AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) – North Augusta is a very busy place these days. New developments and new businesses are popping up everywhere. On this edition of The Means Report, we welcome 3 city council representatives. They talk about current growth in their town, and look at what the future holds. Please enjoy our interview and be sure to join us for The Means Report, Monday afternoons at 12:30 on NewsChannel 6.
Hello, everybody, and welcome once again to “The Means Report.” We certainly appreciate you spending part of your day with us, where today, we are so excited to talk about one of our favorite places in the two state. It is beautiful, North Augusta, South Carolina, South Carolina’s Riverfront, and we’re gonna talk about exciting times in North Augusta with the newly elected/reelected council members. They just had the election, and now these gentlemen have been kind enough to join us on the set of “The Means Report.” Well look at how they manage all of the growth going on in North Augusta because it seems to be just nonstop. What about current plans going on in North Augusta that people on both sides of the river need to know about? We’ll take a look at those. And of course, we’ll always wrap up this broadcast with ways that you can stay in touch and help shape future additions of “The Means Report.”
I love our patriotic background, and I love the fact that these council members are with us today. Eric Presnell, Kevin Toole, and David Buck. Thank y’all for serving your community and thanks for being with me.
Yeah, thank you.
Yep, thanks for having us.
Absolutely, I appreciate it. And, David, let me just start with you ’cause you’re brand new on the council. These gentlemen are beginning their second terms.
What motivated you to run? A few months ago, you were just a regular citizen, and now you’re doing this. What lit that spark?
Well, I ran two years ago. And it was a very close primary. So I’m passionate about North August. I’m born and raised here. I’ve always been involved in the community my whole life. And I just figure, you know, my kids older. Two of ’em have have left the house, and this was kind of the next step, you know, in my journey, in my career. And I love the growth that’s happened in our city. And I just wanna continue to see the great things happen in North Augusta.
Well, we appreciate your service. So many people just sit on the sidelines.
Kevin, has David reached out for any advice, or have you been able to guide him through these early stages?
Yeah, you know, it’s the election and being sworn in, and everything happens kind of all quickly. So I really haven’t had a chance. But, you know, I guess if I could offer him some advice kind of off the cuff here, I’d certainly say, you know, in my experience the last time that I ran, and going into my first term four years ago, it’s a learning curve. There’s a lot to learn, a lot of things that you think you understand when you get in there and, and start digging into things, you realize that you may not understand them as fully as you thought you did going in. So, I mean, certainly I would advise him to take the time to learn, not be afraid to ask questions, but he ran for a reason, and he ran because there are things he’s passionate about, to be himself and, you know, to dig into those things that he cares about. I think that’s important.
It is important for sure, Kevin. Eric, what do you remember about those early days? Was everything just so unfamiliar?
It really was, similar to what Kevin said. It is a learning curve. You know, a lot of people think, “Hey, I’m gonna get elected. I’m gonna go in there and start, you know, moving and shaking.” There’s a lot to learn, and I’ve learned a lot in my four years. The biggest thing I’ve learned is government moves slow, unfortunately. In North Augusta though, I have noticed that it’s done for a reason. A good example, four years ago, you know, we have a grant for a community boat dock to go right at SRP Park, and I’ve been pushing, pushing, pushing ’cause I’m an avid boater, and it’s just now starting to become reality. And I thought, “Well, what’s taking so long? What’s taking so long?” Well, now, instead of it just being a regular old dock, it’s gonna be a piece for the whole community. It’s gonna have an observation deck where everybody can just sit there and watch.
Where’s it gonna be?
It’s gonna be right in between the amphitheater and right behind SRP Park. And that’s something, you know, where government moves slow. But, you know, in North Augusta, I’ve learned that when we do things, we take our time, we plan it properly, and the end result, it just, it blows everybody away.
It’s true. It’s first class once it’s all said and done. What about any goals or items, David, that you have on your agenda as you get started? Something, even though it might take a while, that’s you’d like to get started?
You know, I’m still learning, and, but, you know, one thing that I kind of campaigned on was about the growth. We have a lot of growth, more growth coming. Things are, you know, coming in place, but I wanna make sure that we have the proper infrastructure in place. We just got that grant from the state, you know, for our infrastructure. And I just wanna make sure that we put that money to good use and to make sure that it’s done, you know, the correct way.
Yeah, I was gonna-
Handle the growth.
You’re right, it was $7 million, I think, if memory serves, to upgrade and repair the sewer lines.
I’ll ask you, Kevin, how a grant like that helps free up money. And correct me if I’m wrong. It would seem that it would free up other city money to be used for other things.
Well, it does, so it does free up money. It frees up money from other funds that, you know, had been allocated or had planned to be allocated over time for those things, I think, which is big, you know, and I think it allows us to do it without having to raise millage and do some things that are gonna have a direct effect on our taxpayers. Obviously, they’re all paying, it’s still government money, but it allows us to do that. I think the biggest thing though is it allows us to get some of these projects done that were gonna take some time to get done because, you know, we’re dealing with scarce resources. So, you know, it has a lot of advantages, and we’re very fortunate to receive it.
I wanna talk about the gateways, and you’ll have to help me with this. Mayor Briton Williams was wondering, he talked about all the gateways that go into North Augusta. I think you said there were five. Okay, so five gateways, Eric. How do you market those areas? How do you encourage businesses and other entities to help make sure that those gateways going into your great town are thriving?
Well, you know, our first gateway most people notice is the 13th Street, George Avenue entrance. And when you cross over that bridge from Augusta, I mean, it’s a world of difference.
And you better slow down.
And you better slow down, yes. Or at least, please slow down. But that kind of speaks for itself. We got a beautiful ball field there. You know, we’ve got some development there. Our downtown is doing great compared to what it was 20 years ago. That area kind of sells itself. One of our other main thoroughfares is right there at Palmetto Parkway and Aiken Augusta Highway. It is growing, it is thriving. We have a new car dealerships, or actually two of them, that have just came in, the Kia and the Hyundai dealership. I think the big emphasis, and I believe this is the biggest traffic flow in the city, is the Atomic Road, Martin Town Road corridor, that is in the opportunities zone. There are some incentives for businesses to locate. We have planned a development, and it has been approved for the Bluegrass, which will be in between Buena Vista and Martin Town Road. And I think as that comes, that’s going to help those entrances. Same thing with exit one at Martin Town Road. I know there are some neighborhoods being developed. Hopefully we’ll have some commercial coming in once we get some of the people in place. But, yes, I think our city leaders in the past and our staff, they have done a great job of starting to manage this. But we are trying to project and look forward. But those are probably the big areas that are prone to grow next.
Kevin, how intentional are you when you as a council are planning improvements and enhancements to those gateways? Let’s talk about that 13th Street, Georgia Avenue entrance into North Augusta. Everything down to every lamp post and the way the sidewalks look seems like it was planned so that you would have that perfect stress-free entrance. Do y’all think about minute details?
Well, our staff certainly does. You know, we have such a good staff from, you know, public works to admin that really, really does think about those things that grand or lowly so that we don’t necessarily have to. We cast a vision, and they do a really good job of carrying that out. Those gateways are very important to us, obviously. 13th Street is a little easier just because, like Eric said, there were some things that both organically and both intentionally happened to help make that be what it is. I mean, you know, being able to look up at, once you cross a bridge and see Lookaway Hall right there kind of in the forefront. I mean, that’s just our, the founders of the city were just visionary in creating that scene as you come up across the bridge. But yeah, I think it is intentional. I’d like to take credit for it and say that, you know, we city council and the mayor are, you know, thinking about every blade of grass and all that. But, you know, again, we inherited a lot of good things, and we’ve got a very competent and a very good staff that that really is that intentional.
David, has anybody hit you up, a constituent, a passerby on the street and said, “Look, you need to do this right away.” “I’m tired of this happening to me,” or, “I’m tired of this pothole in front of my house.” Have people started chirping at you?
Already, so we had the election last Tuesday, and I think the results came out around 7:50. By 8:45, my phone was already ringing.
Oh my goodness, what do people want?
There were some issues about some trees. I have not gotten a pothole yet, but there were some other issues that I admittedly responded back to ’em and said, “Hey, I’m here. I’m here to help. I’m looking into it,” and I got back to ’em.
Well, it makes me think of this, the sacrifice that we talked about earlier of your time and your personal lives. And I know, David, you mentioned you’re in a good stage of life to make that sacrifice.
But have you had any second thoughts or have you gotten any pushback on the home front? “Hey, man, don’t take that personal call this time of night.”
No, no. I sell real estate, so my phone is always ringing. But I do, if I’m sitting down at dinner with my family, you know, that’s family time. But I always will respond back. But, yes, I always try to, you know, wind down at some point of the night, you know? But pretty much I’m pretty available. So.
Well, I wanna continue to talk about all the great things going on in North Augusta when we continue here on “The Means Report,” especially when it comes to the attractions that people in Georgia and South Carolina know about, the GreenJackets, the River Golf Club and other amenities that are available in that town. North Augusta city councilmen joining me on this edition of “The Meeting Report.” We’ll be back in just a moment. Welcome back to “The Means Report.” We are continuing our conversation with three of the council members from North Augusta and all the exciting things that are going on over there. It’s interesting to learn about what’s happening behind the scenes. Let’s look at something that’s not behind the scenes. Eric Presnell, it’s the Augusta GreenJackets, and those games seem to always be so fun. You drive over the 13th Street Bridge. The stadium always seems full. So we see the highlights from the games themselves. What kind of economic highlights do the GreenJackets bring to North Augusta?
Well, just a little tidbit. I’m not sure if a lot of people know, but our stadium set the Single-A attendance record last year. And that’s every stadium in the country. So if that gives you an idea.
I had no idea.
Yes, so we have set the attendance record for Single-A of that size, but it is huge boost to the economy, the local restaurants, some of the bars. I mean, if you stay after the games, a lot of times people walk over to Southbound and have a drink or over to the hotel. But, I mean, it is busy down there. You know, and sometimes it does help downtown Augusta as well too, with some of their restaurants. But a lot of our restaurants, especially when a game falls on a third Thursday, it’s huge. You know, people are already out walking, looking at our little shops, antique shops, you know, like Shop 3130. People stop by the snow cap or run over to the Pink Dipper. It’s a huge boost for downtown and the riverfront development.
Do you see that same kind of economic benefit, Kevin, when it comes to the River Golf Club? That’s a popular place it seems for people from all over the place.
Sure, yeah. I mean, it’s a huge draw from, a regional draw. You know, you can just ride through there on any given day and see, you know, the tags on the back of cars from, you know, Georgia and South Carolina. So, you know, I don’t, I wish that I could give you the numbers right off the top of my head as to what that economic impact looks like. But, yeah, I mean, I don’t know, don’t know that the River Club, I don’t know, you know, because it’s open every day, and there are people flowing through it. So I don’t know how you would compare the two. But certainly both of ’em have a significant impact on downtown, the restaurants and even you just the traffic.
Yeah, you look at another huge economic driver, the Peach Jam. All those coaches, last time I checked, go play their coaches round of golf at River.
What kind of relationship, you mentioned you’re in real estate, David, so you have to work, I’m guessing, both sides of the river. And so the question is, what kind of relationships do you have, if any, and it may still be too new, with people in Augusta and in North Augusta, so that you can kind of take this, let’s grow the whole region approach? You have a pretty good rapport from leaders on both sides?
Well, I definitely do in North Augusta here. I can honestly say, in Augusta, I know who some of them are, you know, other leaders. I know several business leaders in Augusta.
Right, that counts.
Yeah, so, yeah, I do have a good rapport with several restaurant owners, some hotel owners, and, you know, just some other type of development owners. So, yeah, I mean, I do have a really good rapport with, you know, with people on both sides of the river.
So what about those relationships that David talked about? Is that something that y’all care about, making sure that we grow as a region? Or are you just North Augusta focused only?
No, it is a regional thing. Matter of fact, Mayor Johnson invited the city of Aiken, city of North Augusta and Columbia County to the mayor’s master reception this year. Myself and Mayor Briton Williams were there, and I talked with several of the Augusta council members. And that is a very important thing. This is a regional thing. I was talking with a couple of the council members from Augusta and I said, you know, “What’s good for downtown North Augusta is good for downtown Augusta and vice versa.” And, you know, there’s been some talk about the new 5th Street bridge, or I think it’s called the Freedom Bridge, is what Augusta named it. Maybe doing some kind of artisans fair on both sides, you know, reaching out. For a long time, I don’t know why, but a lot of the citizens of North Augusta feel like there’s a lock gate at 13th Street and Gordon Highway. I don’t understand why that is. You know, personally, where my home is located, we’re closer to a lot of the businesses in downtown Augusta, some of the restaurants and things like that than we are. But, you know, yes, you know, North Augusta prides in itself. But, you know, what helps us a lot is what happens in downtown Augusta and vice versa. I think it’s a win-win for both communities.
Kevin, how do y’all manage all the growth? Do you have to say no to people or to businesses or to developers? How do you make sure that you don’t grow too fast?
Well, I think that’s a question that we’re all asking and have been asking and putting in plans, you know, from our strategic meetings over the last several years. That is, if not the, certainly a primary topic that we’re trying to figure out. And yeah, you know, there are certain things that don’t fit with what our comprehensive plan says that don’t-
And not to put you on the spot, but can you think about something? Is it, is it, what kind of business or development might you go, “You know what? That’s not really North Augusta.”
I don’t know that there’s a type of business that I would isolate and say that’s not, but I would think that what we probably look at is what that person or that business entity is requesting, does it make sense for where they’re requesting it, you know, so does it make sense to put a large multi-family apartment complex in the middle of Hammond Hills? You know, no, it doesn’t. And, you know, we adhere to the zoning regulations that would, that would not allow that, you know? So I think that North Augusta is big enough, and our ability to manage that growth is good enough that it’s certainly something we need to be conscious of. But there’s a place for most things. And if there isn’t, then our comprehensive plan and our zoning, you know, pretty clearly states that, so, and we’re going through a rewrite of the development code as we speak. It’s kind of in its final iteration as we’re looking at that. And those are some of the questions we’re asking as part of putting that together.
First responders, David, and the need for them to have an appropriate office space and work environment. So they’re getting this state-of-the-art public safety building. What kind of reaction have you witnessed from the men and women who serve in that capacity? I think just yesterday, and we record this on a Thursday, I think just yesterday, they fixed a gas leak in near record time. They’re great at what they do. What kind of feedback have you gotten on those new digs?
Well, I will say that we have some of the greatest first responders in the country. You know, several of ’em are good friends of mine, and, you know, I see ’em out in the community, and they were just hats off to North Augusta for putting a state-of-the-art facility, you know, for them. ‘Cause what they currently have is so outdated. I think it was built back in the ’50s, and it has been long overdue to put a facility there. And it’s something that not only the first responders can be proud of, but the whole community can be proud of.
You know, Eric, David talked about really an open door policy that he has, taking those personal phone calls, using his personal time to address city issues. To people watching out there, what’s the best/easiest way to get in touch with y’all so that folks will know their voices are heard?
Call, it’s very simple.
Is it that municipal building general number?
Well, no, I mean you can look us up through our city website, northaugusta.gov, and we have phone numbers listed, emails. I mean, we’re readily available. I have people reach out to me through Facebook. I have people call me, text me. I think there’s a lot, especially with social media now, a lot of people want to use that as a platform to engage. And to me, it’s not a good thing ’cause everybody has their opinions. I enjoy having one-on-one conversations just like me and you are having, and I’ll just encourage people. If you have questions, you know, or come to city council meetings. Very rarely do we see more than about five or six people at any meeting, unless it’s something controversial or a zoning change or something of that nature. You know, big projects, we’ll get a full house, but, I mean, rarely do we have more than about five or six people. And, you know, it is hard for us to engage on social media because we do have day jobs. You know, David’s a real estate agent. Kevin’s a banker. I’m an electrical contractor. You know, we have to balance all of that with our family lives. So, you know, sometimes social media is not the best way to interact, but I just encourage anybody to reach out via, you know, send me a Facebook message. I’m readily available. Easy to find there. You know, our phone numbers are on the city website, cell phone numbers, and, you know, emails as well too.
You know, y’all talked about how government sometimes can move at a slower pace. We’re used to watching TV shows where they resolve everything in an hour. And I know it doesn’t work that way. What kind of red tape, Kevin, have you encountered behind the scenes where you say, “Oh, man, this is gonna take a while?”
You know, certainly, we’ve encountered red tape, but I think North Augusta has, for the most part, been pretty efficient. I mean, it’s certainly taken longer to get things done than I would like, and oftentimes, it’s not so much red tape. I mean, frankly, it’s finding the money to do what needs to be done. You know, that tends to be, but, you know, I think as Eric alluded to earlier, more times than not, things take longer than I would like, because, again, they’re being thoughtfully pursued. They are being researched. We’re trying to make sure that we come up with the best solution for the citizens at the best price and cost and value that we can come up with. So, you know, absolutely. When you’ve got, you know, multiple people that have to be engaged to get something done, it can take some time. But, you know, I believe that we get things done, not always as quickly as I would like, but, you know, we end up with an end result that I can be proud of more times than not.
David, last question is for you, and it’s just to kind of break out your crystal ball and look at the future of North Augusta. What would you like to see there at the end of this first term perhaps or even longer down the road? What would you like to see in your town?
Well, going back to the last question about the new public safety building, I definitely wanna see that up, you know, and running as soon as possible. And then, you know, I wanna see some more amenities, some more maybe green space. We have, you know, the old country club property. You know, I’d like to see some of that come to fruition. We had a community event, ask people to come and give their input. There’s also a survey online. You know, I wish more people would go to the city website, fill out that survey, you know, give us some ideas of what you want to see in our city.
Yeah Mayor Williams said it right here on this show. He said, “Your voices are heard if you just speak up.”
That’s right, it’s there for you.
David Buck, Kevin Toole and Eric Presnell, thanks for your service to our community and thanks for taking the time to be here. Congratulations, by the way, on y’all wins.
Thank you for having us.
Absolutely, thank you for having us.
You have a beautiful, amazing town, and we love North Augusta.
Thank you very much.