This is in response to North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones’ recent commentary in the Star and Aiken Standard. In it, he characterized people who oppose Project Jackson as “naysayers” and “NIMBYS” (not in my back yard). I thought Chicago politics was only going on in Chicago, and then sadly spread to the national level after President Barack Obama took office. Apparently, it has moved to North Augusta. What are those politics? You start by demonizing your opposition. You label them so they are stereotyped with negative images. It is a sad reality that our local politics have come to that.
Unlike the mayor and his ilk, we who oppose Project Jackson don’t demonize the other side. We assume they are in favor of Project Jackson because they honestly believe in it. They are factually wrong, but that doesn’t make them bad people.
So let’s go through the facts. The City claims Project Jackson is economic development because it takes taxes from a private development to build a stadium and parking deck. It would be nice if there were some studies showing minor league baseball teams and stadiums that actually added to the local economy of communities who built them. In fact (there’s that ugly F-word), credible economic research into minor league (lower-A) teams and their stadiums has never found a positive economic impact, and most of them are negative. (See Siegfried J, and Zimbalist, A.  “The Economics of Sports Facilities and Their Communities.” Journal of Economic Perspectives.)
Augusta, a city 10 times larger than North Augusta, declined to build a new stadium citing those very economic studies. (See Augusta Baseball Case Study, 2011.) Another study from Illinois found that economic growth in cities that did not use Tax Increment Financing, TIF, was stronger than in cities that did because TIF subsidies caused an inefficient allocation of resources.
When the mayor claims they didn’t want Project Jackson to be carried on the back of taxpayers, that is in fact exactly what they are doing. Creating a TIF to soak up all the tax dollars in that area will burden the taxpayers – it’s just hidden. Building a hotel, stadium, conference center, four-level concrete parking deck, commercial buildings and 279 housing units adds to the demand on government services.
Adding people to any area brings crime, litter, fires, emergencies, stray dogs, children to be educated, lawsuits, building inspectors, real estate filings and other demands for public services.
Normally those additional demands are paid for by the owners through property taxes. This TIF soaks up all those new taxes in order to build an economic-loser stadium while the rest of us will be picking up the tab for the additional police, fire, schools, court expenses and other government services, for the next 30 years (15 in the case of schools.)
The mayor observed that the River Club and Hammond’s Ferry owe their establishment to the current TIF. The implication being that people who live there got some benefit from the current TIF that no one else did. In fact, (that F-word again), not one dime of TIF money was spent in the River Club. Many owners who built in the River Club spent thousands of dollars reclaiming unstable soil (loose bricks and landfill remains) before they poured one yard of concrete. That is still going on. The City at one point wanted to leave the sewer pipe above ground until they caved to pressure and buried it, like is done in all the other neighborhoods in town.
Last May, the mayor took a trip along with other City and County Council members to see Greenville’s stadium. By all accounts, everyone had a great time. It was so wonderful that the City wants to replicate Greenville’s success here in North Augusta.
Let’s see, Greenville started with a blighted area, they built on an abandoned lumber yard with crack houses nearby that made it a “no-go” area. The architect of the Greenville stadium was there that day, and he said they normally like eight acres to work with for a stadium – Project Jackson calls for “cramming” it into less than five acres. And in Greenville, the team’s owner used his own money to build a $17 million stadium (in today’s dollars) not a $25 million taxpayer-funded stadium like the GreenJackets are demanding.
Speaking of which, why isn’t there more transparency with regard to the ownership of the team? Shouldn’t we all know the names of the people asking for corporate welfare for their new gambit?
Finally, why didn’t the City ever explain to the taxpayers what was planned in that area before everyone started drinking the Project Jackson Kool-Aid? The City likes to downplay it by claiming the contract with the City only calls for two small buildings and that’s it. In fact, most development occurs not because there is a governmental contract; most development occurs because developers want to make a profit.
The developer had planned for that area to have 337 housing units (versus 279 under Project Jackson) and 53,000 square feet of commercial space (versus 38,000 under Project Jackson). Plus, a hotel was envisioned there as long ago as 1996. Republicans love to criticize Obama for his “big government” spending, for his favorite industries in the name of economic development and job creation – remember the $1 trillion stimulus? Remember Solyndra, now bankrupt?
Here we are in North Augusta, with a City Council full of Republicans, doing the very same thing they love to criticize Obama for.
Now, let’s talk about “naysayers” or “NIMBYs,” as the mayor likes to call us. NIMBY has a negative connotation because it implies a certain hypocrisy. For example, you want wind energy, but you don’t want the windmills in your backyard.
There is a comedian whose routine is “you might be a redneck if ...” So, with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, let’s see if all of us might be NIMBYs. You might be a NIMBY if you enjoy ham sandwiches but you don’t want a pig farm in your backyard. You might be a NIMBY if you drive a car, but don’t want an oil refinery in your back yard. You might be a NIMBY if you like NASCAR, but you don’t want Darlington’s raceway in your backyard. You’re right; we didn’t put our life savings into our houses here in the River Club so we could have a monstrous stadium with all its crime, litter, noise, glaring lights, insult to the environment and traffic forced upon us with the help of our local government for no economic gain.
We care about the quality of life here, and if you want to make that a negative, go right ahead, that’s the Chicago way. No, Mr. Mayor, we’re not NIMBYs – in the case of Project Jackson, we’re actually “NIABYs” – not in anyone’s backyard.
Steve Donohue is president of the River Club Home Owners Association.