Tensions high as Aiken city council revisits two proposed hotel projects

Monday, October 28, 2019
News 12 at 11 O'clock

Tensions rise as Aiken city council hears updates on two hotel projects. (Source: WRDW/WAGT)

AIKEN, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- Two major hotel projects are in the works in Aiken, but people there seem to have problems with both of them. At Monday's city council meeting and work session, frustration and concerns boiled over.

City leaders first heard an update on the Hotel Aiken project during a city council work session. The project has been in the works since late 2016, but hasn't seemed to move very far.

Hotel Aiken, a vacant 1920's hotel in downtown Aiken, is set to be turned into a Courtyard Marriott, complete with 88 rooms and a speakeasy basement bar.

Today, Hotel Aiken Owner Neel Shah said the project has been slow, but he has finally hired a contractor and project manager.

At the work session, Shah said he gave the 30% design plan to Marriott for approval. Next comes the 60% and 90% plans, which could take another six months.

Shah says the reason the process is taking so long is because they are trying to maintain the historical aspect of the building, and since they are not building from the ground up, there are more hoops to jump through.

"We are aiming for a lot of historical purposes here, so you can't touch everything. You can't just demolish everything," he said. "It's just a lot of work."

They currently do not have a date to break ground, which concerned many of the council members in the work session, as they expressed they were receiving pressure from the public.

Shah and his project manager said they suspect renovations will take 18 months to complete. That means people in Aiken will most likely have to wait at least another two years before they see a finished product.

"It's happening. It's just taking a long time. But, it will happen," said Shah.

The second major project in question came during the regular city council meeting. City council had their second hearing to vote to rezone the old Aiken County Hospital property from office to planned commercial use. They also voted to approve a concept plan. Both passed unanimously.

The plan is to turn the old hospital, which has been vacant for six years, into a 100-room hotel, conference center, and apartment complex complete with 150 multi-family residential units.

"The overall goal is to draw more people to this side of town," said Tom Wyatt, president of WTC Investments LLC. His company is the developer on the old hospital project.

However, people at the city council meeting were incredibly vocal about their opposition to the plan, citing concerns that it would cost taxpayers upwards of 13 million dollars and would involve tearing down a historic property.

"We're not going to do something that's bad for Aiken or bad for us. I think it's important that this project gets done. It's going to help the city move forward in a positive direction," said Wyatt.

Copyright 2019 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved