With the third and final reading completed and passed, the question now becomes: What's next for Project Jackson?
Well, the news is that there really isn't much news to be had, according to City Administrator Todd Glover.
“We are sitting down with the developer and we are doing two things,” he said.
First, the City is working out a contract on what the developer is responsible for and making sure protections are in place for the City before a stadium is built, Glover said.
“What private development is he going to deliver? So we're working through those contracts,” Glover said.
“On a parallel track to that, we are working to develop a footprint of the development down there.
“We have had that rendering out since December of last year. Things are moving around and different people want to be different places. It's like pieces of a puzzle. So we have to figure out how to best use the land.”
Glover said that means getting the master plan in place.
The next logical question then becomes, why is the City spending so much time figuring out where everything is going to be if the contracts aren't finalized with the developer, Greenstone Properties of Atlanta, for the $101 million in private investment?
“The answer to that is that a lot of retailers, restaurants and other things won't give the final commitment that they are coming until they see where they are going to be,” Glover said. “It's tough to hold the developer to what he is going to deliver when he doesn't have a product to show them. ... So we'll do the initial footprint that says where everything is going to be. Once we finish that, we'll stop that part and finish the contracts, then allow the developer to go out and start bringing people out.”
Glover said the City is getting an “immense amount of interest and calls every day” about the project.
“I think people will get really excited when we get to the point where we start announcing some of the things that are there,” he said. “We would like to get to that point. However, we've got several months of planning and negotiations that have to take place.”
Glover said there was no realistic possibility of dirt being moved in the first or second quarter of 2014. He did say it was “possible” to “see some activity” in the second half of next year.
“The City has done its part. Now it's up to the developer to deliver the private investment, and how quickly they do that will determine the actual stadium project,” he said.
The City will not trigger its portion, according to Glover, without the magic number of $101 million. He said he anticipates there to be “much more than that,” due to interest. He also likened it to a relay race, saying the City has a finance mechanism available to do the project, but the baton has been passed to the private developer. It was unlikely before for the contracts to be finalized simply because the City did not have the financing in place.
For now, Mayor Lark Jones said he expects to see Project Jackson “sort of remove itself from the headlines in the coming months.” He pointed out that the coming months will include planning, design, traffic and parking studies for the City. The developer will, at the same time, work on getting the restaurants and retailers and solidifying the details for the hotel and apartment aspects.
“There will be a lot going on – it'll be behind the scenes – and at some point, we will want to roll out to the general public what the 'carved in wood, not necessarily stone,' will be,” he said. “These are just my thoughts, but then it will be brought forth to the Planning Commission and go through the normal approval process that any project will have to go through.”
That plan could include many changes, one of which could be moving the parking garage to the gravel parking lot next to the municipal center. That could, in theory, keep the traffic from bottlenecking near the stadium and creating issues. It would also generate more foot traffic on Georgia Avenue to local businesses.
Another question that has been brought up in recent months is the possibility of development without the stadium component. Glover said there is a chance of that, due to North Augusta's market size. For example, the hotel may still be in play without a stadium, but the City may decide that a much smaller development makes more sense.
“I liken it to a mall,” Glover said. “You have anchor tenants in a mall and then you have the little stores that latch on, and benefit from the traffic that is generated by the big stores. ... The stadium is the anchor tenant. It drives the traffic and interest down there. The smaller stores that probably wouldn't locate here would locate due to the stadium to truly make that area into a destination. We have a vision for this that with the restaurants down there, the retail down there, the experience you get; if you want that and you live in the CSRA or anywhere around that you would have to drive here to get it. You couldn't drive to an Augusta or Aiken location of a restaurant that we have in Project Jackson.” Glover said the City will be seeking restaurants that do not already have a local presence.
Glover said the challenge is how to bring goods and services that people clamor for, while also retaining the same characteristics that have made North Augusta.
“Growth begets growth,” he said. “ ... Through proper planning and zoning, we have to make sure that we do it in a fashion that we retain the fiber and characteristics that people care about in our community. I think that people live here because it's close and it's convenient, and they don't have to sit through 40-minute traffic delays to get 10 miles. It's family-oriented, it's a fantastic quality of life that, to me, can't be beat. So we're looking to interject things that improve that quality of life that, on the flip side, don't detract due to traffic or something like that.”
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at the North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since January 2013 after previously working at the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @NAStarRodgers.