Opinions mixed on proposed riverfront project

Project Jackson, a proposal for riverfront development, underwent another public grilling last week, drawing attention during a called North Augusta City Council meeting.

Residents of The River Club made up the majority of those who stepped forward to address Council, and the end result was a 5-1 vote in favor of amending the tax-incentive financing district, to allow consideration of the project to continue. Councilman Jimmy Adams dissented.

Proposed investments include $60 million for a resort-quality hotel, with a City-funded conference center costing about $4 million, along with a 900-space parking garage costing about $10.8 million.

Also proposed are a $28 million stadium as a future home for the GreenJackets, 75 town-home units costing $15 million and 40,000 square feet of office space, at $10.5 million.

Mayor Lark Jones confirmed having faced "a substantial contingent ... of folks," mostly from The River Club and expressing opposition to the proposal.

"I don't think anything is going to change that, but this is just the first step in a long process ... to get the financial tools in place. If a proposal is adapted, then we'll have the ability to do our part," the mayor said.

Margaret Pope, North Augusta's bond attorney, was among those addressing Council, offering an explanation of TIF principles and a commendation of Council for its consistent financial conservatism.

Local speakers included Steve Donohue, president of The River Club Homeowners Association.

He cited a recent poll of River Club residents showing that 80 percent of the responders opposed the recent proposal.

After the vote, Donohue described himself as disappointed.

"I heard the Council say it keeps their options open, but I find that an odd way to word a resolution with as much detail as was in it. If you keep your options open, you pass a broad resolution authorizing debt, and we'll see what develops down the road," Donohue said.

"Instead, they put in details - a 225-bed hotel, 5,000-seat stadium, what have you," he said.

In his remarks to Council, Donohue took exception to any realistic possibility of the land in question being labeled as "blighted" or "in need of conservation," as required in TIF law.

Also arising were questions of parking, restaurants and the number and nature of jobs to be generated.

One speaker, questioning whether or not the proposed development would enhance the quality of life in North Augusta, asked, "What's wrong with being a bedroom community to Augusta?"

Another speaker questioned the proposed baseball field and hotel.

"After a ball game or after a wedding reception or whatever, at this hotel, these people are going to be walking right down into Hammond's Ferry, and a 225-unit apartments, well, to me it just destroys the uniqueness of our downtown, as it is," he said.

Councilman Ken McDowell described himself as favoring the TIF "because it provided a potential 'key' to investment."

The current options include "the original development agreement that was just signed that provided a road to the park and some commercial development, a hotel and convention center and the stadium with the hotel and all the other amenities," he wrote.

"With the TIF, even more options may become available."

Councilman Pat Carpenter recalled hearing about the topic again a few days later. "As I was campaigning Saturday, I heard some negatives, that some people really wanted us to think that project out, and they weren't really for it, but then I turned around and ran into three more who were very much for it."

She said she appreciated being exposed to local residents' views, in terms of knowing "what the citizens are wanting in ... riverfront development."