North Augusta city leaders and an opponent of a planned riverfront development will play ball next week in front of a South Carolina judge who will decide the fate of a new Augusta GreenJackets ballpark.
Circuit Court Judge Earnest Kinard will preside over testimony for a lawsuit filed by North Augusta resident Stephen Donohue against the city of North Augusta, the mayor and city council. The lawsuit claims a city ordinance passed to help fund the development violates the state’s Tax Increment Financing Law because there was no evidence to support the development area as blighted or a conservation area, as required for a TIF district.
Kelly Zier, attorney for the city, said the judge should make a decision on the case within 30 days of the hearings that begin June 26 in Aiken County.
With a pending lawsuit, North Augusta planners cautiously proceeded with the $144 million Project Jackson development. North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover said plans slowly progressed, but they have revised the development’s layout and fielded interest from various businesses and a hotel.
“We’ve been moving along with some planning. We’ve tried not to spend needlessly but have to keep going if we’re going to meet some deadlines,” Glover said.
The city needs to resolve the lawsuit quickly to solidify deals with private businesses and open the stadium in spring 2016, he said. The city has its eye on hosting a University of South Carolina versus Clemson University ballgame in 2016.
“Nobody wants to sign any documents with a lawsuit hanging out there,” Glover said.
Construction of the stadium will take about 14 months, he said.
By this fall, planners intend to break ground on a parking garage, which the city offered as an incentive for Medac Inc. relocating to the Project Jackson site from Augusta, Glover said. A two-story, 60,000-square-foot office building is planned for the medical billing company’s headquarters.
Zier said the ordinance that permitted the TIF district, which was originally created in 1996 and modified for the development, is not illegal. There is blight in the 457-acre district, and blight does not have to be proven in the specific 25 acres that encompass Project Jackson, he said.
“We certainly anticipate a positive result for the city out of it,” Zier said.
Donohue did not return phone calls seeking comment at his home in the River Club neighborhood.
If the suit blocks the deal with the Augusta GreenJackets, Glover said the development would be forced to go in a different direction.