Originally created 06/08/01

North Augusta sets plans for riverfront



NORTH AUGUSTA - After years of stagnant negotiations, North Augusta is on the verge of realizing its riverfront dreams.

The city has tentatively agreed to pay $2.6 million for about 140 acres along the Savannah River, the largest of 12 parcels it plans to purchase for a future development that will transform North Augusta's riverfront.

The final decision is up to the city council, which will vote at its June 18 meeting whether to buy the land from owners Judith McCarthy, Mary Bright Parker and Laura Phinizy.

The city developed a master plan in 1996 to develop about 200 acres of riverfront property between the 13th Street bridge and the city's public boat launch at Hammons Ferry Road. But officials say implementing that plan has been slow-going because of years of failed bargaining.

"The price that you see there is a price we have available to negotiate with owners for a purchase this summer," said City Administrator Charles Martin, referring to the $2.6 million price-tag. "It is not a price they'd agree to in the future.

"This is a very significant decision. They (the city council) have discussed it at length."

Council member Ken McDowell said the vote could go either way.

"Everybody has their own opinion," he said. "Everyone is looking at it independently and with the best interest of the community at heart."

Of the approximately 200 acres it wants to buy and develop, the city owns or is contracted to purchase only about 12 acres.

Pending the city council vote, Mr. Martin said, he hopes to have the remainder of the land acquired by summer's end.

The city is still working with six land owners.

"Some we've had very lengthy discussions with," Mr. Martin said of the negotiations. "And some not so lengthy."

North Augusta plans to buy all of the land with money from Aiken County's 1-cent tax, the city's hospitality tax - which is designated for riverfront development - and state grants.

Mr. Martin; Skip Grkovic, director of Economic and Community Development; and City Attorney Kelly Zierare handling negotiations with land owners.

Once the land is acquired, the city plans to lengthen the Greeneway 1.25 miles along the river and develop a park, which will be a focal point of development.

Mr. Martin said the city plans to designate about 40 acres for the park, which would include an amphitheater and floating stage. He said this area would be designed to "encourage public access and use of the riverfront."

The remaining land is slated to be sold to Civitas, a residential development company based in Charleston. Mr. Martin said once the tracts are assembled, Civitas will need eight to 12 months to do market research and environmental testing.

After that, Mr. Martin said, Civitas would finalize its design plan, which will reflect the city's master plan.

According to Mr. Grkovic, the Civitas development would include: a 150-room hotel; a 45,000-square-foot conference center; residential development of about 575 dwellings - including single-family homes, town houses, apartments and condos; and 300,000 square feet of commercial building space.

"We know the numbers work based on this plan," Mr. Grkovic said, referring to North Augusta's most recent master plan drafted in 1999.

Civatas would not buy the land until all of its planning was complete. Civitas representatives could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Mr. Martin said development would progress in stages and "would take a number of years for it to fulfill itself."

"This would be a significant acquisition," Mr. Martin said. "It's at the point where they (city council) need to make a decision.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (706)823-3218.