Beaufort News

Commerce park purchase rejected by County Council

Beaufort County Council voted unanimously Monday to reject a request to buy the Beaufort Commerce Park for $2.5 million to save it from foreclosure.

Council members discussed tabling the matter Monday after reviewing two appraisals of the park that showed it was worth less than the $2.5 million price tag.

But Councilman Paul Sommerville said stronger action was needed to send a message to lenders, who might be under the impression council would pay full price to bail out the park.

"One of my objectives is to send a clear message to the banks that we're not going to pay $2.5 million for this property," Sommerville said. "The problem with tabling it is it leaves the question in some people's minds about what we're really going to do -- what our intention is."

The Beaufort Commerce Park is owned by the Lowcountry Economic Network, the county's public-private job-recruiting partner, but the network can no longer afford the debt. S.C. Bank and Trust has filed for foreclosure on behalf of five banks that jointly loaned the network money to buy the park in 2006.

Three rounds of approval are required for the county to purchase the park, and County Council voted twice to buy it for $2.5 million before voting Feb. 14 to table a final decision. Since then, two appraisals on the property have been completed -- one puts the park's market value at $1.64 million, the other at about $2 million.

To avoid foreclosure, the network has offered to give up the park's deed to lenders, but it's unclear where that negotiation stands.

Councilman Jerry Stewart, who also serves as chairman of the network's board, said that removing the possibility of a full-value county buyout "leaves a clear decision to the bank" to either accept the deed or to foreclose.

To satisfy the $2.58 million debt, the bank wants the property to be sold at auction. The bank also seeks a deficiency judgment, which could compel the network to pay the difference between the park's sales price and the remaining 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.

In that case, Stewart said, the network would dissolve.

"They have to cease to exist -- totally," he said.

Councilman Rick Caporale suggested that if that were to happen, council could start a new economic-development group with "exactly the same people under the same terms."