Mayor Rick N. Osbon on March 29, 2021 wrote a letter to members of the Aiken Municipal Development Commission and the Aiken Corporation regarding immediate economic development priorities in the City of Aiken.
The text of the letter is as follows:
I’m pleased to inform you that during a March 22, 2021 meeting, the Aiken City Council voted unanimously to accept the Economic Development Action plan recently completed as a roadmap to guide our mutual mission – promoting and ensuring sustainable prosperity in our community. I can assure you that my colleagues and I didn’t merely accept the extensive goals and objectives outlined in the comprehensive and thoughtfully crafted document. We enthusiastically embraced them!
It is now imperative we move quickly to realize the promise the plan outlines so well. I will not repeat all of the plan objectives here in the interest of brevity, but the Council and I did agree we should highlight some important initial priorities we’ve drawn from its objectives. The Action Plan establishes the need for initiatives for every region of the City that must receive immediate attention simultaneously, but our Downtown Parkway district, roughly between Park Avenue to the South, Hampton Avenue to the North, Morgan Street to the West and Beaufort Street to the East, must be first among equals. The character of this area is the heart of what makes Aiken so uniquely special and is truly among the primary draws for tourists and new residents alike. All too often, we have seen cases in other communities where failure to act boldly in regards to downtown resiliency has left cities literally broken hearted when their core is allowed to decay. We remain exceptionally fortunate to have a vibrant and active central business district, but there are obvious threats and challenges to the continuation of that success that must be addressed.
As stakeholders, we must work with a wide array of property owners and development partners to find solutions to nagging issues. These include the redevelopment of the former Aiken County Hospital site, the expedited redevelopment of the stalled Hotel Aiken project, the critical need for infill development that will provide additional owner-occupied and rental residential options, and the proper upkeep of dilapidated structures throughout the area.
I have consulted with my Council colleagues and refined the following specific and near-term goals to promote additional tourism, retail, commercial and residential development that will provide real-world impacts to the City through growth in the tax rolls and other direct revenues:
1) Explore meeting the existing demand for a conference/convention facility that will fulfill the persistent call from regional membership organizations and others who have indicated they would host regular large events in our charming and historic city if there were an appropriate venue here to meet their needs.
2) Such a venue would need to be adjacent to sufficient first-class lodging to accommodate as many as 500 overnight and multi-night attendees. If the venue envisioned above is a feasible addition the downtown district and becomes a reality, the fate of the downtown hospitality and lodging industry will become immediately brighter for all hotel operators, present and future, citywide.
3) Our stakeholder team should leverage that possibility to find immediate ways to assist the ownership of the Hotel Aiken in expediting the envisioned redevelopment of that presently abandoned facility at the key corner of Laurens Street and Richland Avenue.
4) As the action plan suggests, we must work with existing property owners to package and market sufficient acreage and appropriate sites to meet the development community’s desire to create more urban-scale residential condo and apartment inventory within the downtown area. The benefits of this type of housing go well beyond the impact it will have on the City – and County for that matter – coffers through providing additional tax value purely through growth. Such housing will ensure vibrancy in the downtown for decades to come and stimulate the addition of retail, dining and other commerce by providing a steady stream of local 24/7 consumers.
5) Downtown parking will be in need of a long-term solution if and when the prior priorities are met. To provide convenient and accessible parking for the conference center, hotel and residential facilities laid out above it is clear that surface parking as well as a structured parking solution will be required. Any parking facility must meet our community’s sensitivities and be constructed in a way that does not detract from the character and charm that bring so many to our doorstep in the first place.
I am pleased to have all of you in place and I know that each of you is eager to tackle these and all the other challenges and opportunities presented in what, to date, has been called the AECOM Plan. We appreciate the efforts the economists, planners and other experts from AECOM put into crafting it for us, but, from here on out, it becomes the AIKEN Economic Development Action Plan. It’s up to every resident of Aiken, the AMDC, the Aiken Corporation, the City Council and countless stakeholders throughout the community to join together and make this document more than a plan for the future. We need to make it our present and our reality as soon and as successfully as we possibly can.
Thank you for the part you will play in moving our City forward and making our vision for Aiken’s future a reality.