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Project Jackson: Many steps remain

Posted: September 24, 2013 - 6:57pm

Plans for Project Jackson include a hotel, baseball stadium, and retail and residential space along the Savannah River.

Before the first spade of dirt is turned to build the development – with the centerpiece being a North Augusta baseball stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets – several more rounds of city approval and months of design and planning must align.

The project jumped a major hurdle Sept. 17 when the Aiken County Council voted 6-3 to approve a Tax Increment Financing district, but North Augusta officials say there are many steps ahead that could cast doubt on the goal of opening the new park for the first day of the 2015 baseball season.

Next up, an ordinance to create the special financing district goes before the North Augusta City Council for three required readings plus a public hearing. The ordinance has received approval from the Aiken County school board.

North Augusta Adminis­tra­tor Todd Glover said the earliest the first of three readings will happen is Oct. 21, with a public hearing likely happening that night. The three readings could be complete by Nov. 18.

Last December, city leaders and Atlanta-based development group Greenstone Pro­per­ties revealed plans for the public-private development, which7 also included a 200-room resort-style hotel and conference center, restaurants, townhomes, apartments and retail and office space.

The proposal has the new park overlooking the Savan­nah River near the 13th Street bridge. It’s next to Hammond’s Ferry, the first phase of the city’s master plan for the riverside area.

The public investment is $43 million of the $144 million project, Glover said.

The TIF district, which generates tax revenue on the incremental difference between rising property values and past values for Aiken County, would last 30 years upon issuance of bonds.

City councilman Fletcher Dickert said there’s support for the TIF district, which needs four votes from the seven-member council, but he expects lengthy negotiations during the design process. A spring 2015 opening is unrealistic, he said.

Once the plan is complete, three more readings and another public hearing are needed to issue bonds.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a year to come back to city council,” Dickert said. “Everybody wants to take time to make sure the $100 million private investment is there.”

GreenJackets president and owner Jeff Eiseman said the opening has been set back by the lengthy political process. While he’s still “foolishly optimistic” that the team can start the 2015 season in the new stadium, he doesn’t want to rush the remaining work.

“We’ve got to do what’s best for the project longterm,” Eiseman said.

Construction should take about a year, he said.

Interim Planning Director Scott Sterling didn’t rule out an early 2015 completion but said the plans will be “well-scrutinized.”

The planning department has several steps of its own to take if the TIF district is approved.

First, a 2002 ordinance that assembled 200 acres to create a planned development at Hammond’s Ferry would need to be amended, Sterling said.

The original ordinance, which has already been amended several times, does not include uses such as a baseball stadium.

Significant work must also be done to divide the property into lots and lay out utilities and roads. Preliminary work must be approved by the planning commission and the final plans approved by administrators. Sterling said the work, which involves engineers and architects, takes months.

Just how much time will be needed to finish the project is uncertain, but city leaders said they are willing to take time to make sure it’s done correctly.

Significant discussions and negotiations are needed with developers to ensure the pledged private investment is realized, Glover said. The biggest challenge will be convincing the city council that contracts clearly indicate who is responsible for each component of the public-private partnership, he said.

TIMELINE

THE PROCESS: Project Jackson was revealed to the public last December, and leaders set out to open a new baseball stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets’ 2015 season. If the North Augusta City Council approves the Tax Increment Financing district, those involved with the project say months of work is still to come. Although the exact time needed to complete work is uncertain, here’s an estimated timeline, compiled after interviews with City Administrator Todd Glover and Interim Planning Director Scott Sterling:

MID-OCTOBER: Public hearing and first reading of the ordinance before North Augusta City Council

MID-NOVEMBER: Final reading and vote

LATE 2013: Several months of design, engineering, planning and contract negotiations begin

EARLY TO MID-2014: Final plan has three readings and public hearing before city council

APRIL 2015: Proposed opening

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