The Historic Aiken Foundation on Project Pascalis

Preservation and progress go hand in hand. Preservation makes good economic sense. Preservation honors the past while stepping into the future. The Board members of HAF believe this. It is at the core of our charter and embedded in our history. And we contend that Project Pascalis is contrary to this. Why? 

  • South Carolina allows cities to create redevelopment commissions and plans to address “blighted” or “conservation” areas. In 2019, the Aiken City Council created such a commission, the Aiken Municipal Development Commission (AMDC). And they initiated a plan, Redevelopment Plan One, that the Council adopted in July 2020.
  • Although the public got to review the plan, the legal process for reviewing and approving it was not followed correctly. Equally important, that plan only talked about renovating the hotel – not demolition, not a new hotel, not apartments. A potential parking garage on Chesterfield, not Richland. No changes to streets.
  • In March of 2021, the AMDC began discussing a new project with an unnamed developer. From that point until December 2021, the AMDC worked with that developer then a subsequent developer to create Project Pascalis. During that time, the public was not told the full scope of the project. Neither developer was chosen via a public process.
  • In November 2021, the City bought 7 properties along Richland and Newberry and began revealing a bit of the scope. A map included Newberry Street in the project footprint, although changes to the traffic pattern were not shown. There was a statement that “much of the area will need to be razed.”
  • In January and February 2022, the new developer introduced the Project Pascalis concept plan – demolition of the Hotel Aiken, a new 5-story hotel, and a 5-story 100-unit apartment complex surrounding a parking garage. The new hotel and apartments would require demolishing not only the existing Hotel Aiken but other historic buildings, including the former CC Johnson drugstore and the Palmetto Block on Laurens Street.

Ten months in which the AMDC and the City Council could have sought public input on Project Pascalis had been lost.

  • On March 1, 2022, the City’s Design Review Board voted to approve the demolition of the Hotel Aiken, despite the fact that it is on the Aiken Historic Register.
  • On March 28 the City Council first voted to convey part of Newberry Street to the developer, because the apartment complex would extend onto the current street.
  • In April 2022, the City finally held sessions focused on obtaining public input. However, many questions asked in this forum were never answered by the City.
  • On May 9, 2022, the City authorized the conveyance of a portion of Newberry Street on a second reading pending a final contract.
  • The City and the Design Review Board appear to have approved this action despite the fact that the Aiken Municipal Development Commission might not have been properly authorized to pursue it and the developer might not have been properly chosen.
  • Aiken residents have raised these concerns repeatedly but have not received any answers and no dialogue has ensued to address the concerns.

What went wrong? What could have been better?

  • Seeking public input early in the process.
  • Actually listening to and fully responding to public comments and questions.
  • Addressing the concerns raised by the public.
  • Seeking input from the Historic Aiken Foundation as recommended by the contractor who wrote the 2021 Strategic Economic Development Plan that the city accepted in 2021.
  • Preparing a range of development options including options that preserved existing buildings.
  • Considering options that spread out new housing within the downtown area.
  • Ensuring that all legal and regulatory processes were followed.

It is not too late. There has been no demolition or construction – yet. The HAF has reached out to Mayor Osbon letting him know we would like to provide support. But most important are the voices of Aiken citizens – at public meetings, in letters to your City Council representatives, and ultimately, at the voting booth.

To address these issues, HAF has joined a complaint brought by like-minded individuals and foundations as a co-plaintiff. The complaint seeks to require the City of Aiken and its agencies to follow the preservation laws that HAF and its supporters have worked so hard to put in place. The full complaint can be read below.

The HAF has also set up a Preservation Action Fund, specifically to pay costs associated with legal action to defend and protect HAF’s mission. If you would like to donate to this fund, you can do so via a check made to HAF/Preservation Action Fund and mailed to Historic Aiken Foundation, P.O. Box 959, Aiken, SC 29802. Alternately, donations can be made online.

Filed Summons