A community meeting was hosted by the City of Aiken on Wednesday night to generate public feedback about potential investment in Aiken's opportunity zone.
An informational presentation was given by representatives from Thomas P. Miller and Associates, an Indianapolis-based consultant firm that has been working on the opportunity zone program nationwide.
Opportunity zones are designated tracts of land meant to attract private development by way of tax incentives. The opportunity zone program went into effect with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act near the end of 2017. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., played a significant part in the effort.
Aiken has one opportunity zone, generally located on the Northside.
Community leaders, residents and other stakeholders at the meeting were able share concerns and ask questions about how the program works.
S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, said his constituents were worried about how to invest in their communities without owning significant amounts of property in those areas.
"It appears to me that you've got to have money," Clyburn said. "How do those people in those target areas … develop economic development themselves? Another piece of the puzzle is that we have the concern about gentrification. We have the concern about people coming in and building up and pushing those out who cannot defend for themselves or have those resources."
Jack Woods with Thomas P. Miller and Associates said the firm has been confronted with the issue of gentrification in opportunity zones before.
"Making sure that the outcomes do actually benefit the community members, that is a challenge when you're talking about people from New York, L.A., Chicago, who have these opportunity funds," Woods said.
Woods pointed out that a local fund that comes from area investors in opportunity zones is one potential way to avoid the issue of gentrification, and that investment in affordable housing projects would also be important.
Tim O'Briant, assistant to the Aiken city manager, said the city is working on an investment prospectus to market investment opportunities in the zone, which should be completed by mid-October.
Surveys were distributed to those in attendance to learn more about what kinds of projects they would be interested in investing in.
"I think any time we can get that level of engagement and participation from the citizens who are impacted and affected by something like this is wonderful," O'Briant said Thursday.
Staff writer Colin Demarest contributed to this report.