Aiken downtown plans gain endorsements; now it’s your turn

Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 5:00 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - A proposal to create a retail and residential promenade that would include substantial upgrades to the Newberry Street Festival Center was been endorsed by three economic organizations in the community, officials said Monday.

It’s part of so-called Project Pascalis, which would include a regional conference center, parking garages and hotel taking the place of the decaying Hotel Aiken.

The Aiken Chamber of Commerce, Aiken Corporation and Aiken Municipal Development Commission are calling on Aiken City Council to approve the inclusion of a portion of Newberry Street right-of-way in the Project Pascalis site plan, city of Aiken Economic Development Director Tim O’Briant said Monday.

“The Festival Center improvements would place a premium on a safe and comfortable pedestrian-focused esplanade akin to a central square for the City of Aiken,” said a news release from O’Briant.

In a resolution approved Monday, the Aiken Municipal Development Commission called on City Council to move forward with the second reading and final approval of the conditional ordinance conveying the required parcel at its next regularly scheduled meeting on April 25.

That action would allow the planning and engineering and due diligence related to the project to move ahead “unimpeded by uncertainty,” the resolution reads.

In a separate action, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce board of directors voted early Monday to endorse moving forward, as well.

And the Aiken Corporation board voted Wednesday unanimously to endorse the Project Pascalis site plan and Newberry Festival Center Improvements.

The additional landscaping and public green space will provide space for outdoor dining, activities, events and gatherings, and will extend the pedestrian experience created when The Alley was closed to traffic in 2017. The reimagined Festival Center would accommodate both pedestrians and vehicles due to proposed modifications to the traffic flow on the block.

“The city of Aiken’s leadership has the opportunity to create positive and transformational change to the Newberry Street Festival Area,” said Aiken Municipal Development Commission Chairman Keith Wood. “The project is expected to create in excess of 150 new jobs and replace lost surface parking along Newberry with structured parking.”

He said it would also bring about 150 new full-time residents downtown to shop and dine on a daily basis, creating at least $3.3 million a year in local government property, hospitality and accommodations tax revenues “while maintaining the essence and character that has long defined Aiken.”

“Construction of the hotel, apartments and commercial/retail components of the project will inject a minimum of $50 million in private-sector investment from the developers who will own and operate those facilities,” he said.

Chamber Chairman Norm Dunagan said the project would provide something his group has been seeking for some time.

“The Aiken Chamber has been advocating for Aiken’s ‘cool factor’ since the Blue Ribbon panel report was issued in 2013 and again in 2017 with the Compelling Place to Live Report, he said.

He said both reports recommended recruit more downtown retail, provide more housing in the downtown footprint and creating areas that entice citizens to gather.

“A community’s economic vitality is key to its quality of life, and this is a giant step in the right direction,” Dunagan said.

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