Project Pascalis stopped by Aiken Municipal Development Commission

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By Matthew Christian mchristian@aikenstandard.comSep 29, 2022

Aiken Standard

Project Pascalis has been stopped but downtown redevelopment isn’t over.

On Thursday, the Aiken Municipal Development Commission voted unanimously, 5-0, in favor of a motion that stops Project Pascalis by declaring a conditional purchase and sale agreement with RPM Development Partners null and void and cancels the 2020 redevelopment plan that led to the project.

“The Aiken Municipal Development Commission is terminating all planning work with the current developer and hopefully plans to start the procurement process,” Commission Chairman Keith Wood said in a statement made after the meeting.

The project – named after one of the engineers who designed the city’s unique street grid – was a $75 million redevelopment effort involving the block surrounded by Laurens Street, Richland Avenue, Newberry Street and Park Avenue.

The Project Pascalis plan called for the demolition of the vacant Hotel Aiken and a building next to it on Laurens Street and the construction of a 100-room hotel in their place. The Holley House and several buildings located between it and Newberry Street, including most of the former C.C. Johnson Drug Store, would be demolished to make way for an apartment complex and parking garage. The city’s former municipal building would be expanded into a conference center.

Downtown revitalization efforts have been going on for the better part of a decade, and Aiken City Council created the Aiken Municipal Development Commission in 2019 to take “bold action.” When former City Manager John Klimm was in office the efforts to redevelop the downtown area was known as the Renaissance, which ultimately failed.

Developer not properly selected

Chris Verenes, vice president of the Municipal Development Commission, and Wood said after the meeting in personal statements that they voted to stop the project because the commission had not followed the process outlined in state law for selecting a developer. 

“The public deserves no less than the truth,” Verenes said. “If we sit here and just say, ‘Whoops, we’re starting over,’ without calling out actions that we know were wrong then our silence implies approval of what happened.”

Verenes said a deliberate decision was made by an unnamed city staff member – without the knowledge or approval of the commission – to delay running a request for proposal required by the South Carolina Community Development Law.

South Carolina Community Development Law requires commissions doing redevelopment projects to pay to place a classified ad in a local newspaper of general circulation twice to solicit proposals for the redevelopment project.

A request for proposal is a document issued by governmental entities seeking bids to perform a specific task or project.

The commission’s request for proposal ran after Wood had already signed a contract with RPM Development Partners to sell the commission-owned property to the group if the commission and RPM reached an agreement to develop the properties. 

Wood said in his statement that he signed the agreement on Dec. 3, 2021, 10 and 17 days before the request for proposal ran in the Aiken Standard. 

“Let me be clear, if I had known this, I would have never signed the purchase and sale agreement,” Wood said in his statement.

Aiken Economic Development Director and Commission Executive Director Tim O’Briant said he has held Wood and Verenes in high esteem for years but that he respectfully disagreed with the content of their statements.

Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh declined to comment on the allegations made by Wood and Verenes in their statements.


The commission had contracted to run request for proposal in the Aiken Standard in November but its publication was stopped at the behest of O’Briant, who called the Aiken Standard to get the request for proposal canceled.

O’Briant confirmed he had met with Ray Massey, the registered agent for RPM, prior to requesting the request for proposal be canceled. He said as economic development director for the city he has met with several developers on Project Pascalis and on other potential projects in the city.

Wood and Verenes said the commission was never informed that the required request for proposal was stopped.

Wood said the commission did not find out about the issue with the request for proposals until June 23 when an unnamed staff member and an attorney recommended starting the whole process over to correct the problem. 

Six days later, on June 29, O’Briant said the pending request from RPM to demolish five buildings to clear the land for the apartment complex and parking garage had been postponed to a later, unspecified, date.

Twelve days after the commission learned of the problems with the requests for proposal, on July 5, David Blake, Luis Rinaldini, the Historic Aiken Foundation and others filed a lawsuit challenging the actions of the commission, Aiken Design Review Board and the Aiken City Council on the project. Among the allegations made in the suit was that the South Carolina Community Development Law had not been followed.