S’ville developer returns deposits

A rendering of the proposed Dorchester project.

The developer of a beleaguered hotel and convention center project in the historic downtown area is returning earnest money to those who had hoped to be its first residents.

Developer Arthur Applegate of Applegate & Co. cited “lawsuits and a changing political environment” in a letter informing potential condominium buyers that their deposits held in escrow would be released. Buyers said they received the letter Thursday.

Applegate’s letter said he hopes the project’s clouds eventually will clear and it will move forward.

“We look forward to being able to open discussion with you regarding purchasing a unit at the Dorchester at a future date,” he wrote.

Prices of the homes ranged from $236,250 to $648,900, according to The Residences at The Dorchester Facebook page. More than half of the 27 units were spoken for, according to the page.

One potential owner said he was very disappointed, but declined to comment further, citing a nondisclosure clause in the contract.

The Dorchester project was envisioned as a hotel, condos, a rooftop bar, restaurant and retail space, a parking garage and conference center on 2.2 acres at Cedar Street and Richardson Avenue.

Construction was to start late last year, six months after the town’s Board of Architectural Review gave it final approval. But work has been delayed by a lawsuit brought by The Preservation Society and others who claim the town violated federal, state and local laws when it struck its deal with Applegate & Co.

Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson heard arguments in the case earlier this year, but he has not ruled.

“Unfortunately, we do not know when, or even if, The Dorchester will be starting construction,” Applegate’s letter says. “Hopefully, in time, the issues surrounding the project will be resolved clearing the way for the project to move forward.”

Applegate did not immediately return a voice mail seeking comment Thursday.

Former Mayor Bill Collins helped set the project in motion about two years ago as part of the town’s efforts to revitalize its historic downtown.

But as the project moved forward, it polarized many residents, in some cases pitting neighbor against neighbor. Current Mayor Wiley Johnson, who campaigned against the project, defeated Collins last fall.

The $28 million project was to be funded by a public-private partnership, with the town kicking in $5.2 million and giving Applegate a $3.75 million loan. The events facility and garage would be owned by the town but managed under contract.

Johnson recently said the town’s portion of the public-private partnership has almost tripled from the original estimate. Others questioned that claim.

Johnson said Thursday he was unaware of the letter but found it “interesting.”

“It’s his business and not mine,” he said. “I can’t speak for him or make any unfounded guesses about what it means.”

Council members reached Thursday said they had not heard about the letter and did not know of Applegate’s plans.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.