State of the City Address Recording 2020
Aiken Award Recipient William McGhee, Jr.
Aiken Award Recipient Lionel “Smitty” Smith
One of the greatest pleasures of this annual event is for me to have the opportunity to honor some pretty amazing people. People who I respect and admire for the contributions they have made for the City of Aiken and the character traits they exemplify in their life. The Aiken Award is a small token compared to the impact our honorees this evening has had on us all.
Our first recipient tonight has made contributions to our city that will last for generations. Which is fitting because his family has been a part of the Aiken fabric for generations. He appreciates history and has a pragmatic vision toward successful preservation. His dedication to the restoration of communities is unparalleled. It is said faith can move mountains, and that
maybe so but I know for certain that the vision and determination of this recipient can move a
house. Let’s see what his friends and family had to say.
Ladies and gentlemen please join me in welcoming our first 2020 Aiken Award winner Mr. Bill
Our next award recipient has been an ambassador for Aiken for over 40 years. He has
demonstrated what client service is suppose to be. He lives his life to add value to those around
him. Family has always been a priority in this recipients business and every visitor feels like they
are a part of his before they leave. There are people who live around our country and world
who plan trips so they can come visit his retail establishment. He falls into a unique group of
people who are simply identified by one name. Madonna, Elvis, Prince and this Aiken Award
winner. Let’s see what others had to say.
Ladies and gentlemen please welcome Mr. Lionel Smith, Smitty to the stage.
My fellow Aikenites,
I’m pleased to see you all tonight and to share with you just a few of the exciting
accomplishments we’ve made together over the last year, along with some big goals for the
years to come.
First, I’m so proud that you have once again had confidence to elect me as your mayor.
Your support last November is appreciated and I’m here tonight to say thank you. I’ll work each
and every day to live up to your expectations and serve you to the best of my ability.
Thankfully, I won’t be alone in facing the challenges ahead.
While I have the honor of being up here to deliver these remarks,
I do this each year on behalf of your entire City Council.
The men and women I serve with are all exceptional public servants and I’m proud to have
them here with us tonight.
Just as I couldn’t do anything without these amazing partners, our council depends on the hard
work and dedication of our city staff.
From the Public Safety officers who keep us safe,
to the Public Services folks who keep our neighborhoods clean and beautiful, to the crews who
keep our water and sewer systems up and running as they should … we owe a debt of gratitude
to the whole team that keeps this City the wonderful place it is.
That team, more than 400 people strong, is led by City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh.
If you are a member of our city team, please stand for a moment and let us show you our
Thank you for all that you do!
Sadly this past year we lost some members of our City of Aiken team.
Chief Charlie Cupp died in April of 2019, at the age of 88. Chief Cupp joined the Aiken Fire
Department as an auxiliary fireman in 1954 in what led to a 38-year career with the City of
He was Assistant Fire Chief from 1965 to 1977 when the Aiken Fire and Police Departments
were combined as the Aiken Department of Public Safety.
He remained as a major in the fire division until his retirement in 1992.
James “Lightning” Collier died January 10, 2020, at the age of 59. He was a 38-year Utilities
employee who taught many of our current staffers all the “tricks of the trade.” Lightning was
one of the many people that makes our community so special.
They will both be sorely missed. Let’s have just a moment of silence in their honor, and for all
the loved ones we’ve lost in the last year.
While we’re talking about our team, our City of Aiken family, I’d like to review some of the
milestones staff has guided us through over the last year and is hard at work on even now.
One of the projects City Council is most proud of is one that goes to the heart of our highest
priority as elected officials — Protecting the lives and property of the people of Aiken.
This past year we moved into the new Public Safety Headquarters on Beaufort Street — a
46,000 square foot state of the art facility.
This facility was a creative and cost-effective combination of repurposing and renovating of an
old Food Lion grocery store along with several new building additions, and it turned out
Also, this year, we were excited to add a Crime Analyst to Public Safety’s staff.
This analyst will be able to predict and evaluate crime trends.
The analyst will assist in efficient allocation of patrol and investigative resources to address
current and future crime trends and help us to begin fighting crime before it happens – the best
time to do it.
To further enhance our security as a city, bids have been received and a contract has been
awarded for the construction of a downtown camera system.
This security network will help deter crime and assist with the investigation of any crimes that
do occur in the downtown area.
Public Safety will have the ability to access live or recorded footage from any of these camera
locations, and Public Safety will be partnering with our downtown businesses to implement this
This project is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, 2020.
Speaking of downtown, our Planning Department did an excellent job this year on the
expansion of the Downtown Business, or DB, zoning district.
This change protects more than 150 parcels on the eastern side of Aiken’s central business
district that had, for years, been General business. The long and the short of it is the change
protects this largely residential area by allowing property owners there to use their property for
both business and the existing residential uses.
It also allows for less restrictive on-site parking requirements. It really was a win for both
business people who want to open and create jobs in those areas, and for the homeowners
who want to continue to live in an urban, mixed-use community.
The Planning Department also led the charge on the implementation of our Parkways Task
If you haven’t seen the results of this first phase of the Parkway work along Park Avenue, from
Laurens all the way to Union, you really should. The bio-swales have been reduced in size and
improved greatly and you can now walk along an amazing network of paved paths under the
canopy of the trees. Work to complete lighting of the paths for evening use should be complete
in the next several weeks.
It’s just a great addition to our downtown and it’s just the first leg of a Parkway trail around our
city that we’ll be working on for years to come. The trees are really the stars of our parkways,
and our city in general.
We continue our work, graciously funded by – now — well more than $1 million from the Aiken
Land Conservancy, to protect our treasured urban forest with a management plan and a pledge
to plant three trees for each tree we lose to age, disease, or disaster.
Work to place utility lines underground along our picture postcard South Boundary Oaks is
nearing completion and will soon reduce the need for trimming.
That comes thanks in part to matching funds from our partners at Dominion Energy. Once those
lines are all underground and the trees are free to grow as naturally possible, there are plans to
start a tree nourishment program designed to keep public trees around the city as happy and
healthy as we all want them to be.
Our Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department has certainly been hard at work. This past
Spring they held the ribbon cutting for what is already proving to be a very versatile and
popular facility, the Lessie B. Price Aiken Senior and Youth Center.
I’m telling you, this has been an incredible addition to the Eustis Park community and to the
City as a whole.
In concert with that project, PRT also upgraded the surrounding park and it turned out so well
that they won a state award for it! Each year the South Carolina Recreation and Parks
Association recognizes agencies across the state with awards during their annual conference.
For 2019, the City of Aiken PRT won for the Parks Excellence Award, for their work at Eustis on
the revitalization work there.
By the end of next year I expect them to bring home another one of those prestigious honors
for the work they are doing right now to replace the Smith Hazel Recreation Center swimming
pool and to add restroom and dressing facilities there.
This is a key facility, not just for fun in the sun, but for teaching the young people of Aiken
With the expansion, I expect this will be a real attraction and the Smith Hazel pool will truly
become a destination for residents all over the city. We expect the project to be completed
Not every department gets to do things as flashy as build new swimming pools, but their work
is just as important, if not more so in some cases.
Our Information Technology Department – with these new facilities I’ve been bragging about –has worked tirelessly behind the scenes – in the walls and the ceilings, under the floors … and a
lot of other unglamorous places.They’ve worked to tie all of our existing buildings and all of our computers, telephones, security
and other key systems into a redundant, always-on network protected from constant
cyberattacks – attacks like the ransomware events that have crippled cities large and small
around the country. That’s no small feat – especially when they have to stop to take calls from
the mayor about how to use his IPad.
We can’t forget our Public Services Department, which will soon successfully complete the
transition from antiquated rear-loading trash trucks to side-loading automated trucks.
That change alone has increased the efficiency and speed of trash collection while eliminating
the dangerous need for staff to ride on the back of the trucks and roll up the carts.
Our Engineering and Utilities Department is doing a wonderful job working to repair and
rehabilitate water, sewer and storm water infrastructure throughout the city, while still working
on plans and projects that expand our system and allow for future growth.
Right now they are set to begin a project that will extend our water and sewer services beyond
Interstate 20 along the U.S. 1 corridor. That’s very exciting!
All of City staff and your City Council will work on another very important project that will get
underway very soon. As you know, we plan to take the historic Henderson Hotel, which was
most recently the downtown branch of Regions bank, and build a modern – and most
importantly – consolidated — city hall that will serve this community for decades to come.
We’ve already made progress with the goal of returning our surplus real estate to private hands
– and back to the tax rolls – through the agreement approved last month to sell the current
Finance and Administration Building at 135 Laurens Street.
In fact, the $1.3 million in proceeds from that sale will be used to help pay for the upgrades to
the Regions building, which will include new Council Chambers, and be the future home of all
our public meetings.
The blueprints are in the works and nearing completion now. We’ll make sure to share those
plans and construction schedules as they firm up.
And that’s not all we’ll be building. We’re going to be designing and building roads!
Over the next year, we’ll get started with the new Owens Extension between Whiskey and
Neilson Street that will allow traffic to flow all the way to Pine Log and Silver Bluff roads. Right
of way acquisition is well underway and final engineering is in the works for a connector that
will tie Centennial Parkway to East Gate Drive.
These will be the first concrete steps to build the initial phases of the Powderhouse and
Pawnee-Neilson Connectors. These roads will provide parallel connections to Whiskey Road and
reduce congestion there as they’re completed.
We have applied for state and federal funding to help get it all done, but we can no longer wait
to get started.
We hope the State of South Carolina and the federal government help us out. As a city, we can
no longer wait to start addressing these needs. We will use the funds we have in hand now and
get started with these important projects.
Ladies and gentleman, this is our City.
This truly is our time.
As we embark on a new decade this year, I believe history will show that 2020 was the
beginning of some important improvements for our already blessed community.
Things that will make us an even stronger and more resilient community for decades to come.
I hope we’ll look back on 2020 and it will be much like another watershed event that we
celebrate this year with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Savannah River Site.
Clearly, that event in 1950 profoundly impacted Aiken and made us what we are today.
As we know, the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site was established in the early days
of the Cold War, to support the nation’s nuclear defense, a mission it continues to this day.
The work of SRS employees and the State of South Carolina helped America win the Cold War,
and maintains global nuclear deterrence even today as the nation’s only facility for extracting,
recycling, purifying and reloading tritium. As much as we may wish we didn’t need those tools
of war, we do, and I’m proud Aiken has played such a critical role in keeping our nation strong.
The economic impact of the site has been, and continues to be, enormous for this City and the
entire region. The SRS annual budget is approximately $2.3 billion.
The Site employs a highly skilled workforce of more than 11,000 in key defense, research and
development, and cleanup missions.
What’s more, SRS has a proven track record of being one of the safest sites in the DOE Complex
– and one of the safest major industrial sites in the world.
What this enterprise has done to increase the pure brainpower in this town, is astonishing.
The Site is home to the Savannah River National Laboratory, one of only 17 National
Laboratories in the United States, with its nearly 1,000 scientists, engineers and support staff.
That’s a lot of very smart people … and about 80 percent of them call the City of Aiken home.
Savannah River Nuclear Solutions has created a brief video that captures the invaluable
contributions of the site and reviews its storied past. Let’s take a look …
We’re honored, tonight, to have a delegation representing all of the workers, now and through
the last 70 years, with us. While I welcome them to the stage, I would like to ask our City
Council members to join me. Please welcome:
* Amy Boyette, Director of the Office of External Affairs for the U.S. Department of Energy –
Savannah River Operations Office
* Edwin DeShong, Assistant Manager for Plans and Programs with the NNSA – Savannah River
* Rick Sprague, Senior Vice President of Environmental, Safety, Health & Quality for Savannah
River Nuclear Solutions
* Tom Foster, President and Project Manager of Savannah River Remediation
* And Charlie and Lyddie Hansen, who are Savannah River Site Retirees and Community Chairs
of the SRS 70th Anniversary Committee.
Aiken City Council is pleased to present you with this proclamation declaring 2020 a year of
celebration marking the 70th anniversary of the Site’s founding ….
We can all agree that President Harry S. Truman’s decision to create the Savannah River Site in
1950 was an auspicious one for our City. We heeded the call to devote ourselves to the defense
of our nation with the newest and most critical technology of the era.
As I mentioned at the outset … This is our City, and, once again it is our time. Time to heed a
new call, one so familiar to this area’s patriots, to embrace new technology and keep the world
safe for the American ideals and values we all hold so dear.
While we continue to contribute on the nuclear front through SRS, the frontier at which we
stand now is a digital one. The CSRA and Fort Gordon are becoming an international center for
the development and practice of cybersecurity and cyber warfare that will have just as dramatic
an effect as the efforts of the last 70 years have.
Governor Henry McMasters’ recently-released executive budget includes $15 million for the
South Carolina National Guard to begin construction of the innovative DreamPort Cybersecurity
The collaborative facility at the University of South Carolina Aiken.
The purpose of the DreamPort facility will be to increase the state’s cyber response capabilities
through partnerships to keep pace with increasing cyber threats and technology initiatives. And
they will do it in a new world-class facility on the campus of our own USC Aiken, my alma
I can’t say enough about the efforts of Chancellor Sandra Jordan, who coordinated with the
National Guard to bring attention to this initiative and help foster critical partnerships, which
made it happen. The Aiken Standard recently named Dr. Jordan its person of the year with very
good reason – her role in this important project proves it.
As Dr. Jordan describes it to me, the DreamPort facility will provide classified and unclassified
environments where experts can solve some of the most pressing challenges in the cyber realm
and utilize the National Guard’s cybersecurity expertise to the benefit of the state.
It will bring cyber expertise to the campus, and provide the cybersecurity faculty and students
there access to some of the best trained cyber experts in America.
That access will give them opportunities to work alongside and learn from leaders in this field
as Aiken takes up the important work of training the next generation of cyber warriors.
The new facility, to be located in close proximity to the Savannah River National Laboratory’s
Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative on the USC Aiken campus, will create a space for cyber
experts in the private, government, and academic sectors to work closely with Fort Gordon’s
Cyber Operations and the Savannah River National Laboratory’s cyber researchers.
This work will be important from the battlefield to the board room and for each one of us as we
conduct our connected lives each day. That’s because cyber-crimes not only impact
governments and the military … they impact businesses and individuals.
Beyond those benefits to the nation, clearly, this project will pay dividends economically for the
region by creating an environment for entrepreneurs, nontraditional companies, small
business, industry, and academics to develop new technologies and new well-paying jobs in our
The Dreamport along with the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative soon to be constructed
on the campus as well will be true game-changers for our area. Dr. Jordan and the university
have aligned USC Aiken’s curriculum and programs to capitalize on the state-of-the-art research
that will bring the important work of the Savannah River National Laboratory outside the gates
of SRS into the heart of Aiken.
This, too, will serve to develop innovative new work product while preparing the area workforce in very high demand fields.
It really is our time … Isn’t it?!!
Speaking of time.
Lots of things, important things, take far more of it than any of us would prefer.
One economic development project that fits that category for all of us over the last several
years has been the redevelopment of the Aiken Mall during a time of historic challenges for
brick and mortar retail in general and malls in particular.
But, ladies and gentlemen, in a further sign that this truly is our time … I’d like to ask Vic Mills of
Southeastern Development, owners of the mall, to join me now. He has some exciting news
and he’s worked so long and hard to get to this point that it’s only fair I allow him to share that
news with all tonight.
Thank you, Vic, and good luck with a very exciting project that none of us can wait to see
What time is it folks? Say it with me …
It’s Our Time!
Even as we look to a bright future, we have to look at one of the foundations of Aiken’s storied
equine past. With the exception of a major event in Augusta every April, the Spring
Steeplechase has long been among the largest single-day spectator sporting events anywhere in
the CSRA. The Spring event here opens the Steeplechase season and the Fall race closes it. Each
event draws thousands to our community to enjoy the races and a day of tailgating that is
legendary, not just in Aiken, but around the South.
The event has gotten so large, in fact, that it has outgrown its longtime home, Bruce’s Field at
the Aiken Horse Park. At the same time, the Horse Park has embraced the growing eventing
disciplines and hosts year-round events that bring world-class athletes – both human and horse
– to our equestrian community.
The events there have grown to such a degree and there are such wonderful plans to expand
them in the future that the Steeplechase Association began looking for a new home several
They looked at a lot of sites. Some of them quite a distance from the namesake City that has
hosted the event since 1930.
As was announced last month, the Steeplechase Association, in the end, decided that
continuing to call Aiken home was important for their events … and important for the City itself.
The Association selected a site on the eastern edge of the City limits, at the corner of Richland
Avenue and Rudy Mason Parkway.
This 144-acre site will soon be home to a new track and, over time, permanent facilities – barns,
a grand stand, and others, needed to support races that will be bigger and better than ever
They asked Aiken City Council for help and we were pleased to work with them and provide a
grant of $1 million in funds that must be spent, by law, on supporting and encouraging tourism
in the area. What a win, win for the city, the Steeplechase and the Horse Park.
I’m so thrilled the races will remain in Aiken for me, my children, and their children to enjoy
now that they have found the perfect new home. I’m also gratified that the association turned
to city council and we were able to work in partnership to get this major feat accomplished.
Another major announcement I have for you this evening is that the time for Aiken’s wonderful
northside park, Generations Park, to come into the city limits is here. Soon, the City will close an
innovative land deal with WR Grace & Company that will make that long past due annexation a
Grace is a large landowner between the current city limits and the park property. They are in
the kaolin mining business and operate a packaging facility just north of the city limits and just
south of Generations Park. We needed to annex that park and Grace needed something from
us. They needed to tap into our water service to improve the fire protection for their Kaolin
Bill Blackmore, the General Manager of Grace’s Aiken facility is here with us tonight and I’d like
to recognize his efforts on the City’s behalf to get this done. Bill, stand up and take a bow sir.
With Bill’s help, we will soon get the park contiguous to our city limits … and then, we will, at
long last, have the park within the city. And that’s just a first step. A first step in plans to begin
the expansion of our city to include our industrial parks, our airport, and the land primed for
development along I-20.
It’s our time. Time to do the things that make sense and that grow our city – and our tax base –
in smart and efficient ways that will benefit us all. Not just for Generations Park – but for literal
generations of Aikenites to come.
God bless each of you, and God bless Aiken, South Carolina!
And don’t forget, as we move through 2020, we can all let everyone we meet know what time it
IT’S OUR TIME.
Thank you and good night.