A proposal being pursued by Aiken City Council and City staff aimed at opening up space for downtown development is a practical one for Aiken’s future.
The City needs to explore every sensible avenue for growth, and this latest plan, which will consolidate employee offices to make room for commercial development, certainly fits that game plan.
Although Aiken’s downtown consists of eye-catching shops that can attract locals and visitors, greater potential and space still exists to bring in additional commercial properties.
While arguments persist as to the best way to grow Aiken, it’s a positive sign that Council is interested in finding solutions to ensure we don’t hit negative growth.
A recent report commissioned by the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce and the Aiken-Edgefield Economic Development Partnership indicates Aiken is approaching a zero-growth rate.
This doesn’t mean Aiken should seek growth simply for the sake of becoming a larger city. That mind-set breeds over-population, congestion and a strain on the community’s resources.
Zero-growth means that if Aiken doesn’t change something, it will become a fading community, which will likely generate an ugly economic decline.
Obviously, by merely opening up 8,000 square feet of office space downtown, it won’t be an instant kick-starter to growth. But the greater capacity Aiken has for residential space, office space and retail, the better. That kind of development contributes to the tax base and helps make sure Aiken remains a viable community.
Additionally, Aiken City Council has plans in place to develop Union Street and the surrounding area, even though there’s been little progress on the project.
The plan essentially hinges on the reconstruction of the Aiken Train Depot and it becoming a catalyst for redevelopment, as well as private, outside entities bringing in new development. Some on Council appear to be banking on the hopes that the depot will become a significant driver of tourism and development, although there have clearly been doubts.
The City has invested approximately $700,000 into the depot so far and has a few more upgrades in line to try to refurbish it to its vintage state. Its vision is to add a dining car and also be able to rent it out for events, which could bring revenue into the City.
If that plan can come to fruition and actually trigger a private developer to bring in an office and/or residential development, that would certainly be welcome growth for downtown and the surrounding area.
Of course, at this point, that’s only on the City’s wish list, and there hasn’t been much of a hint that any private developer is interested in making an investment along Union Street. The City’s plan has actually been in place since February 2012, and there has been virtually zero traction made.
Although it’s important to get keep these plans in the proverbial hopper, Council should also take this as an opportunity to develop a comprehensive vision for growth, particularly downtown.
These two ideas are needed steps, but creating, and sticking to, an overall concept of what Aiken’s future should be will prove vital to ensuring the city has growth that’s both smart and strategic.
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