NORTH AUGUSTA, SC (WJBF) North Augusta, South Carolina is booming. Mayor Briton Williams joins us for this edition of The Means Report. Watch this interview and learn about these exciting times in the city knows as “South Carolina’s Riverfront”. Thanks for watching The Means Report Monday afternoons at 12:30 on NewsChannel 6.
But first, we’re gonna cover all things North Augusta. The Mayor is here to talk about what’s going on in that town. It just seems like there’s new development popping up daily. And then as I mentioned, genes and cancer, the research that they’re doing at MCG, when it comes to getting these great images of people’s genes and how those images are helping them better understand a cancer diagnosis and the subsequent treatment. And of course, as always, we wrap up “The Means Report” with ways that you can help shape future editions of this broadcast. But first, we are so pleased to welcome for the first time, I can’t believe it, after two years in office just about, the Mayor of North Augusta, South Carolina, Briton Williams. Mayor Williams, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us.
My pleasure. Appreciate the invitation.
Well, the thought came to me the other day. I’m watching the news, y’all are breaking ground on the new public safety building, and I thought let’s have Mayor Williams on to not only talk about that, but all the other things that are going on in your town. But first, that public safety headquarters is huge. Tell me how it’s gonna help our first responders, law enforcement, all the staff that work there, how it’ll change things versus that really old public safety headquarters.
Well, first of all, it’s automatically gonna increase morale. That facility, quite frankly, and I’ve said it publicly, it was done in 1954. Between the mold and the dank and the dark, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing. The City of North Augusta historically has always done things right when it comes to buildings, infrastructure and amenities. And with the growth we’re having, and what our public safety officers and that support, our court system, what they do for us, our citizens, for them to be in that facility quite frankly, it’s just embarrassing. So they needed this. And it’s gonna open up the location so much better. It’s up on the hill. Geographically, it’s gonna be easier coming and going. And they need… We’re gonna have better communication. So it’s just gonna be a wonderful facility.
You mentioned the infrastructure. How intentional is that when you all are planning and developing, to make sure that North Augusta has that look? Because I’m telling you, whether it’s the way the streets are paved, or the way the buildings look. As you mentioned, the newer ones, everything is pretty and calm and nice. Do y’all think about that a lot?
And I’ll tell you the fire station that just we opened last year, on Martintown Road, I think that has given citizens a lot of confidence in what we’re gonna do with the public safety headquarters, ’cause that was somewhat, consent… You know, there’s some issues as far as what that was gonna look like in the neighborhood.
And every citizen, “Boy that looks fantastic.” So I think that’s gonna give citizens confidence that when we build the public safety headquarters, that’s also gonna fit very nicely.
You do always get, and sometimes it’s one citizen, sometimes it’s a group, but there always is a little pushback.
Do you welcome that? I guess? And do you always just kinda seem to make everybody happy, as hard as that is?
Well, I’ve been married 35 years and I love my wife, but I don’t think we ever agree on everything either.
So no. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s one of our pillars for this council, has been better communication. And so, we want citizens to have a voice. I’m realistic to believe they aren’t gonna agree with everything we’re gonna do. We’re gonna make the best decision we think is for the city. But we have strived very hard the last two years to give citizens a voice. And I think they appreciate that, and we’re seeing that. So yes, I welcome it.
Yeah, I think you’re right too. I think they do appreciate it. You know, when I was talking about the way things look infrastructure-wise, I was picturing a drive into North Augusta, along Georgia Avenue over the 13th Street Bridge. What about the other gateways into town? Are you all focused on those, and making sure the development and improvements pop up there?
Yes, I will tell you in the next 10 years, we will have some type of development at every one of our five gateways.
So Exit 5 is kind of like a flywheel, it’s just ongoing now. We don’t need to do anything, with the new 24-hour ER that opened last year with Aiken Regional. We got a new Tru Hotel. We got a QuikTrip, just opened. Everybody loves QuikTrip.
Yeah, it’s a nice one.
So Exit 5 is going well. Exit 6, Highland Springs is probably the largest development, 3,000 square foot. That’s where Aiken County is building a new middle school, elementary school. Probably 2,000 residential units there. Then Exit 1, there’s development beginning to happen there with The Hive. And then you talk about 13th Street Bridge, Riverside Village, where the old Carpet Shop is now being developed. You probably have seen some development there. We’re about to put a new boat dock, a seven slit boat dock in front of Riverside Village, the amphitheater, which is gonna be huge.
I wanted to ask you about the Hammond’s Ferry Riverside Village area.
Is Hammond’s Ferry built out? Are there any more houses that’ll be coming there?
Very good question. I think all the lots have been sold as far as the piece… If you’re facing Boeckh Park, if you’re facing the river, to the right side, there is some… I think some land on the left side, closer to SRP Park that has no developments happened there. But I believe that’s all been taken care of.
How do you all manage all this growth without running into the problems that come with it? Traffic, the need to build new schools every few years? Is it just proper planning and getting engineers involved, because it doesn’t seem like there’s that much disruption?
Well, I will tell you. One of the goals of this council is we have got to start planning better than we have, quite frankly. And with Covid, we probably have looked at things more year to year. But with the growth we’re gonna have over the next 10 years, we’re gonna have our first retreat, the end of this month, where it is gonna be strictly growth focused. ‘Cause as a mayor and as council, here’s what I need to know. If we’re gonna have 1,500 new households at some point, what does that mean to us? Does that mean we need a new sanitation truck? Do we need four new public safety officers? Do we need to hire two more people for parks and rec? Those are the conversations we are beginning to have and we’re gonna really filter that down and get very detailed of knowing that so we can make those decisions.
Mayor, let me ask you this. The Augusta Commission gets a lot of attention, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for not so good reasons. You all seem to operate more off the radar or more quietly. Is that something that you think about? “You know, let’s not fight with each other.” “If so, let’s do it behind closed doors.” ‘Cause y’all seem like it’s pretty peaceful.
Well, I will tell you right now, I will tell you our council is all in the same boat, rowing the same direction, okay? I think it’s our structure. We are at large. We do not have districts. And I think when you are elected by the entire community, you represent the entire community. So I think that quite frankly is a big part of it.
Okay, that’s helpful. Let me ask you about this rumor that the LIV Golf Tour bought a bunch of land and they’re gonna build a golf course and have a tournament there. This LIV Golf Tour is the one that was established to compete with the PGA Tour. Any truth to that land purchase?
All right so, I can tell you that… Land is being bought. I think we all know that. I can assure you there’s nothing that I’ve heard of, know anything about LIV.
Okay. And you would, wouldn’t you?
Yes, that, I just… That is a rumor. That’s not happening.
Let me ask you about SRP Park, you mentioned.
The restaurants around Hammond’s Ferry, the development that Hammond’s Ferry represents. How key is that to North Augusta? People coming over there and living, and in particular eating, because people come from all over to eat at those nice restaurants?
Well, you know, we have done studies to show our dollars where they’re going, and they’re going outside North Augusta. And a big part of that is restaurants. So we have a new Brinkley’s Chop House, which is our first upscale steakhouse.
It’s so nice.
And I’m telling you, they are doing very well. Which is fantastic. And we have a great new restaurant in our downtown, McNeely’s. It used to be where the old B.C. Davenports. Just, if you like good old… You’re healthy, but if you like good old country family food, I mean you need to go to McNeely’s. It’s incredible. So, Riverside Village though, that is our live, work and play. And that’s what I’m saying is with SRP Park, the GreenJackets, that’s gonna be kicking off soon. Now with the Crowne Plaza, we expect some new development hopefully in front of the Crowne Plaza to begin at some point. And then, you got this new boat dock. So yes, Riverside Village is very important for quality of life for us.
You talk about dollars and where they come from and where they go. People come from all over to use your Greeneway. We just, if memory serves, completed an expansion of it. What’s the future hold for the Greeneway?
Priority right now is get it out toward I-20, continue to go that direction and into our downtown with our downtown Greeneway connector. If you’re familiar with a town called Travelers Rest outside of Greenville?
They took the Swamp Rabbit Trail and went in the back of their buildings. We have an alley system that we wanna do the same thing. So, but talking about parks, I do wanna say we have now, our surveys are open. We are doing an entire new master plan for our entire parks and recreation. And the biggest question I get is the old North Augusta Country Club property. So, this is the opportunity for all citizens. There’s a survey online on our city website and we’re having our first citizen meeting, charrette, March the 21st. So we want citizen input. So I get questions about, “What are we gonna do with that old North Augusta Public golf course?” This is your chance as a citizen to tell us. So we’re doing a master plan over the next few months. So this is a chance for citizens who wanna have a voice. This is the time to let us know what you want us to do.
All right, I’m being serious here. I’m not trying to be silly. How much of a voice do citizens really have? Aren’t you gonna do what you’re gonna do anyway? And I don’t mean you, Mayor Williams. I mean the council, everybody versus if someone comes up and says, “Hey, what about this?” Can you recall a time where any leader ever said, “Hey, that’s a good suggestion, we’ll implement that.”
Well I will tell you, yes, I do believe we are giving people voice and we’re doing that through something called our Public Power Hour. Which is the first Monday of every month at 5:30, citizens can come in front of us and we have actually have two things right now, I’ll just tell you. We’ve had citizens who have brought concerns about we need to have maybe bumps, road bumps in neighborhoods because of traffic, okay? Well, we’re looking into that because citizens have come forward and said, “Hey, this is a concern.” We haven’t made policy on it, but we’re listening.
So what I’m saying is, and I can tell you examples. I mean, more time than you have, but examples of things that we have changed. For example, a perfect example. Pisgah Road, if you go on the Greeneway, we have infrared sensors depending on which way you go on the Greeneway to make cars on Pisca stop when you cross over. We had one go off, our citizen we didn’t know about… The citizen came to Public Power Hour said, “Hey, there’s an issue.” Called DOT, got it fixed.
All right, that’s good.
Saved an accident. So to answer your question, the Public Power Hour, I will tell you has been the the biggest game changer for us for communication because every citizen can come the first Monday of every month and they have all of council. No directors. It’s informal. It’s like you and I talking. We don’t vote, but we listen and we hear you. And I’m telling you the results we’re getting and what the feedback is very positive.
That’s good to know. My last question to you, Mayor, and it’s just to ask you if you’re glad you ran. We are almost at the halfway point of this term and you followed Lark Jones, who was there for decades. And now, here you go off and running. Are you glad you did this?
I’ve had a blast. I’ve literally have a… It really throws people, they ask you, “How do you like being mayor?” And I think they don’t… They expect me to say, “Oh, this is terrible.” I’ve had a blast. I really have, ’cause I feel like we’re doing what we said we were gonna do. And we’re holding ourselves accountable. And so yeah, I’m excited about North… This is a wonderful time to be involved in the whole CSRA.
I mean, it’s an exciting time. Your town though, is just a gem and you’re a great ambassador of it, so thanks for being-
You’re very kind. I appreciate it. Thanks, for you always… We’re so highly of you and follow you for years. So, I appreciate the opportunity for you and I to sit down and just chat. It’s very nice.
No, me too. Mayor Briton Williams, North Augusta, South Carolina. Go to South Carolina’s Riverfront and experience all they have to offer.