School board okays financing for 'GreenJackets' deal

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

AIKEN, S.C. -- In a 7-to-2 vote, the Aiken County School Board has approved the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan for Project Jackson, the $150 million public-private venture to bring the GreenJackets, a hotel, and other things to the North Augusta Riverfront.

Leading up to Tuesday night's vote, there have been numerous public input sessions for public comment, and there was time again Tuesday night for members of the public to comment.

While there were a few who showed up in opposition, the presumable majority stood in support of the project. Many wore buttons giving Project Jackson a thumbs up.

Turner Simkins, a Hammond's Ferry developer, spoke in support and quoted a personal letter from Charleston Mayor Joe Riley. It said this project was a once in a lifetime opportunity for a municipality.

"Water is magic," Simkins read.

Board member Wesley Hightower continued his staunch opposition to the project. He called into question the history of the project's developer.

However, County Attorney Bill Burkhalter explained to school board that the involvement is truly minimal. They are not funding the ball-park, just other parts of the development. Also, there isn't a new tax or a tax increase. The increase in property values will simply be diverted to pay for Project Jackson.

In return, the school board will reap increased property taxes once the project is complete.

"It's a win-win for us," said board member Keith Liner.

Board member Ray Fleming added that the process has been a thorough one. Fleming says they've allowed the public to speak numerous times before they voted Tuesday night.

"That's the way democracy is supposed to work," Fleming said.

Along with Hightower, board member Dwight Smith also voted to deny the TIF.

Next Tuesday, the TIF faces what will likely be a more difficult challenge. The Aiken County Council will have to okay the financing plan too.

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