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New GreenJackets ballpark project hit with lawsuit

Proposed North Augusta ballpark

A ballpark opponent has filed suit against North Augusta’s Project Jackson development, saying tax-increment financing (TIF) has been inappropriately implemented in the funding plan.

Project Jackson is a $144-million development in North Augusta that includes retail, hotel, convention center and a new ballpark for the Augusta GreenJackets (Low Class A; Sally League). The ballpark itself will be privately financed, but $40 million generated by a TIF district (via increased property and sales taxes) has been allocated by the city.

It’s that spending that raised the ire of River Club Homeowners Association president Steve Donohue, who filed suit late last year in an attempt to block the TIF district, saying it was misapplied to the project. In addition, he’s opposing the inclusion of the GreenJackets ballpark in the project. From South Carolina Radio Network:

However, that $40 million price tag is earning the ire of many residents. River Club Homeowners Association president Steve Donohue filed a lawsuit in early December, a few weeks after the town council gave its final approval for “Project Jackson.” Donohue, who did not return a call seeking comment last week, has previously claimed North Augusta is improperly funding much of the total through Tax Increment Financing (TIF). TIF freezes property and sales tax revenue from a particular area of town (in this case, the North Augusta riverfront) and diverts any additional revenue above that line towards repaying the $40 million.

During previous council meetings, Donohue argued against the baseball stadium’s inclusion. He also said North Augusta officials were inappropriately claiming a woody, undeveloped area as “blighted” in order to justify the TIF plan. “They want a baseball stadium so bad that you can almost taste it. But (the plan) is flawed. Seriously flawed,” he told the Augusta Chronicle.

[City administrator Todd] Glover said the current greenspace is a former industrial district that once housed lumber mills, rail yards and brick factories. “It’s really someplace that needs to be cleaned up,” he said.

There are some real-world consequences to the lawsuit. Even though courts have traditionally given wide latitude to what constitutes blight in the TIF process (to the point where it’s an almost meaningless criteria), a lawsuit like this still must wind its way through the court system. For the GreenJackets, a big issue is whether it will delay a ballpark opening from 2015 to 2016.

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