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Aiken County Council decision threatens proposed GreenJackets stadium in North Augusta

Tax extension rejected

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 5:55 PM
Last updated Thursday, March 7, 2013 2:15 AM
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North Augusta officials were reeling Wednesday after taking an unexpected blow to plans for a $160 million riverfront development from the Aiken County Council that now threatens a proposed stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets.

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An artist's rendering shows the proposed North Augusta development and baseball stadium in relation to the Savannah River and 13th Street bridge.  FILE
FILE
An artist's rendering shows the proposed North Augusta development and baseball stadium in relation to the Savannah River and 13th Street bridge.

Mayor Lark Jones said Tuesday night’s 4-2 vote against extending the tax increment financing district caught everyone off guard.

“We were surprised,” Jones said. “We felt like the county would support it. Going into this, we got the impression with the county that we had no problems.”

The proposed development, dubbed “Project Jackson,” includes a 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 parking spaces.

Under the proposal, the city would be 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, officials said.

To come up with its portion of the financing, North Augusta would collect property taxes through the TIF 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 30 years.

Supporters of the project expressed frustration and dejection at the council vote.

Chris Schoen, of Green­stone Properties, the development group behind the proposed project, issued a statement Wednesday saying, “It is apparent that we have not done a thorough job of educating the public and the County Council about how the funding of this project works.”

Councilwoman Kathy Rawls, who voted against the measure, said she and others on the council were skeptical of the baseball stadium and opposed to extending the TIF district, which was set to expire in 2016.

“The big problem is that they are including the former TIF in with the new TIF, and those property values would be locked in at the 1996 values,” she said. “That would not change until 2046. That is unreal.”

Rawls said she also received a number of calls from residents opposed to the project.

She said she could consider supporting a revised financing proposal that still included the hotel, but not with a stadium for the GreenJackets, whose owners decided to leave Augusta after failing to get a stadium built there.

“I have a lot of doubts about the success of the baseball stadium and the location,” she said. “I don’t see how that baseball stadium could succeed when it hasn’t succeeded two miles away.”

Councilman Chuck Smith, whose district includes North Augusta, said he doesn’t think his fellow council members understand the tax district financing very well. He said the plans were carefully thought through by city officials and there isn’t much room for revision.

“There a chance, but it is a very remote chance,” Smith said. He said those opposed to the plan are focusing on short-term lost property tax revenue and not on growth in jobs and future taxes the project is expected to generate. He said those rewards far outweigh any short-term impact from the tax financing.

“I think 2,700 jobs goes a long way to help people pay their property taxes,” he said. “What needs to be our focus in the CSRA is creating jobs, and if we do that we will take care of economic development.”

Jones said that officials weren’t ready to scrap the plan yet but that its chances for success have diminished greatly.

He said they might go back to the council with a revised plan, if one can be worked out with developers.

“We aren’t dead yet, but we are on life support,” he said. “We needed their help, and it is unfortunate that they didn’t see the big picture.”

THE BACK STORY

PROJECT JACKSON

BACKGROUND: North Augusta officials and developers on Dec. 19 unveiled a proposal for “Project Jackson,” a high-density town center on the Savannah riverbank beside Hammond’s Ferry that would include a sports and entertainment center for the Augusta GreenJackets.

DEVELOPMENTS:

• On Tuesday, Aiken County Council voted 4-2 against extending the tax increment funding district, which North Augusta was depending on to help fund the project.

• On Wednesday, North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones said officials and developers might go back to the county council with a revised plan.

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countyman
20153
Points
countyman 03/06/13 - 07:32 pm
2
6
Not over

The development should be located on the Georgia side anyway. The suburban counties of Augusta don't have the infrastructure yet. The exit 5 area of North Augusta near I-20 will probably attract something big in the future, but not right now. The other factors include the larger amount for private investment, potential expansion surrounding the site, financing, investors, etc.

A 200 room resort-style hotel in North Augusta? I don't even remember one hotel being constructed in the last 1-3 years. The apartments, retail & office space are more realistic.

Shortcomment
1163
Points
Shortcomment 03/06/13 - 07:26 pm
6
0
An the house of cards

starts to tumble.

Will we see round 2 in Augusta?
A nice Stadium next to a New Parking Deck, a shining new convention center with a Hotel next door?

Stay tuned as we line up the same actors and a updated

agreement

Opps, I meant script.

countyman
20153
Points
countyman 03/06/13 - 07:37 pm
1
6
I don't think the Watermark

I don't think the Watermark site is large enough, and the GGHF site belongs to GRU. Powerful leaders/investors would have to convince Dr. Azziz to share 17 acres of prime real estate on the river.

If North Augusta doesn't move forward, then Augusta could demolish the James Brown Arena or downtown post office. The Village at Riverwatch is too far out in my opinion.

Sweet son
10426
Points
Sweet son 03/06/13 - 07:58 pm
6
0
Throw it back across the river and nothing will

happen! Maybe Augusta should just lose the team anyway!

GiantsAllDay
9602
Points
GiantsAllDay 03/06/13 - 08:30 pm
1
3
The SF Giants have already

The SF Giants have already told Augusta that they are leaving if there is not a new stadium. So instead of being affiliated with the world champions, maybe a minor league team from the Houston Astros will move in.

Beattybugs
426
Points
Beattybugs 03/06/13 - 11:01 pm
8
0
Here are the real facts regarding Tax Increment Financing!

Not as polished as the developer's propaganda perhaps, but this presentation is researched, documented and true. It is what every citizen needs to know regarding Project Jackson.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpDS3m60kPg&feature=youtu.be

Brad Owens
4480
Points
Brad Owens 03/06/13 - 11:32 pm
5
2
What we need is some understanding around here!

"Councilman Chuck Smith, whose district includes North Augusta, said he doesn’t think his fellow council members understand the TIF financing very well..."

He said those opposed to the plan are focusing on short-term LOST property tax REVENUE and not on growth in jobs and FUTURE taxes the project is EXPECTED to generate.

Very telling statements.

He is saying that those opposed just don't "get it" huh?

Councilwoman Kathy Rawls, who voted against the measure, said she and others on the council were skeptical of the baseball stadium and opposed to extending the TIF, which was set to expire in 2016.

“The big problem is that they are including the former TIF in with the new TIF and those property values would be locked in at the 1996 values,” she said. “That would not change until 2046. That is unreal.”

Sounds like she "gets it" just fine to me. Tax-increment financing is merely a subsidy to connected developers in most cases and they very rarely deliver on promised rewards.

Just look at California (where all this TIF and TAD stuff began) and you will see they no longer use them but municipalities will be paying them off for many years to come.

Good job council,

Brad

Riverman1
84260
Points
Riverman1 03/07/13 - 07:04 am
3
1
Don't Forget

A North Augusta group now owns the Greenjackets. I expect they won't give up until they can put the stadium where they want it.

seenitB4
87488
Points
seenitB4 03/07/13 - 07:32 am
5
0
This is getting funny

One hot potato thrown back & forth across the river....where will it land is anybodys guess...
I did see something on tv that would brighten up the place though.....the dancing lights across the bridge in California is just what the CSRA needs ......a laser show of sorts.....too bad they can't share the expense of some ideas..

Beattybugs
426
Points
Beattybugs 03/07/13 - 08:39 am
9
0
Hard earned tax dollars going to Corporate Welfare!

Dear Aiken County Taxpayers,
Aren't you getting tired of being asked to help finance the most expensive, already developed property in the county?
Wouldn't it be more meaningful to see your hard-earned tax dollars
go where they will make a real difference in the lives of all the residents of the county, instead of helping to line the pockets of developers?
Step up to the plate and strike these dubious guys out!

Little Lamb
46086
Points
Little Lamb 03/07/13 - 08:58 am
5
0
Subsidy to Crony

Brad's comment up above is good. These TIFs are taxpayer subsidies to developers. Whatever happened to entrepeneurial spirit where developers risk money from voluntary investors instead of money taken from taxpayers by force?

Look at the following statement from the story:

Councilman Chuck Smith, whose district includes North Augusta, said he doesn’t think his fellow council members understand the tax district financing very well. He said the plans were carefully thought through by city officials and there isn’t much room for revision.

Is there another politician who Councilman Chuck Smith reminds you of? He sounds a lot like Barak Obama to me. It's Chuck's way or the highway. I'm telling you that "city officials" did not create the financing plan. It was created by the people who will receive the subsidy.

...point to ponder
755
Points
...point to ponder 03/07/13 - 09:06 am
1
1
... Augusta site....

The stadium topic should have always been in Augusta on the former Golf Hall of Fame site.

Gov Deal (Ga)... screwed up when he allowed Azzizz to get his hands on the property. The Governor derailed all the work that had been done up to this point. The Governor was NOT very well lobbied for him to allow Azzizz to get his hands on the property with no clue as to what will be done with the property. Our Mayor screwed up by not being vocal enough or strong enough to keep Ripken's ownership involved.

.. Why didn't the Mayor do more...

How could North Augusta officials get this far and Augusta officials never got out of the dugout?

Little Lamb
46086
Points
Little Lamb 03/07/13 - 09:24 am
4
0
1996

From the story:

To come up with its portion of the financing, North Augusta 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 30 years.

What marvelous thing occurred in North Augusta in 1996? Why did the developer choose that year to be the year at which parcel assessment would be frozen? Why not instead choose 1966? Why not 1906?

Yes, Aiken county taxpayers living outside this specially-created tax district would be sending their portion of property taxes to North Augusta city government to pay off the stadium cost and parking deck cost. Instead of trying to sneak this thing in with a special tax district, why not do it out in the open? Why not float bonds like cities did back when they believed in honesty? Why not? Because in those days, bonds paid for government buildings, roads, bridges, and crucial infrastructure. Bonds were not floated for developers to build hotels, condominiums, shopping centers, baseball stadiums, etc.

justthefacts
22078
Points
justthefacts 03/07/13 - 09:43 am
1
0
Seenit

Looks like your Pedestrian Bridge has become the bridge to nowhere.

TCB22
632
Points
TCB22 03/07/13 - 11:09 am
2
1
Just build it...

Just build it in Columbia County. Plenty of property and people will feel safe.

Little Lamb
46086
Points
Little Lamb 03/07/13 - 11:34 am
4
0
Make Do

Countyman posted:

I don't think the Watermark site is large enough, and the GGHF site belongs to GRU.

The Lake Olmstead site is large enough. Why not use what we've already got?

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 03/07/13 - 11:49 am
2
0
I'd just like to be taken out to the ballgame.

Everyone weedling into my favorite pastime should take 3 steps back from Augusta while standing on the Riverwalk.

Little Lamb
46086
Points
Little Lamb 03/07/13 - 12:07 pm
2
0
:-)

That's a good one, David!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - From the story:

Under the proposal, the city would be 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, officials said.

Does anyone see the omission here? The owners of the minor-league GreenJackets franchise are putting in zero percent for the project — zip, zero, nada! Someone should let them know; I'm sure they were overlooked. They will want to get into the investment bonanza.

my.voice
4828
Points
my.voice 03/07/13 - 12:20 pm
4
0
*********************Council

*********************
Councilman Chuck Smith doesn’t think his fellow council members understand the tax district financing very well.
*********************

Councilwoman Kathy Rawls, who voted against the measure, said she and others on the council were skeptical of the baseball stadium and opposed to extending the TIF district, which was set to expire in 2016.

“The big problem is that they are including the former TIF in with the new TIF, and those property values would be locked in at the 1996 values,” she said. “That would not change until 2046. That is unreal.”

Rawls said she also received a number of calls from residents opposed to the project.

She said she could consider supporting a revised financing proposal that still included the hotel, but not with a stadium for the GreenJackets, whose owners decided to leave Augusta after failing to get a stadium built there.

“I have a lot of doubts about the success of the baseball stadium and the location,” she said. “I don’t see how that baseball stadium could succeed when it hasn’t succeeded two miles away.”
*********************

I think they understand perfectly whats going on Mr Smith. We are talking pee-wee league ball here, something this area HAS NOT and likely WILL NOT support to the levels that it requires. And WHAT will you do when the GreenJackets grow tired of this stadium in a few years? It is very hard to re-purpose a ball stadium.

What does the GJ Program bring to the table? Sure as heck is not the promise of big-draw events. No community can (nor should) subsidize operations that do not in some way "pay it back".

See, Mr Smith, I understand it too.

jleyes
24
Points
jleyes 03/07/13 - 02:37 pm
0
3
Dose of Truth

Little Lamb you couldn't be more mistaken. The team will not only be paying sizable rent/against debt service it will be contributing as well.

This project is massive and far beyond a ballpark, it's $160M+ of development, $117M of it completely private. The delta($43M) is the incentive to attract the development (parking garage, convention space and entertainment center/ballaprk). There has been nothing of this scale done in the region and not one shovel would go in the ground until the developement is locked up with ironclad agreements and escrows to build (translation the city won't take risk until they have the committments to offset the debt service). That construction will create taxes and jobs which will flow through the economy. The TIF provides the cushion to pay back the public side back for the infrastructure on the $43M. This project isn't costing tax payers. That's the misconception out there. Unless the belief is that a vacant lot that hasn't been developed in 150 years will all the sudden be swooped up privately and create something of scale and value. It hasn't happened, just like it hasn't happened over at Riverwatch yet. Lots of Savannah River sites open, this one isn't getting gobbled up by others anytime soon. So the risk is to do nothing and get nothing but hope someone decides to spend their money without incentive and produce taxes. Highly unlikely, or it would have happened by now. Least we forget that the River Club itself was built because of a TIF.

The ballpark/entertainment center is the lynch pin as it will draw 300,000-350,000 in season and an additional 100,000 for events (Masters Week alone will be a boon). That critcial mass is what the retail and restaurants (and by the way there is are some serious restuarants that would make people go "wow") need to dive in, the hotel needs the convention space in order for this to go through. If the TIF is killed all elements disappear and what is sitting there will remain like that for years and years to come. This is a tremendous project that will do wonders for the entire CSRA, North Augusta will blossom further and shops and restaurants will thrive up Georgia Ave (as speculators are already looking for sites in this event). Enough about this being a ballpark project. This is large scale critical mass project that will see both sides benefit for years and years to come. To assume the team doesn't have a stake in the game or isnt contributing is patently false.

Those opposed of this project at the Riverclub didn't seem to mind the impact on the school district when they purchased those homes from a TIF district, this is clearly NIMBYs fearing what they don't understand. But the best part is the schools will be looked after by doing this, they have incentive that is put at risk by not doing this.

Little Lamb
46086
Points
Little Lamb 03/07/13 - 03:23 pm
2
0
Rent Doesn't Count

I'm not talking rent, jleyes. The team should publicly be on the hook for contributing capital toward the ballpark. Steve Crawford's story up above makes no mention of how much capital the team has announced they will contribute, so I conclude they plan to contribute nothing.

What is the proposed split on gate receipts for ball games? Who pays the light bills?

You say the ballclub has a stake in the stadium — then show us where they are on record.

Little Lamb
46086
Points
Little Lamb 03/07/13 - 03:29 pm
2
0
Conference Center

jleyes says that the citizens of North Augusta and Aiken County must build a parking deck and conference center in order to attract private investment in the hotel that will house the conference center. That's what we suckers did over here in Augusta. Do you want North Augustans to make the same mistake Augustans made down on Reynolds Street?

jleyes
24
Points
jleyes 03/07/13 - 03:43 pm
0
2
The team would be locked into

The team would be locked into an IRONCLAD 20+ year lease, they would be responsible for all maintenence and utilities, contributing to the construction as well as paying a steep amount of debt service (tied to as rent). The city in addition would receive proceeds from the gate as well as event revenue + portions of sales taxes that are also generated. This is not a public handout and this isn't the recreation of Lake Olmstead this would be a major attraction in the region and the bonding is being repaid by the private development. The venue wouldn't even be built until all the committments were in place for construction of the masterplan to ensure the debt could be paid back. The city has shared this publicly on everything Project Jackson, can't help what the media chooses to report. But the bottom line is this is a great opportunity for the region with the risk lying at the feet of the private side not the public. For years the team has been accused of asking for a FREE stadium, that has never been the case, ever! The team will be paying well beyond its fair share and more then most agreements throughout minor league baseball. The tax payer and the schools are not at risk, this is the epitome of a great public-private partnership. I look forward to seeing more actual facts and less heresay. The team has had opportunities to leave for greener pastures but believe in Augusta and want to be here for generations and generations to come. In regards to why these comments aren't printed I could tell you, but instead of getting your news in the paper I would suggest attending the Exchange Clubs, Chambers and Rotaries where the city has spoken. Those that have, have heard this and been shown the #s, unfortunately controversy sells better then success.

Dixieman
15067
Points
Dixieman 03/07/13 - 03:45 pm
3
0
ALL OF DIXIEMAN'S POINTS HAVE BEEN SEQUESTERED!

This time next month this whole project will be in Columbia or Charlotte.

Little Lamb
46086
Points
Little Lamb 03/07/13 - 03:52 pm
2
0
Attendance

jleyes said in a post above that the ballpark will draw 300,000-350,000 “in season” and then 100,000 out of season. Presumably he’s talking baseball season.

The GreenJackets play approximately 70 home games. Divide 70 into 350,000 and you get 5,000 fans in the stands per game. The Augusta GreenJackets do not draw anywhere near that number. If North Augusta city officials are using jleyes numbers to justify their dreams to taxpayers, then taxpayers might as well buy some beachfront property in Kansas.

jleyes
24
Points
jleyes 03/07/13 - 03:56 pm
0
2
The team is owned by CSRA residents

For the first time in nearly 20 years the team is owned by locals throughout the CSRA, yes there are some in N. Augusta and even Aiken but there are many in Richmond County, Columbia County and throughout Georgia. The team is a regional asset, too many people forget that. They have been part of the community for 25 years and now they are owned by people from the community. People who raise families here, have businesses and wanted to perserve baseball in the CSRA for the long haul. They should be applauded for their efforts and supported. The team contributes to 100 of non-profit organizations, is involved in our school district and supports our friends at Fort Gordon. They truly aid Augusta in economic development when companies look at this area. Just ask Deke and Economic Development. They improve the quality of life for the region (regardless if you support them or not). They are here to make a major investment and grow those bonds deeper.

Little Lamb
46086
Points
Little Lamb 03/07/13 - 03:56 pm
4
0
Obamaspeak

jleyes posted:

The team will be paying well beyond its fair share. . . .

No one can define fair share. Taxpayers should beware anyone using the term to sell a project.

jleyes
24
Points
jleyes 03/07/13 - 04:05 pm
0
3
Attendance & Fair Share

They said the samething in Greensboro, Greenville and Durham (just a few regional examples) where the public said they don't draw well now how can they draw like that in a new venue? Well guess what the infrastructure gets put into place, more people get hired to market, the venue is a draw in a way Lake Olmstead will never be. If the team didn't believe they could draw that they wouldn't bother pursuing this endeveour.

A new venue is night and day from a fan experience, it will be the "thing to do", the civic gathering place for families across the region. The experience will be so vastly different from anything one has experienced in Lake Olmstead that it won't be difficult to achieve, as shocking as that sounds. In addition if they are wrong, they are on the hook, not you.

All in the club will be paying many millions of dollars and the increment from the development will offset the rest. Private monies.

Little Lamb
46086
Points
Little Lamb 03/07/13 - 04:09 pm
2
0
Show Me

jleyes posted:

All in the club will be paying many millions of dollars. . . . Private monies.

Show me in writing. Show council members of Aiken County before they vote in the TIF. Show Steve Crawford.

burninater
9608
Points
burninater 03/07/13 - 04:42 pm
3
0
Jleyes, it is very, very

Jleyes, it is very, very simple. If the GreenJackets and a riverfront stadium have all of the potential you claim, then let private money finance the development. The whole shebang.

If the return on investment is what you claim it will be, then financiers would be stupid not to jump at the chance. Heck, I bet the private finance component of this deal wants to bring taxpayers on board out of the goodness of their hearts! Let everyone share in this remarkable opportunity!

Or maybe try this on for size: want taxpayer funding? Then allocate profit shares based on individual taxpayer investment. My tax dollars were invested in an investment yielding returns? I expect an associated investment account and distributed earnings.

Enough of this many-hands-build-it so the well-positioned few can profit from it. Americans are sick of that BS.

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