I have read several columns and letters to the editor of late opposing Project Jackson. The majority of the letters were written by residents of the River Club in opposition (not all residents are opposed) and nonresident naysayers who are known to oppose anything involving the spending of taxpayers’ dollars.
It is the right of every American to express his or her views on government, and if the truth be known more people need to do it. With Project Jackson, the same small base of people is being very systematic and organized in its tactics to try to create an impression of a groundswell of opposition.
I DO NOT BELIEVE such a groundswell exists. Some have taken a “by any means necessary” tactic to kill the project when the real basis of their opposition is the familiar personal view of “not in my back yard.”
Since Todd Glover has become North Augusta’s city administrator, he has spent a large portion of his time on economic development. Much of that focused on the development of our riverfront. Discussions progressed over several months when a private landowner in North Augusta reached out to the Augusta GreenJackets minor-league baseball team to discuss a move to North Augusta. While the land would have been a great place for a stadium (it was not on the riverfront), it simply could not attract the surrounding businesses needed to pay for the public investment.
From the outset, the city made it clear to the GreenJackets that it would have to bring in enough private investment to cover the cost of public improvements. The city council was not going to place the city’s cost of development on the backs of our citizens. The proposal unveiled in December 2012 met that requirement.
The Project Jackson proposal includes a major hotel, retail shops, restaurants, luxury apartments, office space and a Family Y. More than $100 million of private investment would be built simultaneously in our city. In return, the city would agree to fund a sports and entertainment complex, a small convention center and parking structures to accommodate the visitors.
The public investment totaled approximately $43 million, which would come from a number of revenue sources generated by the project itself. The mayor and city council have an obligation to explore the possibilities of all economic development proposals. We are in that process now.
IMMEDIATELY, THE city knew this project was regional in scope and appeal, but bigger than the city could handle on its own. The city reached out to the Aiken County Council and the Aiken County school board. We asked them to partner with us to see if this economic development project could be possible through Tax Increment Financing.
When we presented our original plans, the county council and the school board provided input as to changes it would like within the financing model. The city went back to the drawing board and made the substantive changes both bodies indicated were necessary.
For the Aiken County school board, we shortened the length of its involvement from 30 to 15 years, and placed a cap on the amount of revenue we would use for the project. I have seen many letters stating that we are taking money from the school district, which is simply not the case. We are asking the school board to defer some of the revenue generated only by this new project.
The private investment from this project will generate about $1 million a year in school taxes. We have asked the school board to defer about 75 percent of that to help us pay for the infrastructure. They will get 25 percent of that revenue immediately, which will provide needed new revenue for our schools. At the end of the 15 years, the school district will receive its full share of the taxes generated from the project.
As for Aiken County, it has been partnering with us on this TIF since 2001. The current TIF was an integral part in the establishment of the River Club, Hammond’s Ferry, the Greeneway along the riverfront, the municipal building and Brick Pond Park. The county indicated that it would like to receive tax revenues from the TIF already in place, which was a fair request.
WE HAVE CHANGED the financing model for the county that would reset the TIF to 2012 values. This will increase the revenue to the county by approximately $350,000 a year. A recent letter to the editor stated that the county was giving up about $1 million a year, which is simply not true. Under our current proposal, the county will reap the benefit of the growth that has occurred within the TIF district.
Yes, the city, county and school board will have to defer some revenues to make this project happen. That often happens when a new industry is induced to locate here. Economic development is important because it brings investment and jobs to our area. In the current economy to attract industries, inducements have to be given.
This project is no different. In fact, the amount of private investment in this project is larger than some of the industrial announcements of the recent past. In addition, this project will generate sales and use taxes that will be put back into other areas through road improvements and other needed capital projects. If this project happens, there will be additional growth outside the TIF area from which the school board, county and city will get all of the tax revenue.
If the Aiken County school board and Aiken County Council agree to participate in the TIF, it then will be up to the North Augusta City Council to implement the mechanisms and make decisions on the specifics of the project. The city of North Augusta is known for its fiscal conservatism and the success of the projects it undertakes.
There still is a lot of work and due diligence to be done. The TIF is not the finish line, but merely the starting point. The city council will handle this project with the same deep thought, wise counsel and patient decision-making we have used on every successful project within our city.
(The writer is mayor of North Augusta and an attorney.)