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Malfeasance alleged in offers for former Allen Bennett property

By Jim Fair, Editor
Published on Tuesday, January 24, 2017

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Taxpayers or not? That's the decision city council faces tonight weighing a $3 million versus a  $2.1 million offer for the former Allen Bennett Memorial hospital site.
 
 

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Taxpayers or not? That's the decision city council faces tonight weighing a $3 million versus a  $2.1 million offer for the former Allen Bennett Memorial hospital site.

 

 

Malfeasance is being alleged in one of the most notorious city council blunders of the decade – the sale of the former Allen Bennett Hospital complex.

Pending what City Council decides tonight, taxpayers may be called on to empty their pockets of $1 million that could go toward future projects – whether to take a $3 million offer or $2.1 million offer.

Second reading of Ordinance 34-2016 for the purchase of the former hospital property and an executive session to review its decision with legal ramifications is among city council’s agenda tonight at 6:30.

Councilman Wryley Bettis made a motion to table second and final reading on Dec. 13. Councilwoman Judy Albert seconded the motion. The motion carried 5-2 with council members Jay Arrowood and Wayne Griffin voting in opposition.

JBM Leasing LLC, owned by Mark Escude, of Nissan of Greer, Hyundai of Greer, Kia of Greer and Toyota of Greer has bid $3.005 million for the 10-acre site. Included in the offer is a donation for the public purpose of upfitting and refurbishing a handicap park (Kids Planet at Century Park) and naming rights – “Cooper’s Park” – for the grandson of Mark Escude who was born prematurely.

JBM’s announced plan is to build a state-of-the-art Nissan dealership that would employ 60-70 people.That reflects the City's stated intent to return the property to the tax payrolls and create jobs.

A Nissan dealership is also located along Greer’s motor mile on Wade Hampton Blvd. 

City Council, incidentally, is in the discussion stages for an upfit for Kids Planet. It will be taxpayer funded.

313 Memorial Drive owned by Jim Benson of Benson Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram has bid $2.1 million. No economic development plan has been announced and City Administrator Ed Driggers has been adamant maintaining the position that none will be made publicly until after the sale.

And that’s where malfeasance is alleged.

During Benson’s and Escude’s see-saw offers from their respective representatives, some officials, who attended the executive sessions, allege their suspicions of matching offers made less than 48 hours apart.

Multiple sources have indicated to GreerToday.com it appeared to be more than a coincidence and the information shared allegedly originated in executive sessions.

JBM’s lawsuit states explicitly that the City of Greer appeared to be negotiating in secret. “Upon information and belief, Defendants had been secretly negotiating with the other buyer, and discouraging the participation and offers from the Plaintiff,” stated the lawsuit.

JBM’s lawsuit for an injunction preventing the ordinance’s second reading on Dec. 13, until it’s offer could be presented, specifically addressed that concern. Upon legal advice the city retreated and JBM made its jaw-dropping offer.

• JBM offered $1.8 million at the Nov. 8 city council meeting, according to its lawsuit.

• JBM learned coincidentally, according to filed documents, that another buyer offered $1.8 million at the Nov. 8 meeting.

• Nov. 9, Driggers rejected JBM’s offer outright, but instructed the Mayor to negotiate with the other buyer, which would have been 313 Memorial Drive, according to court documents. JBM claimed city officials would not receive its latest offer.

Instructing Danner to negotiate with the buyer (Benson and/or representatives) was unusual since Driggers and Deaton typically are responsible for contractual matters and present them to the Mayor and City Council for action.

The Nov. 9 meeting, according to court documents, was when Driggers told a JBM representative that the city was no longer interested in economic development or job creation, but simply in maximizing its financial return. Driggers said that the city wanted $2.1 million for the property – reportedly enough to recoup the city’s losses incurred while possessing the property.

That runs counter to a marketing attempt by Greer Economic Development Corporation stating: “The City of Greer has a preference for Retail, Office and/or Hospitality uses for the site. However, multi-use plans for the site that includes other uses, including but not limited to multi-family, are acceptable so long as the major of the site is reserved for Retail, Office, and/or Hospitality.”

No bids were offered when the request for proposal closed on Oct. 4 last year.

It’s been well-documented former Allen Bennett Hospital and Huntington Nursing Center was a gift from the Greenville Hospital System in September 2010.

Since that time City Council, in its apparent haste to profit from the property, sold the site to an unqualified and unfinanced owner, and later had to work its way through bankruptcy court to earn a $400,000 judgment (still unpaid) to retain the property.

The turbulent history includes DHEC called in to monitor Greer’s cleanup of a diesel spill that ran into a nearby stream, CPW providing utilities at $40,000 a month, the interior equipment and copper wiring was stolen and two meth labs were disassembled by police.

The city spent more than $800,000 to demolish the site for a more attractive marketing plan.

 

 

 

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