Aiken leaders eye City Hall as new event, convention center

News 12 First at Five / Thursday, Apr. 11, 2013

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- Right now, the Aiken Municipal Building isn't used for much. There's a couple offices upstairs, and the Aiken City Council meets up there too. But downstairs, administration and finance departments have moved out to a new building on Laurens Street. Now, the city is eyeing the old space for a new and improved events center.

"Well, I don't have an opinion or a position in either way, but I feel like if it's worked out well between the city and everybody else that it could be a good thing," says Van Smith, of Lionel Smith, Ltd.

But debate at Monday night's city council meeting put the brakes on the roughly $1.5 million project that would allow around 300 people to use the meeting space at once.

"There's a lot of needs in any community. That doesn't mean the city doesn't have to provide for the need," said Councilman Philip Merry at Monday's council meeting.

Some council members feel the city would be competing against privately-owned Newberry Hall, which caters for and hosts numerous events, and holds roughly the same amount of people the city's space would hold.

"Quite frankly, I am concerned we're starting a business that competes with the private sector," said Councilman Dick Dewar at the meeting.

Parking was also a big concern, especially since Newberry Hall, downtown restaurants, and the Aiken Playhouse already pull in dozens of cars on any given day.

"Suppose these things are happening at once, you know, and you got all those cars down there. What a mess that's going to be," said Mayor Fred Cavanaugh at the meeting.

Smith at Lionel Smith said parking is a concern too.

"There's always a concern about parking," he says. "There's never been a non-concern about parking. Everybody fusses about parking in Downtown Aiken."

However, he says it's better to have lots of cars than to have none at all. He says a bigger venue for events and conventions is needed. He just wants the city to study this option more first.

On Monday, Aiken City Council actually didn't vote to approve to advance the funding on this project. Instead, they voted to give City Manager Richard Pearce $15,000 to do a feasibility study to see if this project is even possible, since parking and the limited amount of space the building has could be problems.

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