Editor’s Note: This is the ninth installment of a 10-part series on the top stories of 2012.
A lengthy push by the owners of the Augusta GreenJackets for a new stadium seems to have struck gold, but not in the location many thought.
Officials with the city of North Augusta and the San Francisco Giants affiliate unveiled Dec. 19 “Project Jackson,” a top-secret plan in the works since March that includes an entertainment complex and stadium to house the GreenJackets, who now play at Lake Olmstead Stadium in Augusta. The team also announced an ownership change.
The large development, on which North Augusta officials continue to seek public input, calls for a stadium on the bank of the Savannah River along with a hotel, conference center, 300 residential units and 70,000 square feet of office and retail space. The plan calls for $43 million in public investment.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver noted the similarity of the development plan and its private developers to the riverfront stadium complex he hoped to build on the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property, across the river from the North Augusta tract.
“We weren’t able to get there, so I would much rather see a stadium in North Augusta than to see the team leave the area,” said Copenhaver, who for several years pushed a new stadium in downtown Augusta.
Despite his efforts, a commission vote early last year for City Administrator Fred Russell to “develop a transaction plan” for a public-private partnership never produced a plan. Instead, the merger of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities led to the state’s decision to transfer the golf hall land to the consolidated university.
The project’s developers sought a riverfront location, said Chris Schoen, of Atlanta-based Greenstone Properties, who will be part of the new ownership group and was involved in early negotiations with Augusta before the North Augusta plan surfaced. Schoen also revealed that he and former Ripken Baseball vice president Jeff Eiseman have joined several others from Georgia and South Carolina to purchase the team from Ripken.
North Augusta officials anticipate $122 million in private investment in return for the city’s $43 million contribution, which they hope to pay through tax increments resulting from the development itself and fees associated with the team’s use of the stadium.
Although planners aspire for the stadium to be ready for baseball’s opening day in spring 2015, it is not a done deal. North Augusta City Manager Todd Glover said more public meetings on the project are scheduled in January, while all public components will require approval by the North Augusta City Council.