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Editorial: City of Aiken’s progress is at a standstill

February 2, 2019

The news of the Marian Group abandoning its plans to turn the old Aiken Hospital into apartments, plus more, is the latest tick in the continuance of Aiken.

The legal definition of continuance is adjourning a step in a proceeding to a future day.

That leaves many of us to ask whether that future day will ever come.

The Marian Group dismissed its planned $25 million renovation of the old hospital property this week, citing the Aiken City Council’s continuation of a concept plan and zoning review. The company claimed the delay put it past a strict financing deadline to have entitlements in place.

The Marian Group first proposed building 200-plus apartments on the hospital property. Then, following local outcry, the Marian Group proposed 160.

But to a vocal minority, even that was not good enough, it seems.

Some thought 160 apartments was too much. Some were worried about the nurses building, which would have been demolished. There were those who wanted an historic overlay to be extended, and there were those who thought the Marian Group’s design was subpar at best.

Some thought the project would yield Section 8 housing, despite the Marian Group promising that wouldn’t happen.

In the end, the Marian Group left.

Now the old hospital will sit. And as Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce President and CEO J. David Jameson said Friday during the First Friday Means Business breakfast, it’s costing the county $5,000 a month to keep that hospital “preserved” the way it is now. The electric must remain on, the grounds require maintenance and so on.

And much like many big projects “planned” in Aiken, progress has seemingly stalled.

Add the old hospital into the mix of the renovation of the Aiken Mall, Hotel Aiken, Strikehouse Bowl, the Dougherty Road/Powderhouse connector and even go back to the proposed widening of Hitchcock Parkway several years ago.

We understand residents want to preserve the charm of historic Aiken, but charm without an occasional facelift, modern amenities and evolution loses its appeal.

The mall will continue to sit idle if the owner, Southeastern Development Associates, does not get retail stores to commit to the developer’s plan of renovation. And retail companies, already facing the weight of battling online shopping, won’t commit unless there is even the slightest population increase in Aiken.

They go hand-in-hand.

Just 15 miles to the southwest of Aiken, North Augusta is moving forward with SRP Park, Riverside Village, the Greeneway, Hammond’s Ferry, Exit 5 and Exit 1. Developers are looking to add housing; perhaps the Marian Group will even look there.

It’s unfortunate for Aiken, which is being left behind with its “charming” empty buildings.

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