A year-long series of stumbling blocks isn’t over for North Augusta officials trying to build a new baseball park for the Augusta GreenJackets.
Since publicly announcing plans for a $144 million riverfront development on Dec. 19, 2012, the city made concessions and amendments before finally approving a special Tax Increment Financing District to fund the project.
But the problems kept coming. The city is facing a potential lawsuit that has been filed but not yet served by River Club Homeowners Association president Stephen Donohue, an outspoken opponent of the stadium development at several public hearings and meetings.
The civil suit claims that the city ordinance passed Nov. 18 by North Augusta City Council violates South Carolina’s Tax Increment Financing law, saying there was no evidence supporting the area as blighted or a conservation area.
Originally, the suit named the homeowners association and Donohue as plaintiffs. Many River Club residents were upset by the association’s inclusion, and the association filed an amended petition on Dec. 23 removing itself as a plaintiff, according to the association’s Web site.
In a Dec. 18 letter to the homeowners signed by Donohue, he said: “I will remain a plaintiff … I intend to pursue this. I feel even stronger about it after I saw the city’s resolution and their threats to counter sue.”
North Augusta City Council approved a resolution Dec. 16 authorizing Mayor Lark Jones and Administrator Todd Glover to answer the complaint and file counterclaims and additional litigation against the plaintiffs.
The city has not taken any action because the suit has not been served, Jones said Friday. The plaintiffs have 120 days to serve a suit once filed.
“If Donohue decides to move forward, all options are on the table,” he said.
The public-private development – called Project Jackson – would include a stadium, 200-room hotel and conference center, apartments, townhomes, restaurants and retail and office space. The new park would overlook the Savannah River near the 13th Street bridge.
City Administrator Todd Glover said planning and design work will not stop because of the pending lawsuit. He would not say how, if at all, the suit changes the plan of opening the baseball park on the first day of the 2015 baseball season, a goal that some previously said would be difficult to meet.
“I’m proud of where we are and what we did and what we accomplished,” Glover said.
The Tax Increment Financing District generates tax revenue on the incremental difference between rising property values and past values for Aiken County. It would last 30 years upon issuance of bonds.
Coming as a shock to many involved, an earlier version of the financing method was rejected by the Aiken County Council in March when some council members questioned the length of the financing and public opposition to the project surfaced. Before going before the Aiken County school board, officials amended the proposal to cut in half the time for school board participation and avoid using school board money to build a baseball stadium.
The school board agreed to participate in August and the county council in September. North Augusta City Council approved its third and final reading of the ordinance creating the TIF district on Nov. 18. Councilman James Adams was the lone opposing vote at each reading, saying he disapproves of government involvement in private investment.
Despite the negotiations and opposition, Glover said the public will be pleased with the development’s contribution to the riverfront.
“It was a lot of negotiation that went back and forth. The final product you will see is the result of compromise,” Glover said. “We didn’t get everything we were asking for.”
Reach Meg Mirshak at (706) 823-3228