North Augusta presents a new ballpark plan

 

AIKEN — Hoping to salvage a plan for a $150 million development on the North Augusta riverfront, city officials offered a new financial model to the Aiken County school board Tuesday.

North Augusta Administrator Todd Glover said the model makes two main concessions to allay some of the board members concerns – it cuts the time in half for school board participation and it avoids using school board money to fund the construction of a baseball stadium.

“I think we are coming back to you tonight with a much stronger model,” said Glover, presenting the revised plan for financing Project Jackson – which will generate $42 million include a stadium, parking deck and conference center.

The plan still includes using a Tax Increment Financing district, or TIF, to fund the project over the next 30 years. The model allows North Augusta to 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.

Glover said they had determined a way to allow the school board to exit the TIF after 15 years, while the city and county would remain.

Glover also said they were able to find more sources of revenue, such as hospitality tax money on the hotel and conference center, that made it possible to structure the deal without using school board money for the stadium.

He said the new GreenJackets owners also have offered to kick in $2 million for the project.

“We were able to find we had sufficient revenue in the TIF without the school district,” Glover said.

He said city officials would submit a report to board members each year to show that school board revenues were not used to service the stadium debt.

In addition, Glover said the model expects to generate about $300,000 in revenue that will be returned to the school board each year, while the TIF is in effect.

He said the previous plan counted on about 20 percent of financing to come from the school board, while in new plan that figure is about 11 percent.

Glover said they can count on economic development and tax revenue to come with the new project, because the developers are already on board.

“This is now a “build it and they will come,” model,” he said. “We have the developers lined up and ready to go.”

North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones emphasized that Project Jackson was regional development that would benefit more than his city.

“We need your cooperation we need the county’s cooperation,” Jones said. “If we don’t get it I don’t know whether the project will go.”

School board members plan to allow public input on the project at their May 21 meeting, although commentary should be limited to how the project will impact school district finances, school officials said.

They expect a vigorous debate.

Even before North Augusta officials made their presentation Tuesday, the board gave time to three speakers who were opposed to the project.

Scott Gudith, who lives in North Augusta’s River Club neighborhood, said he loves the idea of a stadium and the good it can do for a city, but he hates the idea of building it on the Savannah River.

“The riverfront of North Augusta is one of the last prime places on the river and no place for you to shove in a ball field,” Gudith said. “We in no way want to have it in a residential neighborhood.”

Another outspoken opponent, Steve Donohue, said he is opposed to the TIF financing model for such a project and the school board should not be in the business of funding such developments.

“When visitors come to town for the first time they ask, ‘Where are the best schools?’ ” he said. “Nobody says, ‘Where is the baseball stadium?’ ”

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