'GreenJackets deal' scores major victory at Aiken Co. Council

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Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- On Tuesday night, in a 6-to-3 vote, the Aiken County Council approved the Second Reading of an ordinance to help finance a $150 million public-private venture to bring the GreenJackets, a stadium, a hotel, restaurants, and more to the North Augusta Riverfront.

Councilman Phil Napier, Willar Hightower, and Kathy Rawls were the three dissenters.

Before the vote, dozens of community members were given three minutes each to state their opinions on Project Jackson.

Extra deputies from the Aiken County Sheriff's Office stood in the back of the amphitheater at Aiken Technical College during the larger-than-normal council meeting where emotion and passion was present.

Even with the larger venue, there was standing room only during the first half of the meeting. Many who showed up were forced to listen from just outside the room.

Nevertheless, the public comment period proceeded for almost three hours.

"If the TIF fails, the project fails and the vision for North Augusta fails," said Former North Augusta Mayor Tom Greene.

Pat Rice, a local attorney who lives in Hammond's Ferry, donned a 'thumb's up' sticker for Project Jackson, and he had harsh words for Augusta, where the GreenJackets are leaving.

"I can't wait for this development, because it is so much more forward-looking than Augusta and Richmond County from where I have come," Rice said.

North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones reiterated that taxes aren't being raised. He said council must decide if the project benefits Aiken County as a whole. He also pointed out what the development could mean.

"The first thing I'm going to try to do is to get University of South Carolina and Clemson University to play baseball in that stadium," Jones said.

Others weren't as receptive to the idea. Many argued the area where the TIF will be extended for 30 years isn't a blighted area as the law requires. Many said using a TIF to bring development would set an unwanted trend.

"My comment is this, government does not create jobs. If it did, the United State unemployment rate would be zero," said Tony Coffaro, former president of the Aiken Republican Club.

"Public money should never cover a private project," added North Augusta resident Diane Giddings to thunderous applause.

Ultimately, individual council members stated their opinions before the vote.

Councilwoman Kathy Rawls said she felt county taxes will have to be raised if the TIF is approved.

Councilwoman LaWana McKenzie, who told the room that she hadn't reached a decision until recently, revealed her approval of Project Jackson. She told the crowd that she wished her district had an opportunity available like that of Project Jackson. She added that she would support other TIFs in the future designed to support blighted areas like Graniteville and Wagener.

Councilman Phil Napier moved to table to ordinance. He hoped to give county voters the choice in a county-wide referendum. His motion failed 7-to-2.

While approval of the ordinance's Second Reading is a major milestone, County Council must vote one more time before its approval of the TIF is final. County Administrator Clay Killian says that vote is scheduled for 7 PM next Tuesday.

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