Improve North Augusta's future

Since my decision to return to the CSRA in 1998 and move to North Augusta, I think I have earned a reputation as an above-average civic-minded individual with a proven and sincere interest in, and proven dedication toward, the betterment of our community. I get involved. I volunteer. I try to offer my opinion, my time and my sweat toward initiatives that promote a better future for our children here.

As a matter of fact, it is because of this precise instinct (drive, intuition, inclination, whatever it is) that I volunteered to become involved with Hammond’s Ferry and the city of North Augusta’s goal to connect its downtown with the Savannah River. After two years of volunteering my time, I was honored to be asked to work for the North Augusta River Front Co. in the actual planning and creation of this great vision. Today, I call Hammond’s Ferry home, both for my family and for two businesses.

My decision was made in large part because of Project Jackson and the promise that this plan holds for establishing a responsible and practical method for finally allowing the public/private partnership (that is the North Augusta Riverfront model) to realize the goals established with the public planning charrettes in the late 1990s. This promise is for a riverfront not only accessible to anyone, but equipped with all of the critical components of a city that allow businesses to thrive, and inspires families of all incomes to both live and visit. This latter promise is achieved through certain public and civic uses that will allow this riverfront to become a true national destination.

I desperately want people to clearly understand that there are very dedicated and trustworthy people working on all levels on behalf of this vision. There are of course people who have spoken out against Hammond’s Ferry, its density and its mixed uses from the very beginning. Unfortunately, the current Tax Increment Financing proposal (which is an amendment of an existing TIF) has allowed the same naysayers to re-emerge and say almost anything to disable the public/civic-minded focus of this plan, vying for exclusivity over inclusivity.

What I am afraid people do not understand is that everything that Hammond’s Ferry is today is because of joint public/private investment. Brick Pond Park, Center Street, the Riverfront Greeneway path, Boeckh Park and the docks – all public/private funding.

The private developer seeking to invest in North Augusta also was faced with naysayers in Fort Wayne, Ind. Upon the successful realization of that city’s public/private partnership for an almost identical mixed-use facility, that city’s News-Sentinel newspaper wrote in an Aug. 7 editorial:

“If we can find an idea as good as the stadium for the riverfront, that will become a success, too. ... Studies can’t really get anything done. The best they can do is pave the way for people with good ideas willing to take risks. The best the rest of us can do is encourage those people and try to recognize the worthiness of a good idea when we see one.

“There was a lot of skepticism, expressed by this editorial page and elsewhere, of the idea of a new baseball facility when there was an adequate one already in use. The downtown boosters have proved the skeptics wrong the best way possible: by succeeding spectacularly.”

Any success at Hammond’s Ferry is because of responsible public input and investment as proposed in the TIF, which is triggered only when the private investors commit to funding all of the proposed entertainment facilities, hotel, apartments and housing – none of which is to be paid for with TIF dollars. Only the public-related parking and convention facilities will be funded with TIF.

To quote from the original city charrette: “The project is designed as a collection of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods which extend the historic town of North Augusta, reconnecting the town with its riverfront. The project will contain more than 1,000 new homes, condominiums and apartments, as well as business and civic uses, and excellent new parks and public spaces fronting the river.”

So far we have kept to task. All the city asks is to maintain what it has started. All that families like mine want – and now countless others who are volunteering their time – is a new and better future for North Augusta and the CSRA.

 

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Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon