did vote on (the first plan),” said Glover. “We hope the changes to the model will get the five votes we need for the plan to pass.”
North Augusta City officials also will make another appeal to the Aiken County Council. North Augusta officials need both entities to accept the plan, or it will never happen, officials said.
The expectations of the City of North Augusta, Glover said, is that officials expect to continue to negotiate the proposal with the School Board before a vote by Board members.
In effect, the School District would be deferring tax revenue that it currently doesn't have. The intent is to build up the 24-acre riverfront site that will provide a major source of revenue, said Glover – not only for North Augusta, but for the entire county.
The North Augusta City Council and other City residents visited Greenville on Saturday and attended the Greenville Drive baseball game.
Jones, Glover and other officials cited the impact the stadium has in that community. The difference between North Augusta's TIF proposal, said Jones, is that private development has a prospective contract in place to build new facilities in conjunction with the construction of the baseball stadium.
Gudith, a North Augusta resident who lives near the proposed initiative, visited the Greenville stadium. He acknowledged the facility was outstanding, and he had a good time. He has serious doubts about a similar effort in North Augusta, that there is no way to cram all the anticipated facilities in an area that's far too small.
Yet the opponents wouldn't support the plan no matter what the City proposes, Jones said. They simply don't want Project Jackson near their homes, he said.
The project will benefit the entire county and the region, Jones said, bringing in young professionals 22 to 35 who want to live in communities where such activities are.