The Augusta GreenJackets will have to wait a little longer to learn if a new ballpark is in the South Atlantic League team's future.
A planned vote by the Aiken County Council last night on whether to approve funding for a proposed $160 million development on the shores of the Savannah River in North Augusta, which would include a new $28 million ballpark for the GreenJackets, was called off. Instead, the council agreed to treat the measure as an ordinance, which requires a series of three votes (called readings) and a public hearing. The ordinance received its first approval last night, though no timetable has been set for the next vote or public hearing.
Despite the delay, team owner Jeff Eiseman says he is pleased with the project's progress. "In the years I have been associated with this project, I don't think we have ever been closer."
Eiseman would know. Before purchasing the team in January, he served as a vice president for Ripken Baseball—which purchased the GreenJackets in 2005—and guided the team through the many stops and starts of trying replace Lake Olmstead Stadium in downtown Augusta.
"Ideally, sure it would be knocked out of the park last night and we would be focused on the next step," Eiseman said. "But we're not disappointed. That's not the right word. It's just a process."
Receiving Aiken County approval is the final major hurdle in the process for the Project Jackson development—which calls for a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) district to help finance the ballpark as well as a 200-room resort-style hotel, up to four restaurants, and residential and retail space. The project's developers revised its financing model after the county rejected it in March, and it has since received the necessary approval by the North Augusta City Council and Aiken County School Board.
Eiseman said he expects the project to be approved by the county council by the end of October and that the team is shooting to open the ballpark in 2015.
Both Eiseman and his business partner Chris Schoen have experience in building ballparks. Eiseman spent 11 years with Ripken Baseball, beginning in 2002 when he helped open Ripken Stadium as general manager for the Aberdeen IronBirds (New York-Penn). Schoen is a real estate developer who previously served as CEO of Hardball Capital, the investment group which owns the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Midwest) and Savannah Sand Gnats (South Atlantic). He played a key role in organizing the financing for Fort Wayne's Parkview Field, which is part of a similar mixed-use development and has been regarded as one of the best ballparks in the minors since opening in 2009.