New lawsuit adds to foundation’s debt

The South Carolina Maritime Foundation needs to sell the Spirit for about $2.5 million to cover all of its debts.

A new lawsuit on top of mounting debt has the South Carolina Maritime Foundation sinking deeper into a financial hole from which the group isn’t any closer to recovering.

The nonprofit is no longer functioning, and the answer to all of its standing monetary woes lies in its chief asset, the Spirit of South Carolina tall ship. But Robert E. “Teddy” Turner IV, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors said the group hasn’t received any official bids for the 140-foot-long wooden ship’s purchase since it went on the market in January.

“The foundation didn’t garner the community support that it needed to continue so it’s the community that suffers. ... The boat will sell. Everything sells eventually to the right buyer for the right price,” Turner said.

The foundation took another blow last month when Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina filed a lawsuit suing for $42,323.26 in damages.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney William A. Scott, alleges the foundation used the resort’s facilities and catering services to host a fundraiser in August 2010 but never paid the tab.

“We did business with (the resort) for many years and if there’s a bill unpaid, the foundation is not able to pay it at this time,” Turner said.

The foundation needs to sell the Spirit for about $2.5 million to cover all of its debts, but six months on the market in a lagging economy isn’t making that any easier.

Turner said he is confident the ship will sell in time. Until it does, several bill collectors will have to wait. He said he has no backup plan.

“(The foundation) tumbled down a long time ago. We’re done. We just have to sell the boat. And the boat will sell when the boat sells. There’s no secret money lying around,” Turner said.

Mount Pleasant resident Pepe Hernandez has hosted the Spirit at his deep-water dock along Hobcaw Creek on several occasions, and he very much wants to keep the ship local. Hernandez said the foundation could have avoided its current predicament if it used the Spirit for commercial purposes, giving tours on the harbor to generate revenue, instead of just using it for education as a non-profit.

“I don’t want the boat to go away. If there’s any way to keep that from happening then that would be nice. But I know money is money, and the bank wants their money,” Hernandez said.

“The original concept was not to be commercial, but to be educational. But the way to make that work is to be commercial, also to get sponsors.”

Doing tours would generate cash that could then be plowed back into the foundation, eventually allowing the group to buy additional, smaller boats and expand its offerings, Hernandez said. “The concept could have grown that way,” he said.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at twitter.com/celmorePC.