Public meeting set on downtown redevelopment
The City of Aiken has scheduled the latest in a series of public meetings regarding downtown redevelopment plans. The meeting to review the status of the project plans and the ongoing contract talks will be held July 11 at 6 p.m. in the Municipal Conference Center, 215 The Alley.
The Downtown redevelopment goals were established through a series of public meetings held as part of the Main Street America visioning process. The development schedule forwarded by the developer, David Smoots, founding partner of Carbon Properties, LLC is staged in phases to allow major upgrades to Downtown water, sewer and storm water systems being undertaken by the City to take place in concert with redevelopment to minimize traffic and business disruptions. Infrastructure repair is among the highest priorities for Aiken City Council and a multiyear, multimillion-dollar plan to address systems approaching 100 years of age is moving forward.
The City of Aiken’s preferred development team for Downtown has proposed a construction timeline calling for the disposal of surplus City property and the renovation and expansion of the historic Municipal building as approved by the citizens in a 2010 referendum be under construction as early as this fall.
All the City services currently split between two Downtown locations could be combined in one updated facility by end of 2018, according to Smoots. This would provide one single location for all City government meetings, utility payments, planning services, permits and licensing services. The innovative plan calls for activating the first floor of the building with retail space in a condominium plan that would allow the lower level to be privately owned and added to the tax rolls while City offices would be located on the second and third floors.
The Carbon Properties schedule proposal suggests renovations to the existing Municipal Building at 214 Park Ave. SW be completed along with the addition of a 21,000-square-foot addition on city-owned property that fronts The Alley and Newberry Street. The new “City Hall,” as the combined structure would be called, would include 12,000 square feet of privately-owned retail space.
The City Council has not been presented with a final proposal for the City Hall and other components of the redevelopment plan, but the expansion of the City services building was approved by the Council and City voters in 2010. Funding for the City Hall project was approved in a 2010 Capital Project Sales Tax referendum and funds have been set aside from that 1 percent local option sales tax to partly fund the project.
The City Hall project would be completed late next year if the schedule is accepted and a contract is approved by Aiken City Council. No such decision has been made by the council and the proposed schedule is among the first steps to crafting a fully developed contract proposal for review by City Council and the public.
The Carbon Properties proposal is among the first steps in examining the proposed projects and would allow the firm to establish priorities for engineering and design tasks to be completed before full drawings and cost estimates can be undertaken. Building the City Hall first would allow city operations to be moved out of the current Administration and Finance building at 135 Laurens St., which would make way for the sale of that building. The City has a desire to dispose of the property once it can be deemed surplus and the sale of the property will help fund the overall redevelopment project.
A mixed-use building designed to resemble the Western Carolina Bank building that once graced the corner of Hayne and Laurens would include commercial uses on the first floor and as many as 35 apartments on the second and third floor. This project would be entirely market driven and in private hands following the purchase of the property by Carbon Properties. The proposed schedule is ambitious, but calls for the Laurens building to be completed by the end of 2019, according to Smoots.
A mixed-use retail and parking facility for that site would likely get underway at the corner of Richland and Newberry early in 2019 and would not be completed until late 2019 or early 2020. Construction of the retail and garage facility would be a private project funded and completed by Carbon Properties with the agreement, if approved by City Council, the City would purchase the garage portion of the structure at a pre-determined price upon completion.