Government

City of Aiken Revitalization Project

Downtown revitalization takes initiative, courage, and vision to look at what makes for a vibrant, walkable, livable center that fosters community vibrancy while creating economic opportunity. Aiken is no different. Our history of downtown revitalization is strong and the City stands ready to face the next chapter of downtown development.

This initiative is not the only step in continuing to infuse more vitality into our already successful community. The City will be working with partners to explore the revitalization of our Parkways. Like Savannah’s squares and Charleston’s Battery; Aiken’s Parkways are the signature of our City. We are excited about the prospects of exploring new ways to keep them beautiful while making them more accessible to our citizens and visitors.

Downtown Development Information & Feedback

QUESTIONS SUBMITTED FROM THE PUBLIC

UPDATED JULY 14, 2017

Doesn’t city ownership and use of 135 Laurens dramatically change the circumstances under which voters in 2010 endorsed Municipal Building expansion?

The move to 135 Laurens was itself a significant change to the plan forwarded prior to the 2010 referendum vote. The change in plan, executed during the tenure of a City manager whose employment ended before the relocation plan was fully implemented, has been evaluated by current City administration and found to be less efficient than the better idea placed before the voters in 2010. The hope is to recoup much of the investment in 135 Laurens as possible through its sale to the private sector and to proceed with the original plan voters were briefed on prior to the 2010 vote.

How do Aiken residents benefit from a “one-stop shop” with no ground floor services and no meeting room?

All of these “one-stop shop” services would be available on the ground floor of the consolidated City Hall. Current arrangement is not “one-stop” because citizen services are divided between the two buildings.

How much did Aiken pay for 135 Laurens, what was the cost of renovating it, and how much $ value is Carbon Properties expected to transfer to the city for it?

The total cost of the purchase and renovation of the building was $1.6 million (Purchase price and expenses was $760,553.04). The expected purchase price is appraised value of $1.04 million.

What is the current occupancy rate in the “downtown” blocks bounded by and including Laurens, Park, Richland and Newberry, and how many owner/tenant changes have occurred in that area in the past 2 years?

The City does not track these numbers at this time. Carbon Properties would take the risk related to offering retail space and has surveyed the market and made initial decisions based on what the company sees. A full study of these factors may take place in the future but has not as yet.

What will make residents, visitors, business owners and employees walk to a parking garage when there are spaces closer to downtown businesses?

City policy will require all City related vehicles be parked in any parking structure. Once a facility were to be available, City Council could examine policies to encourage and or require other long-term parkers and Downtown employees to use the facility.

What is the estimated annual cost and where will the funds come from to operate, maintain, clean and, most importantly, provide security for the parking garage?

Cost of maintain and securing the facility will depend upon design, size and factors that have yet to be determined. The costs would be calculated prior to any consideration of the project by City Council.

Will Hotel Aiken be assigned space in the garage and, if so, how will the city be compensated?

No such arrangement has been established at this time.

Using the First Tryon financial modeling, what is the yearly $ average of 2018-2027 city revenue (all sources) committed to projects and how much of that commitment is for debt service?

At this time the City has no debt service commitments and zero general obligation debt. Revenue bond debt, which would be paid from system revenues and not the general fund, is anticipated to fund planned infrastructure rehabilitation but no bond issue has been authorized to date. The Public Safety facility project debt will be paid from CPST funds and proceeds of the Transportation and Public Safety franchise fee. No final price has been determined or debt service for the facility has been established or committed.

Given that we have been told that Nov. 7 may be too late for a referendum, there must be some kind of timetable in place. The public needs to see this timetable.  In particular, the public needs to know when the City Council is expected to vote on any aspect of Renaissance.

There is no established timetable. The first element presented to City Council for approval will likely be the addition to and renovation of the municipal building. That could come before them as early as this fall, but a date certain is not known and depends on full details being developed for consideration.

Is there anything planned for July 24th regarding the Development plan?

There is not. The only reference to this date was in a letter to the editor written by a local resident. There was never a meeting scheduled for that date and no element of the proposed project has been outlined in sufficient detail to include drawings, costs, etc. to go before the Council at this time.

 Why does Renaissance include 3 separate and distinct projects?  Shouldn’t each project (garage, city hall expansion, sale & re-purposing of Finance building) stand on its own merit and be put to separate votes by City Council?

The Downtown Development proposal references three distinct but related initiatives. Despite their collection into a single broad RFP, each individual project will require a series of Council approvals and public hearings.

If the garage goes forward, exactly what accommodations/remunerations will be made to existing businesses on the Anderson tract and at what cost? 

Carbon Properties would have to answer that question. The company holds the purchase and sale agreement on that property and is negotiating with the existing businesses. The City has not had a request to accommodate.

Why should city hall have such a large footprint in the middle of the busiest part of downtown Aiken?  Wouldn’t Aiken be better served to have a consolidated city hall moved further out from the center of commerce?

The costs of relocating all of the operations would be far higher than the use of the current property and the disposal of 135 Laurens as surplus at a sales price of $1.04 million. The proposal would actually add retail activity to the Alley and return a key corner property on Laurens Street to the private sector. The net result would be less public office use on downtown ground floor property and more commercial activity, not less.

Why is the City spending $10 million or more to accommodate a hotel?

The economic vibrancy of Downtown, positive growth and economic development are the focuses of the effort. The hope is that all businesses will benefit including the hotel.

 When will details of the negotiated contract be available for the public to see and how much time will be given for review before City Council votes on it? 

Unknown at this time. Negotiations are ongoing. As the law requires, there will be ample time to study the details of the proposal prior to Council consideration.

Has the City studied the impact on downtown businesses of 3-5 years of construction mess and noise?

An economic impact study is moving forward at this time. The study will look at the long and short term impacts. It will evaluate business interruption issues during construction but also examine the economic stimulus impact of project during the same period. The influx of workers and dollars could be significant according to economists who have been consulted.

 

UPDATED JULY 12, 2017

Is the parking lot for the Laurens building included in the sale?

Yes, the parking lot is included in the sale of 135 Laurens Street SW.

What is the sale price to the developer for Laurens building? Has developer committed to the purchase?

Appraised value is $1.04 million. No formal agreement has been reached on any aspect of the project and negotiations are underway.

How many square feet of new commercial space is in the proposed building at 135 Laurens St.?

+/-7,000 square feet

Why did the city buy and renovate the Laurens building?  (there were supposed to be other renovations and consolidation of staff, but these did not happen.)

At the time it was thought it would provide an economic stimulus for downtown by taking a vacant building [empty since 2005] and repurposing it. There were also plans at the time to expand the municipal conference center and renovate the Municipal Building that never moved forward following changes in City administration. The division of City services has proven less efficient than envisioned and been inconvenient for citizens who at times have to go from one building for a service to another to pay for it. The Eustis Park Community Center now under construction will replace the Municipal Conference Center and double the capacity available for community meetings and events.

Why and who started calling the “Downtown Redevelopment” the “Renaissance?  (All council and other documents use Downtown Development or Redevelopment)

At a September 30, 2016, press conference introducing the downtown redevelopment project, City Manager John Klimm was quoted in the Aiken Standard [October 2, 2016, edition] as saying,  “This is an initiative that we believe will be the beginning of a renaissance for our downtown area.”  The newspaper pulled the word “renaissance” out and highlighted it in the story titled “Aiken Leaders envision a Downtown ‘Renaissance.’ ” Klimm also used the words rebirth and revival, but the newspaper has continued the use of the lower case descriptor as a proper noun instead of the formal name of the project used in official proceedings. The City has continued for months in all official activities to call the group of project Downtown Development.

In relation to proposed expansion of the municipal building, how many new square feet of commercial space?

+/-14,377 square feet [7,000 in theaddition; 5,350 in conference center; 2,027 on patio].

Who will operate the commercial space in the City Hall?

No formal agreement has been reached on any aspect of the project and negotiations are underway. A final answer plan has not been agreed or reached to bring before City Council for consideration.

Will the current city conference center be part of the commercial space of the new municipal commercial development? How many square feet of commercial space? Will it be rented or sold and estimated amount?

Yes, the Conference Center is proposed to be sold.  Auditorium is +/-5,350 square feet of space.  TBD on sale price based on negotiations, City Council consideration.

Who will fund the conference center renovations?

The private sector

What will replace the city conference center meeting space?

Eustis Park Community Center will offer double the capacity when completed

What is estimated cost of the City Hall office space addition? How will the cost be financed?

+/-14,000 feet. CPST lll- $1,200,000 +Lauren street building sale would provide partial funding. Building plans and cost estimates will be required to determine further costs and financing options. No designs or costs determined as yet.

What is the name of the new municipal building?

City Hall

What happens to the remaining part of the existing Municipal Building?

The proposal is to renovate at a minimum, to include upgrades to roof and HVAC system.  City staff will occupy the second floor and a portion of the first floor fronting on Park Ave allowing ground floor public access for payments, etc.

Is the developer purchasing the Shah and Anderson Properties?

The City has been informed that the developer intends to buy both properties.

Is the parking garage 2 or 3 stories? How will the garage be financed? Who will operate the garage?  Will it be free parking to everyone? How will the city get downtown business employees to park in the garage?

TBD on size and design.  Other questions subject to Council approval on level of City involvement and plan of action, decision on number of spaces, etc. Any garage would be funded through Hospitality Tax.

Who will own and operate the first floor commercial space under the garage?

Developer or individual commercial owners

How many square feet of new commercial space?

Too soon to tell. Estimates vary depending on final configurations. Plan is in general conceptual phase at this time and no building blueprints have been done to determine actual eventual square footage.

What are the proposed arrangements with the businesses that need to move because of the building of the garage?

As part of the RFP, the developer is working with existing tenants to accommodate their needs.

Did the City have anything to do with the “Advance Aiken” mailer?

In no way, shape or form.

What would be the effect on the entire program if City Council rejected the garage?

Unknown and up to City Council for consideration. Other portions could be considered separately or not at all.

Will project funds be expended to either relocate existing businesses or to remunerate them for business interruptions during construction?

Carbon Properties is the developer and would-be buyer, not the City of Aiken and this question would be best addressed to the company.

What are the plans and costs for temporary housing of city personnel during renovations?

No plans or costs for temporary housing. Intention is to phase projects so staff could be moved internally until and as individual portions are completed.

What guarantees, if any, will the city provide to the developer for future financial success of this project?

None.

Does the city have necessary services in place to support the proposed new facilities?

Sufficient capacity of all utilities and services is available

Why does the developer see this as a good business venture?

The private sector developer will evaluate its own business risk.

Does the approval process require City Council representatives to vote “up” or “down” on the package, as proposed, in its entirety? When will this vote occur?

Yes. City Council would have to approve numerous individual measures throughout the process as it moves forward and each would include two readings and public hearings. No vote has been scheduled as the project remains in very initial stages and no specific plans or specific cost estimates exist at this time.

Does City Council have the power to divide the package into its discrete parts and vote on each part separately?

Yes

Have parts of the development proposal already been decided upon/approved by City Council?  If so what has been decided upon by City Council?  And how did each representative vote?

No part of the development plan itself has reached sufficient detail or finality for such a proposal to reach the legislative stage. No such votes have been scheduled or occurred on the three-part plan itself. The Council has voted to set aside total of $2 million in Hospitality Tax proceeds through allocations in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 budgets. In April the Council passed a resolution authorizing the City Manager to negotiate with Carbon Properties regarding the proposed parking garage. Councilman Dick Dewar and Mayor Rick Osbon were absent, the remainder of Council was unanimous.

By what qualifications was Carbon Properties selected as the preferred developer?  What other developers were considered?  What advantages does Carbon Properties offer to any other developer considered?

They were chosen based on qualifications as stated in the RFP itself and the evaluation of the four proposals received by the RFP evaluation committee. The RFP and the minutes of the Feb. 27, 2017 evaluation meeting are available at https://ww.cityofaikensc.gov/aiken-revitalization-project/.

At what point will the retail people be contacted?  Before, during or after construction?

Carbon Properties has engaged Meybohm as a local agent and they say those efforts to gauge interest are underway. The developer prefers advance commitments.

How will all of the proposed projects be rolled out with estimated start and completion dates?

Too early to tell. Carbon Properties and the City have discussed general timelines that would see the Municipal Building completed as soon as fall of 2018, the proposed parking facility in 2019 and then the 135 Laurens project. All of this is subject to change based on actual engineering and project planning.

What downtown infrastructure needs to be done?

This element is well under way. Engineering surveys and final plans of work are being made at this time and City Council has approved funding mechanisms for water, sewer and storm water management systems to be replaced and upgraded throughout the areas of Park Avenue, Laurens, Hayne, Richland and Newberry in the Downtown project area.

Exactly when will these needed infrastructure projects be started and completed? Before, during or after the proposed development projects?

The plan would be to phase infrastructure work in concert with any construction or develop work so each area can be addressed at the same time and limit any disruptions that might arise.

What steps are planned to mitigate business interruption during all of the proposed projects?

City staff would work closely with contractors and the business community/ADDA to set schedules and make all possible arrangements to limit traffic and business disruptions. Elements of the infrastructure work will use state of the art trenchless technology as well to limit disruption where possible.

How will the long talked about renovation of Hotel Aiken fit into the proposed  development  and infrastructure roll out?

Hotel Aiken is a private business and the City is not privy to specific timelines or project details at this time. Any plans they present in the future will be factored into scheduling and efforts to minimize disruption.

Is it possible that downtown development and needed infrastructure projects could be completed without any material change to Hotel Aiken?

The Hotel Aiken project is a separate project in private hands. It is not directly related to the other projects.

Where is anticipated parking for the proposed apartments at 135 Laurens?

On-site and/or in the proposed parking structure.

Does the city have ANY development risk in the proposed apartments?

None.

What is the estimated rental cost of these units?

Carbon Properties would determine rates.

Who does the developer expect to rent these units?

Question referred to Carbon Properties.

Has any marketing study been done to demonstrate a demand for these units?

Question referred to Carbon Properties.

How many of these units will be below market rate affordable housing?

All rents are expected to be market rate. Question referred to Carbon Properties.

Will any of these units qualify for federal housing subsidies such as section 8?

All rents are expected to be market rate. Question referred to Carbon Properties.

Will the businesses on Newberry St. and Richland Ave. (Warneke Cleaners, Newberry Hall, etc) be open for business during the construction of the proposed parking garage and retain their present locations following the construction of the proposed parking garage?

Too early to tell and subject to Carbon Properties purchase of the property, arrangements with the existing businesses and the footprint of the finalized garage facility, which has yet to be determined. No details exist as far as size, number of spaces, design, etc. Potential floor plan that estimates 78 spaces per parking floor is all that has yet been produced for discussion.

Will the new parking garage have a security guard?

Security will be a priority. Exact provisions for ensuring security will depend on approval of the project and more concrete details in the coming months.

What is the projected future cost to the city for the parking garage? How will this facility be owned and managed?

No hard cost estimates as yet based on outstanding questions regarding existing businesses, design, etc. Proposal is for City to purchase completed garage for a pre-established price once one is established and considered by City Council. Developer would own and control retail portions of structure.

Specifically, how will the following groups of long term parkers be required to use the parking deck.

City employees – Downtown business employees – Downtown apartment tenants

City employees would be required to use the parking facility for personal and City-owned vehicles by administrative policy. There are approximately 80 vehicles involved. The ADDA has a parking initiative “M’Aiken Space” to encourage merchants and employees to park in other than prime spaces. Specific policies regarding Downtown employees and apartment tenants would require City Council action.

Is the City of Aiken willing to pass a time limited downtown parking ordinance with enforcement provisions prior to any renaissance project activity to demonstrate its commitment to solving the downtown parking issue?

This is a matter for City Council consideration.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to use the trolley already used for tours to take people around the city for a fee?

This proposal has not been considered as an effective alternative to a parking facility. Further exploration of how it might factor in to overall transportation efforts in the City would be required to determine if such a program could be helpful.

What are the costs involved in the parking deck and how will they be paid?

Too soon to tell the cost since no design or size has been determined. Costs will be paid by through hospitality tax.

How will the development costs be shared between the public and private condo  owners?

City would pay its expenses and the condo owners would pay theirs.

Was any of this downtown revitalization in one of the capital project sales tax referenda? If so, how was it worded?

The November 2, 2010, CPST III referendum had a line item under the City’s section of the ballot [Section II, Paragraph B] that said “$3,000,000 for the expansion of the Municipal Building”

Compare the cost of housing city employees in these facilities after completion of this project compared to current cost of housing these same personnel.

Too early to calculate but early assumption is that consolidation to one facility would be more efficient not less.

Adding ground floor retail space to the Municipal Building, additional construction on the adjacent lot and the “disposing” of 135 Laurens has been described as creating a “one-stop shop”.  The implication is that a “one-stop shop” would somehow add convenience for residents.  In fact, citizens making utility payments, which I understand is the most common interaction with the city, would have to either climb stairs or use an elevator to make that payment.

The Park Avenue entrance and front portion of the Municipal Building is planned to be the payment area as it once was. It is at ground floor and fully handicapped accessible. Only the rear portion of the current building, incorporating the current conference center would become retail space.

Why does the City need to consolidate into a single “city hall” and why in the center of Aiken?

The Municipal Building on Park Avenue was constructed in 1938 and served as the center of municipal government in the City for 74 years until relocating to the main commercial corridor on Laurens Street. The City is “going back to the future” by consolidating services into one building and putting a prime piece of real estate, 135 Laurens Street, back on the tax rolls. Current arrangement has proven less efficient than hoped.

The goal of the first phase of Aiken’s Revitalization Project is to:
  • Recruit a quality development team to work with the City to purchase and to redevelop the City’s property at 135 Laurens Street with ground floor retail and upper floor residential uses.
  • Rehabilitate the present Municipal Building on Park Avenue into and consolidated City Hall with both public and private sector uses.
  • Work with the private sector on one of the premier blocks in the downtown area, built on the present Anderson and Shah properties on Richland and Newberry Streets, to include retail on the ground level, a municipal parking garage and housing above. This final initiative represents a singular opportunity to capitalize on the soon to be restored Hotel Aiken and will be a prime component in furthering the prosperity of the downtown.