PRESS RELEASE – A proposed mixed use plan for North Augusta’s riverfront calls for a $150 million public-private investment that would include restaurants, retail, apartments, townhouses, a hotel, offices, conference center, parking and a City owned sports & entertainment facility, which would be the new home of the Augusta GreenJackets, as well as many other events throughout the year. The proposed plan for the Riverfront Center at Hammond’s Ferry will link downtown North Augusta with the Savannah River in accordance with the project’s original vision and master plan.
City Administrator Todd Glover emphasized that the plans for the project are proposed, and many steps need to be taken before the project becomes a reality.
Mayor Lark Jones stated that, ”For years the City has had a vision for a mixed use development on our riverfront. Hammonds Ferry is an excellent beginning. This proposal is the most exciting thing to happen in North Augusta since the building of the Hampton Terrace. For years our citizens have been clamoring for more restaurant and entertainment opportunities in the City, and we have long needed more lodging space. This project would fulfill those demands and be a catalyst for other development in our downtown area and the rest of our City. There will be a detailed approval process that requires the consent and cooperation of the Aiken County Council, The Aiken County School Board, City Council and most importantly, the Citizens of North Augusta.”
The proposed plan is a further enhancement to the previously approved plans for the Hammond’s Ferry Riverfront Center. The new mixed-use neighborhood is proposed to be located within the community’s previously zoned commercial district adjacent to the 13th Street Bridge crossing the Savannah River. Development would initially include a new hotel, 75 townhouses, 225 apartment units, three to four restaurants, retail space totaling 30,000 square feet, 40,000 square feet of offices, 20,000 square feet of conference space, 900 parking spaces and a $28 million sports & entertainment center.
Additionally, it was announced today that the Augusta GreenJackets club is being sold by Ripken Baseball to a local and regional group comprised mostly of Augusta, Atlanta, North Augusta and Aiken, South Carolina based investors. Glenn Tilley, President and CEO of Ripken Baseball stated, ”Ripken Baseball is in the process of transferring the majority of our ownership stake in the Augusta GreenJackets. We have proudly owned and operated the GreenJackets for the last seven years; however, our focus is evolving and shifting more squarely to the youth market. As a result, it is time for a transition.”
Cal Ripken, Jr. added, ”We have built wonderful relationships in Augusta and want to see baseball succeed in the region. The way I see it, we arent leaving Augusta, simply changing roles. Multi-purpose development along the river has always been exciting to me and I look forward to the success of our new ownership group.”
The teams sale is led by Agon Sports & Entertainment whose principals are Jeff Eiseman, former Ripken Baseball Vice President, and Chris Schoen, of Greenstone Properties, an Atlanta based developer who has had Minor League Baseball ownership with previous teams in Salem, VA, Fort Wayne, IN, and Savannah, GA. At present this Augusta sale is pending formal approval of Minor League and Major League Baseball.
Schoen commented, ”Greenstone is delighted to have the opportunity to work on such an exciting mixed-use waterfront development. The riverfront offers extraordinary investment appeal as a sustainable addition to both North Augusta and Augusta. The proposed public-private investment would be delivered at a quality level consistent with the original vision of Hammonds Ferry and would create a pedestrian and live-work-play environment unequaled anywhere in the Southeastern United States.”
According to the City, the GreenJackets and Greenstone Properties of Atlanta expressed interest in developing some of the mixed-use components of the project at Hammonds Ferry, along with master developer LeylandAlliance LLC. Howard Kaufman of LeylandAlliance LLC said, “The Hammond’s Ferry Riverfront Center will help the City fulfill its vision to complete North Augusta’s original 1892 master plan by bringing downtown North Augusta to the riverfront. This comprehensive development plan, particularly with the multipurpose public facilities, will truly create a meaningful destination for the citizens of North Augusta, and offers a tremendous economic development opportunity for the City.”
”We have been working with the City of North Augusta for the past few months,” said Jeff Eiseman of the GreenJackets. ”We are all hopeful the result will be something with which everyone will be very happy. It is truly a regional solution that will benefit not only the City of North Augusta, but downtown Augusta, Aiken and the surrounding region. In addition to housing the GreenJackets, the new center would accommodate a variety of entertainment and sporting events including concerts, football, soccer, lacrosse, and both City-sponsored and private special events.”
The City would extend the existing Tax Increment Finance district (TIF) that encompasses Hammonds Ferry. One of the keys for the project is the construction of a new hotel, as this will be a large contributor to resultant TIF revenues. The City has been working with a group that would own and operate the proposed hotel.
The City would lease the new sports & entertainment venue to the GreenJackets on a long term basis with the team committing to pay annual rent, a surcharge on tickets for both baseball and special events, and potentially a percentage of other revenue. The lease would be guaranteed by the minor league baseball team, and the City would issue development bonds to fund the facility, parking, and other infrastructure, with all other components provided by the private sector. The development bonds would be repaid from lease and other payments from the GreenJackets, and from resultant TIF revenues. Glover stressed that the City would not be spending any general fund property tax dollars on the project and that the new development would essentially pay for the public investment.
When all phases of the project are completed, Glover said the overall spending would be about 70 percent by the private sector and 30 percent public. The public financing components of the project would have to be approved by City Council. Glover said that Council had been briefed on numerous occasions about the potential of the project, which does include a public park along the riverfront as well. Several components of the project could be built simultaneously, and if the City reaches all necessary approvals and agreements, construction could begin as early as the summer of 2013, allowing for delivery of the heart of the project, including the sports facility, for opening day of baseball for the spring of 2015.