North Augusta city officials postponed a public hearing on a funding proposal for a $160 million development that included a new baseball stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets, a decision that comes about a week after the Aiken County Council voted against helping to finance the project.
But Project Jackson – while hamstrung by the county’s decision and similar concerns from the Aiken County School District about its impact on property tax revenues, is far from dead, the officials said.
“We continue to be excited about the proposed project and we are hopeful that we can work with the developers to put together a plan that the county and the school district will not only approve, but actually embrace, as a positive step forward for the city and the entire county,” North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover said.
The proposed development includes a multipurpose stadium, a 200-room resort-style hotel and conference center; up to four restaurants; 75 townhouses; 225 apartments; 30,000 square feet of retail space; 40,000 square feet of office space and 900 new parking spaces.
GreenJackets co-owner Jeff Eiseman and project developer Chris Schoen of Greenstone Properties responded with a statement that developers were “encouraged by the tremendous support from both the residents and the business community, and will do what it takes to make this development a reality in North Augusta.”
“We anticipate a negotiated settlement where the GreenJackets and Greenstone will stretch as far as possible to get to a structure that works for all the stakeholders,” the statement said.
Eiseman, a former official with Ripken Baseball and one of the team’s new owners, was “hopeful we can find a solution to the obstacles and move forward.”
Under the proposal, the city would have been responsible for about 30 percent of the financing, about $43 million for the sports and entertainment center, conference center and parking garage. In exchange, private developers promised $122 million in investment for the hotel, retail, residential and office space.
To come up with its portion of the financing, North Augusta would collect property taxes through a Tax Increment Financing district – meaning it would get tax revenue on the incremental difference between rising property values and values for Aiken County, which would remain frozen at 1996 levels for the life of the district, proposed to be 26 years.
The decision to postpone the hearing and pull the proposal from an Aiken County Board of Education meeting were made at a Monday closed-door meeting of the mayor and council that’s a permitted exception under South Carolina open meetings law for “contract negotiations,” according to Glover.
The project cannot move forward without involvement from the county council and school district, both of which rely on the affected millage for operations but appear ready to compromise if North Augusta modifies the plan to meet their demands, Glover said.
“Sometimes in a partnership, you have to compromise, and they’ve indicated … there may be some conditions under which they can support the proposal,” he said.
The issues mark a realization that the project is more than a North Augusta endeavor, Mayor Lark Jones said.
Jones said he expects the county council and school district to reconsider after changes are made.
Aiken County has asked whether the baseline value for the TIF could be more recent than 1996, while the school board has questioned the length of the TIF, according to Glover. North Augusta seeks to replace an existing TIF district that expires in four years with one that would expire around 2039.
“We’ll just have to crunch some numbers and see if we can make that work,” Glover said. “The developers are coming in later this week; my financial advisers are coming in. We’re going to sit down and try to address those issues as well as the cost of the project, and see whether or not it’s feasible.”
Most of the details are expected to remain as proposed, including its “anchor tenant,” the stadium, and its riverfront location, between the Hammond’s Ferry development and the 13th Street bridge, he said.
For North Augusta Councilman Arthur Shealy, gaining school system and county approval wasn’t as certain.
“It’s very difficult to predict what the school board and the county are going to want,” Shealy said. “I think it’s a win-win-win for everybody and my prediction is it will still be approved in some form by the county, but you just never know.”
North Augusta officials think the project has the community’s support.
“My perception is the vast majority of the city supports it and the only people that are against it is the neighbors,” Shealy said. “We get that with every project we do.”
If opponents derail the project, “we would be sacrificing the good of the whole city for a small group of people,” he said.
The GreenJackets, who play in Lake Olmstead Stadium, pursued a similar development in Augusta for nearly three years before turning to North Augusta.
“The GreenJackets add value to the quality of life in Augusta, but if they can’t get a deal that’s good for them, we understand business decisions,” Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell said.
Reach Nikasha Dicks or Susan McCord at (706) 724-0851
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