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Stunning $3 million bid for former hospital site overwhelms City Council, vote on ordinance is tabled

By Jim Fair, Editor
Published on Tuesday, December 13, 2016

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The team representing Jim Benson huddle while City Council was in a two-hour executive session.
 

Jim Fair

The team representing Jim Benson huddle while City Council was in a two-hour executive session.

 



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Attorney James Carpenter, representing JBM LLC, bides time waiting for City Council to return to the public session.
 

Jim Fair

Attorney James Carpenter, representing JBM LLC, bides time waiting for City Council to return to the public session.

 

City Council left almost $1 million on the table and reneged on a promise to settle what has become the jinxed former 10-acre Allen Bennett hospital site.

Just when it appeared a stunning last-minute $3 million counter offer by JBM LLC attorney Kristine Cato would seal the deal for the much-litigated property, a two-hour executive session resulted in no decision and Council facing a 2017 with a contentious issue between kingpin Greer automobile dealers squared off against each other.

Brian Martin is representing 313 Memorial Drive, whose owner is Jim Benson of Benson Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram. City Council passed first reading on Nov. 22 accepting Martin’s offer of $2.1 million to buy the property that borders Wade Hampton Blvd., Memorial Drive, Forest Street and Spring Street.

Martin made an impassioned plea that Council accepted the offer in good faith and expected the Council and Mayor Rick Danner to honor it.

“All we want is for you to honor the commitment,” Martin told council. “Trust is the cornerstone of business in Greer. This will set us back years if not a generation because of that trust and that time you took the highest offer.”

Tonya Crist, a partner of InSite Consulting, also spoke at the public forum and sided with Martin. “It is economic suicide to break the commitment made with Mr. Benson,” Crist said. “It is in the city’s best interest to keep its commitment.”

InSite Consulting advertised requests for proposal on behalf of the City of Greer in September 2010.

JBM LLC is owned by Mark Escude, of Nissan of Greer, Hyundai of Greer, Kia of Greer and Toyota of Greer. A state-of-the-art Nissan dealership is planned for the site, according to JBM.

Cato argued Council admitted it erred in awarding the bid to 313 Memorial Drive without entertaining its counter bid. An injunction filed to halt the second reading was withdrawn Monday when the City agreed to permit JBM to make its offer in the public forum.

“Council must not sell to the highest bidder,” Cato said. “It must sell for the best deal. The city is obligated, as a fiduciary representing the people, to make the best deal for the city. The $2.3 million (JBM) offered offers economic development. Mark (Escude) is committed to economic development … just look up and down (Wade Hampton Boulevard).”

Cato closed with JBM’s offer: $3.005 million for the nearly 10-acre site. The bid includes a donation for the public purpose of upfitting and refurbishing a handicap park located within the city limits.

The park is Kids Planet at Century Park and it includes naming rights as “Cooper’s Park” the grandson of Mark Escude who was born prematurely.

Council voted 5-2 to table Ordinance 34-2016, code named “Project Forest”. Wryley Bettis motioned to table the second reading with Judy Albert, seconding, according to city officials. Jay Arrowood and Wayne Griffin opposed postponing the vote.

Arrowood was beside himself with council’s decision. “You give your word and you stand by it,” Arrowood said. He wanted to say more but cautiously backed off and said, “That’s about all I will say tonight. I wanted to vote on the ordinance.”

Danner explained council’s decision to table the ordinance. “The revelation of ($3 million bid) was new to us tonight,” Danner said. “It warrants further investigation than we could do in executive session. We need to give it more due diligence.”

“I think it was the best we could hope for tonight,” Cato said.

Bob Hogan, of MCE Automotive Company and affiliated with JBM, said, “We had no idea who the other group was when we entered the bidding. We were just wanting to acquire a piece of property and put a dealership there. This is not us against them.”

Since Greenville Hospital System gifted the former Allen Bennett Hospital and Roger Huntington Nursing to the City of Greer in September 2010, the taxpayers have been billed more than $1.8 million for re-acquiring the property through bankruptcy proceedings, a diesel spill cleanup in a nearby creek, police dismantling two meth labs, copper wiring and much of the interior infrastructure stolen, and the entire complex razed.

The site was demolished for more than $800,000 according to City Administrator Ed Driggers and was put on the market but no bids were received through the Oct. 4 deadline.

JBM and 313 Memorial Drive had matching bids at $1.5 million and $1.8 million when Driggers told the groups the City would not sell for less than $2 million to recoup its losses.

The million-dollar question, who will get ownership of the former hospital site, looms large with council.

Council’s next meeting is Jan. 9 next year.

 

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