Field of Dreams Finally Taking Shape in North Augusta
By Gary Kauffman
After a nightmarish five years of controversy, lawsuits and other delays, Project Jackson is finally on its way to becoming North Augusta’s Field of Dreams. And that is expected to provide a boost to businesses in the area.
Construction began in the spring on the Augusta GreenJackets’ baseball stadium, the centerpiece of what is officially called Riverside Village at Hammonds Ferry. An official groundbreaking ceremony took place on May 25. Coming in the near future to Riverside Village will be a 180-room Crowne Plaza hotel, office and retail buildings and apartments.
“The ballpark will be a catalyst,” said Chris Schoen, managing principal of project developer Greenstone Properties and co-owner of the GreenJackets. “Minor league baseball is built to attract families. They’ll be coming here riding bikes, eating dinner, then taking in four or five innings of a ballgame and still have the kids in bed by bedtime.”
Judging from sales of the upper echelon of seating, many people in the area are already looking forward to the 2018 season.
GreenJackets General Manager Tom Denlinger said all of the suites have been sold, 65 percent of the first base club level seats have been sold and 85 percent of the VIP loge seating has been sold. Two GreenJackets employees are devoting their full-time efforts to talking to the community about the new facility and season-ticket packages. So far only full-season packages are available, but Denlinger said partial-season packages should go on sale sometime in the fall.
Jeff Eiseman, president of Agon Sports & Entertainment and co-owner of the GreenJackets, believes that the fan experience will transcend baseball.
“There is nowhere else on the river in the CSRA where people can eat, live and play,” he said. “The water is magical. This will create a magical experience.”
But it won’t just be magical for those seeking entertainment. Schoen believes it will have big, positive impact on local businesses. He has experienced how a ballpark can transform an area of a city. His group helped develop a minor league stadium in downtown Fort Wayne, Ind., that was voted the top minor league stadium in the country several times and still ranks in the top five.
“This will be up there with them,” he said. “In Fort Wayne they could track that the number of convention goers went up (after the stadium was built). People had more to do downtown and it helped hotel occupancy.”
A combination commercial/residential building was added behind leftfield in Fort Wayne, and Schoen foresees a similar building in North Augusta.
Pat O’Conner, president of Minor League Baseball, has seen a new stadium act as a catalyst for business growth in a number of other cities and expects the same to happen in North Augusta.
“It’s long-reaching because you’ll see the tax base increase and sales receipts increase,” he said. “You’ll see development up and down the (Highway) 25 corridor. Philanthropic organizations in the area will also benefit.”
With the expansion of cyber-related companies in the area, Schoen believes Riverside Village will also help companies recruit new employees that may otherwise head to other cities.
“The people recruiting will be competing against Atlanta and other cities for these Millennials,” he said. “This is where they’ll want to live.”
O’Conner added, “It’s a quality of life they’ll include in their recruitment brochures. Companies that are worth having care about what their employees do when they’re off the clock.”
Jimmy Patrick, senior vice president for Medac, the company that is currently in closest proximity to the new park, expects that to be true as his company continues to look at expansion.
“It’ll be great for us being at the top of Project Jackson, with its stores and shops,” he said. “It’s a beautiful walk down there. We’re already season-ticket holders, but I expect we’ll buy even more now.”
The new facility is also a welcome addition for the San Francisco Giants, the GreenJackets’ Major League parent company since 2004. It is the first new stadium by one of the Giants’ minor league affiliates since 1998.
Giants General Manager Bobby Evans said the new facility makes a big difference in their efforts to help young players acclimate, especially when they are located on the opposite coast.
“A lot has changed in the last five or 10 years,” he said. “We needed a facility that keeps up with the latest technology, with the space needs, for strength and conditioning and for fan amenities.”
Evans gave the North Augusta community a pat on the back.
“It tells us a lot about the strength of the community that they put their arms around such a big project,” he said.
Brassfield & Gorrie, which recently completed the new Major League stadium for the Atlanta Braves, has the construction contact on the GreenJackets’ stadium. The foundation has been poured, which gives a visual of the outline of the stadium.
“It’s fun to see the dugouts already in place,” Evans said. “You can picture what it will look like a year from now.”
The stadium is projected to be ready for the GreenJackets’ season opener in 2018. Suites in the stadium have reportedly all been sold. The team is taking deposits for season tickets at greenjackets2018.com.