Beaufort News

Vote on controversial commerce park purchase could be delayed

Beaufort County Council is again scheduled to debate the proposed purchase of a commerce park, but some councilmen want to send the item back to committee for more evaluation.

The agenda for Monday's meeting notes that Chairman Weston Newton will move to bump the park vote back to the Governmental Committee to evaluate new property appraisals that members have yet to discuss.

Attempts Friday to reach Newton for comment were unsuccessful, but the Governmental Committee chairman, Councilman Jerry Stewart, said he supports the idea and believes it would be inappropriate to hold a final vote without first thoroughly studying the appraisals.

Council voted twice to purchase the Beaufort Commerce Park for $2.5 million before voting Feb. 14 to postpone a final decision for 60 days -- in part, so the property could be appraised.

Two appraisals have been completed, and both estimated the property's market value at less than the $2.5 million County Council had tentatively voted to spend. One estimate put the market value at $1.64 million, the other at about $2 million. Both reports contain dozens of pages explaining their appraisal methods.

Councilman Bill McBride said the objection of one council member could force a vote on whether to return the question to the committee.

McBride, who has supported buying the park and opposed the original 60-day postponement, said he might provide that objection himself -- but he's waiting to hear the rationale behind Newton's motion.

"It may be justified that some additional discussion take place on what that appraisal really means and what the true value is," he said.

The Governmental Committee's next meeting is scheduled for May 2.

FORECLOSURE FILED

In the meantime, the park's owners are asking their lenders for leniency.

S.C. Bank and Trust has filed foreclosure papers on behalf of five banks that jointly loaned the Lowcountry Economic Network money to buy the park in 2006.

To satisfy the $2.58 million debt, the bank wants the property to be sold at auction. The banks also seek a deficiency judgment, which could compel the network to pay up, if the sale of the park doesn't satisfy the full debt.

For instance, if the property were auctioned for $1.8 million, a deficiency judgment could leave the network on the hook for the remainder -- more than $700,000.

That could destroy the organization.

"The network will be liable for that deficiency," said network executive director Kim Statler in a statement. "Given that the network relies on contributions from the county and interested citizens for its operating revenues, if the banks continue to seek a deficiency judgment, the viability of the network will cease."

Statler said the network has "asked the banks to withdraw their request for a deficiency judgment and to work with the network to market the commerce park," but the banks have not yet responded.

Even with a delay, County Council probably still has time to prevent foreclosure by buying out the network's debt.

Foreclosure auctions are held the first Monday of every month, but court requirements will buy the council some time. The April 7 court filing states the network must respond within 30 days after it is served with the lawsuit. Property also must be advertised in the newspaper for three consecutive weeks before it can be auctioned.

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