AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — A controversial revitalization plan for Downtown Aiken has one group hoping the City will come up with another plan. “It wasn’t until early 2022 that anyone had an idea of what this really consisted of. And it caught a lot of us by surprise,” Historic Aiken Foundation President Linda Johnson told NewsChannel 6’s Aiken Bureau Chief Shawn Cabbagestalk. “We started attending meetings and submitted comments and questions, and unfortunately, it was problems, and questions have never been answered. They’ve just been moving forward,” she added.
The organization wrote a letter asking to meet with city leaders, including Mayor Rick Osbon, to figure out what could be done with the properties scheduled for demolition. “The first thing that we think should be done is that they should call in preservation experts,” she shared. “Then let’s develop those alternatives, go out to the public and show the public what the possibilities are. And then let’s let the public comment on that and really be part of the decision-making,” she added.
The proposed plan calls for demolishing the former Hotel Aiken and the buildings next to it. It would add a new 100-room hotel, apartment complex, parking garage, and other amenities. “I like the idea for Aiken. I’m not sure that concentrating all of that in one small corner is the way to go. Maybe they could look at alternatives for spreading out that kind of residential living,” Johnson said.
An economic development study was completed in 2021, calling for the City to partner with the organization for these projects. “It does say in there very specifically, they recommend that when the City is doing something downtown, they contact our organization to consult with us and talk about how they can achieve preservation values. And they never did call us last year,” she added.
Shawn asked Johnson, “do you have any reason to think why they wouldn’t call you guys?” “I don’t wanna put it on the City, and you’d really have to ask them,” she said. “All I can think is they got so heavily involved in this project and so excited about it. I think their hearts are in the right place. They want the best for Aiken that they just moved forward and thought it would all be fine. And maybe didn’t realize the amount of public outcry they would get when the public saw all of this,” she added.
NewsChannel 6 spoke with several people about the possible changes to the area, including Paul Hommel. “I work at a restaurant that is being torn down because of that it directly affects me,” he said. “I’m glad that they’re doing something with the hotel Aiken just because it’s kind of an eye store just sitting there. I feel like there’s more important things that could be put up there,” he added.
Shawn reached out to Mayor Rick Osbon. While he declined an on-camera interview, he says he looks forward to speaking with the Foundation as early as next week.