One of the hot topics discussed at the economic development summit held Jan. 15 at the Kershaw County Economic Development Office focused on the 1,426-acre Central South Carolina Megasite in Lugoff.
During the summit, keynote speaker Didi Caldwell, of Global Location Strategies, said the megasite has some strong assets, but more needs to be done.
“The megasite, for example, has environmental studies, it has geo tech that has been done in Phase I, wetlands delineation -- but I think there are some infrastructure things there that can be further developed, (and) I think the fact that the property is not held by the community and the options are going to expire, I think that on the mind of my client, that’s something that would give them pause,” Caldwell said.
Since early 2011, Kershaw County has negotiated options to purchase the land earmarked for the megasite. The latest versions of those options will expire on March 12, 15 and April 27. If they expire -- as previous versions of the options have in the past -- the county would either have to renegotiate the options or walk away from the possibility of developing the megasite.
The properties that would make up the proposed megasite stretch from U.S. 1 on the north, where it hugs a CSX rail line, nearly to I-20 on the south. A proposed rail spur would split off from the main railway at Smith Road, which forms most of the western border of the proposed site. The site’s physical address is listed on the economic development office’s website as 1291 Commerce Drive, off U.S. 601.
In many of the cases, the options are for portions of multiple properties, not necessarily for entire lots, according to information obtained online from the Kershaw County Registrar of Deeds office.
The first option, taken out on Jan. 12, 2011, covers six lots owned by various members or companies owned by members of the Conder family. Totaling 1,337.61 acres, these properties are owned by the John W. Conder Family Limited Partnership, R. Justin Conder, John W. Conder IV, Gay L. Conder, Joanna C. Heaton, Charles H. Heaton, the estate of John W. Conder III, and Eastern Land and Timber Co.
At the time, the option for the county to purchase these lands was good for five years, through Jan. 7, 2016. During the first year of the option, the county could have purchased the land for $15,000 an acre. The price increased by $1,000 for each year thereafter, culminating at $19,000 per acre in the fifth year. The option excluded timber rights up to the day before the last opportunity the option could have been exercised. Hunting rights were also retained by the owners. Also, for this particular tract, the agreement allowed the Conder family to continue operating a sand clay pit operation
R. Justin Conder and Claude E. Campbell entered into a similar option agreement on Feb. 11, 2011, with the county for another 81.63 acres of land toward the megasite. It would have expired on Jan. 27, 2016, and used the same purchasing schedule starting at $15,000 per acre and ending at $19,000 in the fifth year.
On June 6, 2011, the county negotiated yet another option, this time for a 29.8-acre parcel owned by Thomas C. Salane, separately and as a trustee of the Marjorie C. Salane Trust, along with Diane Coleman Salane, Teressa Hutton Salane, William Creed Salane and Jeannie Debra Salane Skipper.
Unlike the other options, the schedule for the Salane property started at $16,000 during the first year and increased by $1,000 to $20,000 in the fifth year, expiring June 3, 2016.
The Conder/Campbell property was re-optioned to the county on Dec. 5, 2016. Kershaw County Economic Development Director Peggy McLean said the original option expired, leading the county to negotiate a new one. At this point, the 81.63 acres were listed as being owned by R. Justin Conder, the estate of Claude E. Campbell, Barry Campbell and Sonja C. Parker. The option was good for 18 months through June 2, 2018 for $18,000 per acre.
Also on Dec. 5, 2016, the Conder family signed a new option with the county for the larger, 1,337-acre tract.
Both option agreements referred to “Project Dragonfly.” Dragonfly is a reference to a potential, undisclosed company the county believed would locate at the megasite. Kershaw County Council passed a resolution welcoming “Project Dragonfly” to the county, but never voted on a fee in lieu of taxes agreement and the project was never mentioned again.
The 2016 agreement on the large combination of land included three scenarios by which the county could exercise its option:
1) Purchase only a single, 492.24-acre parcel and any additional property for “Project Dragonfly” or to extend the rail onto the purchased property.
2) Purchase all the property except the 492.24-acre parcel -- a total of 847.93 acres -- for “Project Dragonfly.”
3) Purchase the entire 1,340 acres.
After “Dragonfly” disappeared, the county negotiated another option agreement for the large tract with the Conder family in September 2017. It will expire March 12 with the price set at $20,000 per acre and the only purchasing scenario being for the entire tract.
The county also negotiated a new option agreement for the Conder/Campbell/Parker acreage in early October 2017. It also expires March 12 for $20,000 per acre.
As for the Salane property, a new option agreement was registered at the deed office on October 30, 2017. It expires April 27 with the purchase price set at $22,000 per acre.
Should it decide to exercise its options prior to the March and April deadlines, the county would need to spend approximately $29 million to purchase all of the land.
In an email early Friday afternoon, Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter said the county has only conducted minimal improvements to the existing roadbed at the site in order to facilitate access when showing the property to prospective companies. In all other respects, Carpenter said there has been no “quid pro quo” between the land owners and the county in order to reach the agreements.
“The owners have received nothing -- other than our promise to market and promote the site for the purpose of locating industry there,” Carpenter said.
In October 2010, Kershaw County Council voted unanimously with one member absent to enter into a land option agreement with the Conder family. As part of the discussion of that matter, Nelson Lindsay, then the county’s economic development director, said that the price tag for the land would be approximately $20 million.
Lindsay also made a point at that 2010 council meeting that the county wouldn’t purchase the land if there wasn’t a company agreeing to locate at the proposed megasite.
During the Jan. 15 economic summit, Lindsay -- now working for the S.C. Department of Commerce -- said companies looking to move to South Carolina are looking for infrastructure: water, sewer, electric and gas.
“You have to have it. If you don’t have it, forget it,” Lindsay said.
His comment echoed those by Caldwell and the night’s other speaker, James Chavez, president and CEO of S.C. Power Team, about owning the assets you are marketing and having them ready to attract companies to Kershaw County.