Aiken looks to old depot for new tourist attraction

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News 12 at Six o'clock, July 11, 2007.

AIKEN, S.C.---They promise to bring in millions in tourism dollars to the city of Aiken all by bringing in a re-creation of the old Aiken Railroad Depot. What was said to be the center of Aiken's social scene back in the late 1800's is now expected to come to life once again.

The groundwork for a $3 million revitalization project have already been laid in stone. "The facility will be for the public, it'll be wonderful for tourists to see the history of Aiken," said Tim Simmons the Campaign General Chairman. The backers of the project promise nohting less than elegant architecture and a siginifcant economic impact all by by bringing the original depot back to Union Street. "You're looking at a $15 million impact in that area of the city and given that area needs restoration it will be a huge impact as restaurants and buisnesses start to move in," said Preston Rahe, the All Aboard Chairman. He says the project would be a public-private partnership with 70% stemming from private funds and 30% from the public. Three years ago when the project was still in ints infancy, the city agreed to contribute $250,000 from accomodations tax revenue to help pay for the construction but now the project is asking for more.

But not everyone is on board with the idea the Mayor Pro Tem, Richard Smith, tells News 12 he's dubious of the project and fears the city will end up being responsible for it instead. At least one other council member, Jane Vaughters, says she's skeptical of the project asking, how much in city tax dollars should be spent when a formal fundraising campaign hasn't even been launched yet. But Rahe insists they aren't stuck at a financial crossroads. "We have good committments even before campaign has started we already have $600,000 in private commitments," he said.

Council members are expected to meet again in August to finalize their contributions. As it stands now the council will likely match the $250,000 they need by cutting into some of the one cent SPLOST money and the accomodations tax revenue. The group also plans to ask the county council to match the same amount.

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