I thought it was time to check out the position I would like to take on this issue. I gathered as many articles on this subject that I could. Most articles are written by staff writers from area newspapers. Citizen comments appear mostly to be by North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones (pro) and River Club Homeowners Association President Steve Donohue (con).
WHAT IS Project Jackson? The original plan was a $150 million mixed-use development on North Augusta’s riverfront with a 225-room hotel/resort; a 20,000-square-foot convention center; structured parking for 900 cars; a $28 million city-owned sports and entertainment facility (a possible new home for the Augusta GreenJackets baseball team); restaurants and retail area of about 30,000 square feet; 40,000 square feet of office space; 225 luxury apartments; and 75 townhomes. Parts of this original plan have been slightly revised.
I drove down there, walked around and tried to envision all of this being built on what I have been told is about 38 acres. I invite all residents of North Augusta and Aiken County to do the same. Pay particular attention to road access. Ask yourself if you are going to drive here to a ball game or dinner or anything else. Do you think anyone from Augusta or Richmond County will drive there for a night at the ball park?
AS I WALKED this property, thinking about all that was to be crammed into this space, I said to myself: This makes no sense! “If you build it, they will come” only works in the movies!
In Mayor Jones’ July 21 column, he stated: “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 business needed to pay for the public investment.”
Are you kidding me? Not on the riverfront? As if “the riverfront” of the Savannah River really draws people. The city of Augusta has been trying to revitalize its downtown and riverfront for years. How’s that been working out for them?
What draws people is convenient access, and this parcel proposed for Project Jackson has terrible access! If the private land the mayor alluded to is up around exits 5 and 6 of Interstate 20, he should jump on it! One only needs to look at the I-20 corridor over the past 20 years to see what areas of Richmond and Columbia counties have grown the most.
MAYOR JONES says that “it simply could not attract the surrounding business needed to pay for the public investment.” Maybe he didn’t see the sign announcing the new Wal-Mart at U.S. Highway 25 and Walnut Lane. I may be off the mark not knowing exactly where this property is. I’m just saying that if it has access to I-20 or I-520, it’s a better location than the isolated 38 acres projected for Project Jackson!
The (North Augusta) Star from Dec. 20, 2012, quoted Chris Schoen of Greenstone Properties in Atlanta as saying: “Greenstone is delighted to have the opportunity to work on such an exciting mixed-use waterfront development. The riverfront offers extraordinary investment appeal as a sustainable addition to both North Augusta and Augusta. The proposed public-private investment would be delivered at a quality level consistent with the original version of Hammond’s Ferry and would create a pedestrian and live-work-play environment unequalled anywhere in the Southeastern United States.”
WOW! THAT’S A pretty good spiel from a developer – but that’s what developers do! If they can’t sell their proposal, they can’t make any money! I have some friends in Atlanta and asked them if the knew of a developer named Chris Schoen. What came back truly surprised me! I was directed to an article published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 25 by Staff Writer Christopher Seward. The article states that Bank of America is suing two Atlanta commercial real-estate executives and their companies, demanding they hand over pricey artwork to help settle a $4.5 million debt. Makes one wonder if the North Augusta City Council has done its due diligence and knows who they are dealing with!
Aiken County Board of Education members have a critical decision to make concerning the Tax Increment Financing proposal presented by the city of North Augusta to help fund Project Jackson. Originally, the proposal called for school taxes to be deferred for 30 years. The revised version cut that to 15 years. We are all aware of the tight fiscal constraints the Aiken County school board is operating under.
I’M NOT SAYING that at times tax incentives are not warranted; I’m just saying that if this project “offers extraordinary investment,” as the developers proclaim, they should pay their full school taxes from day one!
Many years ago, when I was becoming eligible to vote, I had a conversation with my grandfather. I asked him: How do I know whom to vote for? He told me:
Keep an open mind and learn all you can about the issues.
Let the candidates know your views.
Vote for the candidate that you believe will do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.
He was so right! After expressing our views to our elected officials, all we can hope for is that they do the right thing, at the right time and for the right reasons.
Contact your local officials and let them know what you think about Project Jackson!
(The writer – a retired North Augusta resident – is a member of the Board of Directors of the Lake & Streams Homeowners Association.)