COLUMN: Project Jackson will improve economy

Our city of North Augusta and the CSRA are buzzing about the Project Jackson proposal, an opportunity to make James U. Jackson's dream a reality.

However, most people do not even know who James Jackson is. Jackson was born and raised in Augusta. According to North Augusta history, when he was 12 years old, he asked, "Father, why hasn't someone developed those beautiful hills across the river?" His father said, "No one has ever had the vision, my son."

Young Jackson replied, "Then that will be my life's work when I grow up." And, that he did.Without money of his own, he organized business investors from the Southeast to develop and support what is known as the North Augusta Land Company, comprising businesses, homes, churches, schools and recreation.

On Jan. 4, 1903, Jackson opened Hampton Terrace, a five-story, 300-room resort hotel which brought people from all over the world.It burned to the ground on Jan. 1, 1917. The next morning at the Jackson family breakfast table, his daughter remembers him praying, "God thank you for our many blessings." Jackson planned to rebuild the hotel, but he died before plans came to fruition.

The town continued to thrive because of the Savannah River trade industry and dedicated leadership. In the 1950s, due in part to the Savannah River Plant, the entire CSRA and the economy flourished. Though present-day employment has declined for our Savannah River Site, the CSRA still has a stable economy and a prosperous future.

I, like Jackson, have vision and have ventured into two small businesses along with my husband's support in downtown North Augusta. We do more than operate the businesses; we are vested in North Augusta and the CSRA. Our businesses are not dependent on Project Jackson, but the downtown development for our city.

People keep making Project Jackson all about a baseball stadium. It is so much more.

This proposal has already brought outside investors' attention to other areas of North Augusta, and the project has not even been approved.The City of North Augusta is being asked to make an investment in a recreational and entertainment complex, conference center and parking garage which will be leased to provide the return on investment. The private investors are making three times the investment provided by North Augusta. They will also have a marketing company involved to protect their investment to promote the city facilities.

Sports, recreation, entertainment and dining have always prospered and will until the end of time. Project Jackson will encourage people to bring their children to the many family events.

The Augusta Sports Council already utilizes the Savannah River (Rowing Regatta, ESi Ironman Tri-Athlon, Cycling, Boat Races, to name a few) to capitalize income for their city. It is time we take advantage of their vision and commitment to make new ones for North Augusta.We are already losing tremendous revenues from our own Riverview Recreation Center. It does not bring the income it could to the North Augusta economy. Don't take my word for it; sit at West Buena Vista and Georgia Avenues after a major event and watch our money go over the river to Georgia. We are not just losing money for North Augusta, but for Aiken County and South Carolina.For this very reason, I have always voiced our need for a downtown North Augusta hotel.

This project will provide thousands of jobs and create more due to the positive impact upon local businesses and leasing the facilities.Also, having more people visit our city draws more interest for relocation, which has a positive residual effect for all areas and bring needed support to the dedicated quality of life initiatives by our NA2000 Foundation, and all nonprofit and civic groups who volunteer diligently for our community.

A large concern is the educational component. But, simply said at the Feb. 25, 2012 Aiken County School Board public meeting, "Where an economy thrives so will the education system."

Naysayers and pessimists, please give our city leaders an opportunity to play the game to the end.

Respectfully, to the naysayers and my good neighbors and friends who might be drawn to the pessimism, the opportunity before us is huge. It cannot be responsibly dismissed out-of-hand for any reason; instead, dismiss fear mongering and wholly unsupportable assertions.The potential benefits to our community of this development are absolutely enormous.

Many education supporters are not opposed to the "baseball stadium," but suggested the project be all private investment. Yes, we will receive tax revenues from their investments, but not near the amount of income generated if the City is vested financially and have our controlling interests at hand.

I encourage you to ask questions by contacting our City Council, County Council, and School Board representatives to be a player on the North Augusta team for now and for our generations to come. If the players don't show up for the game, the coach has to forfeit.I am asking you to become involved the Project Jackson proposal. Win or lose, it is our chance to rally for the championship.