What a long, strange trip it was.
When Lights of the South owner Benjamin Bell initially introduced his plans for the proposed $20 million water park near Grovetown in 2014, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross described it as a “huge asset” that would only benefit the area.
Some of the rezoning items the county and Bell have struggled with range from certain site plan requirements, the need for a comprehensive traffic impact study and the proposed paving of the property’s parking lots for the 113-acre site located along Louisville Road.
Meanwhile, there were some growing concerns about traffic congestion and infrastructure problems that the new water park might create among some of the residents living near the Lights of the South property.
About 75 residents attended the March 5 planning commission meeting to voice their concerns, even though Bell’s request that the item be tabled until April was approved.
“If you go to change the zoning on the property, that removes all of the things that were grandfathered in originally for Lights of the South,” Bell said, adding that the county has suggested that he must pave the gravel parking lots on the site, which will cost around $600,000. “Even though the gravel parking lots were approved in 2005, 2007, 2008, now they want to me to go back and pave those two parking lots. That is a tremendous cost for us.”
As for Bell’s plans for a $20 million water park, he insists that he’s not putting that dream on the shelf.
Instead, Bell has decided to completely switch gears and relocate his proposed water park to another neighboring county that isn’t fighting him at every turn, he said.
Bell said he couldn’t publicly identify the neighboring county yet because he didn’t want property prices in the area to all of a sudden increase before he completes the purchase of about 100 acres for the water park.
But he assures the public that it will be the perfect location for Scuttle’s Island.
“In fact, the joke is, this new county said if we have to do a traffic study, they’ll actually pay for it. That’s straight from the lips of another county,” Bell said, laughing. “That’s the difference in the cooperation we are getting with this new county compared to Columbia County. This new county is going to help us anyway it can.”
Leslie Parker remembers sitting outside Gary’s Hamburgers on Georgia Avenue on a warm September day when a co-worker asked her, “Did you hear that North Augusta is getting a new water park?”
To date, Scott Sterling, director of North Augusta’s Department of Planning and Development, said the Scuttle’s Island developers have not submitted any plans for the project to his office.
“No, they have not,” Sterling said. “I have not heard anything about it.”
The silliness continues surrounding this proposed water park.
“Everything is taken care of,” the anonymous spokesman said. “This thing is going to take place.”
Well, that’s definitely reassuring, isn’t it?
A man who won’t give his name is 100 percent confident that the water park is going to still meet its projected opening date of Memorial Day.
Poor North Augusta officials.
They were so enthusiastic last year when Scuttle’s Island developers Benjamin Bell and Andrew Thompson announced they planned to build a new 40-acre water park in North Augusta by Memorial Day weekend that would be home to the “tallest water slide in the Southeast.”
It was another huge economic boost for a city that is already celebrating the fact that it will soon be home to the Augusta GreenJackets’ new ballpark at Project Jackson.
Bell and Thompson pledged to the public that they would build a $21.5 million project off Interstate 20, at exit 5 in North Augusta.
But for the past six months, there has been absolutely no physical movement on the project, which was scheduled to open by May of this year.
Everyone in town was asking, “What is going on with the water park? Is it really going to happen or not?”
Finally, this week the public got some answers.
Thompson, speaking on behalf of the local investment group, Cedar Rock Holdings LLC, held a press conference this past week to announce that the opening date for the water park has been pushed back until at least June.
That wasn’t all the bad news.
Thompson also announced that Cedar Rock Holdings has severed its ties with Bell.
And not just with Scuttle’s Island project, but also with the very popular Lights of the South in Grovetown, Ga.
Cedar Rock Holdings reportedly owns both businesses now and Bell is out of the picture.
So, what in the world happened?
Well, apparently, Bell had been investigated by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office in November after he was accused of writing four bad checks totaling more than $88,000.
Fortunately for Bell, no charges were filed against him because he ended up dealing with the banks privately.
However, according to a recent news report by WJBF News Channel 6, Bell has additional financial headaches in Columbia County.
“His banks were seeking garnishments from him in 2013 totaling hundreds of thousand of dollars,” WJBF reported this week, referring to Bell. “Contractors were also looking for money. All of these items are connected to his business and his home in Evans.”
Bell’s ex-wife is claiming he also owes her more than $400,000.
Thompson still insists it will happen, but obviously not by this month.
Especially considering the property in North Augusta off I-20 that was intended for the water park has been reportedly sold.
But Thompson is continuing to make big promises of a water park for this region.
“We have all intentions to continue the development of the Scuttle’s Island project and do not foresee this barring any plans to move forward on the site,” Thompson told The Augusta Chronicle in a May 19 statement.
If you believe that, there is a beautiful, very secluded resort community in the heart of Augusta called Hyde Park that the Insider would like to sell you for about $250 million.
There won’t be anymore questions floating around the CSRA like, “Do you think Scuttle’s Island water park will ever open?” or “When do you think Cedar Rock Holdings, LLC will submit its plans for the water park to North Augusta?”
Folks, it’s time to face the facts: North Augusta has a better chance of becoming the first city to relocate to the moon than having a $21.5 million water park constructed off Interstate 20, at exit 5.