Project Jackson is clear to move forward, but it will be a while before it does.
The North Augusta City Council voted 6-1 on Nov. 18 for third-reading approval on the ordinance that will allow the city to create a Tax Increment Financing district to fund the $144 million public development. The project could include a baseball stadium that would be home to the Augusta GreenJackets.
Despite passage of the ordinance, however, council members said that it could take several months to a year before ground can be broken on the proposed riverfront site.
Councilman James Adams once again opposed the amended ordinance, saying that he doesn’t agree that the city should help fund a baseball stadium.
“In January, the abrupt proposal for Pro-ject Jackson to include a baseball stadium just astounded me,” Adams said. “I supported the development, but not the stadium to be built and owned by the taxpayers.”
Adams expressed concern over the stadium usage – which he estimated would be about 20 percent of the year – and traffic congestion around the proposed riverfront site.
“As we go forward, I hope this council will be very careful,” he said.
North Augusta resident Steve Donohue was one of just two citizens who addressed the council in the half-filled council chambers during the meeting. He expressed concern primarily on the city’s use of “blighted” to describe the proposed development site.
“I would be hesitant to use this procedure,” Donohue said. “They want a baseball stadium so bad that you can almost taste it. But (the plan) is flawed. Seriously flawed.”
Donohue argued that property values in the proposed TIF district have increased in value while North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones argued that many areas in the proposed development site still qualify as “blighted.”
“We have been very consistent in our approach,” he said. “We have been very measured in our approach and we have been very careful in our approach.”
Despite the passing of the amended ordinance, Councilman Kenneth McDowell said the project still has a long way to go. He estimates that it could be months before any conceptual designs are presented on the size, structure and details of the project, and perhaps a year before any ground is broken.
“My goal, and I think that of the council’s, is to ensure public input at each stage,” he said. “Once we start getting a plan out there, we’ll probably invite the public in to show them what the plans are and where everything is supposed to go and get their input.”
McDowell said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the project moving forward.
“This an opportunity to do some great things for the city of North Augusta, and I think it will benefit the entire CSRA,” he said. “But if it’s not done right, we are presented the opportunity to really mess things up. I want to make sure that we do it right and take our time.”
GreenJackets president and owner Jeff Eiseman, who was present at the meeting, said the final vote lifted a weight off his shoulders.
“There’s a lot of I’s to dot and T’s to cross, and there’s a lot of other steps along the way,” he said. “But having this political process behind us, we can focus on the task at hand, which is creating a magic environment which would be a game-changer for the entire region, and be a civic source of pride for North Augusta and the CSRA.”