Ground rules set for auction of exclusive but broke Charleston area golf club

The Golf Club at Briar’s Creek off River Road is shown in better times, on its opening day in 2001.

The ground rules are set.

The owner of the exclusive but broke Briar’s Creek golf course on Johns Island has submitted the formal bidding procedures for the assets of the bankrupt private club.

One offer already is on the table — and it has the support of the membership.

Rivals bidders will need to be prepared to ante up. For example, they’ll need to submit a $500,000 deposit, and any new offers must exceed the first proposal by at least $500,000, lawyers for The Golf Club at Briar’s Creek said in court filing last week.

Should a bidding war break out, the sale price will rise in minimum $250,000 increments.

Any potential buyers also will have to agree in writing to abide by the same terms spelled out in the buyout agreement from a group led by billionaire Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.

Briar’s Creek Golf Club LLC filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month.

Under the McNair-led buyout offer, all members and resigned members in good standing will get a pro-rated portion of their initiation fees and any loans they made to the club after other expenses are paid. They also will be able to join the new club for free, aside from the monthly dues. Members who were classified as owners of Briar’s Creek will lose their equity.

McNair, who owns a home on nearby Kiawah Island, proposed on Feb. 10 to pay $7.4 million in cash for the Rees Jones-designed course, clubhouse, equipment, undeveloped home lots and other assets.

Also, his group would assume $3.9 million in debt, repay $2.9 million owed to SouthCoast Community Bank and provide $2 million to capitalize the successor club, for a grand total of $16.2 million.

McNair’s newly formed Briar’s Creek Holdings wants to finalize the deal as soon as possible, but the bankruptcy court had not set an auction date as of Friday. If a competing bidder prevails, the buyer would have 14 business days to come up with money.

Jim Newsome could be swimming against the tide when he makes the case for a dredging project at the Port of Georgetown.

The State Ports Authority CEO, who is scheduled to meet Monday with the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C., said last week the cost of deepening the harbor to 27 feet from its current depth of about 20 feet could top $40 million.

That’s significantly more than the $33 million estimate the Army Corps issued five years ago. The federal agency is working on a new cost projection, but it hasn’t yet released its final figures.

Georgetown County voters last year approved a 1 percent sales tax increase that will pay about $6 million toward the dredging, and state lawmakers have promised another $18.5 million for the proposed three-year project. Newsome said the SPA also will kick in $5 million, the amount of revenue the agency gets from the breakbulk and bulk cargo facility. That would still leave at least a $10.5 million deficit.

The only source of those funds would be the federal government, which historically has shown little interest in helping Georgetown maintain its port.

The Army Corps this month managed to find $2 million in its current-year budget to help study the project, but none of that money will go toward dredging. President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, has no money for Georgetown dredging.

Even if dredging is funded, the feds would have to spend $5 million a year to maintain the fast-silting waterway. The Army Corps has never set aside that much annual money for the Georgetown port.

Another factor working against Georgetown is the amount of cargo it handles. The port has moved 328,136 tons of cargo through the first seven months of this fiscal year. The federal government typically won’t consider maintenance dredging for ports that handle less than 1 million tons.

Newsome said ArcelorMittal will have to play a role in the port’s resurgence. The global steel giant’s Georgetown mill currently imports raw materials through a port in Wilmington, N.C. While the mill’s business would help, it still wouldn’t be enough to let Georgetown hit its goal of at least 1 million tons. Danie Devapiriam, general manager of the steel plant, did not return a call seeking comment.

And, finally, the disposal property where dredging materials would be placed have seen years of neglect because of a lack of funding. It’s not clear how much it will cost to bring that property up to minimum standards.

“It remains a challenging proposition,” Newsome said.

Former judge Larry Richter, an ex-member of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, apparently just can’t let go of the airport board. He showed up at Thursday’s board meeting and turned a few heads when he took a seat at the boardroom table. Richter’s appearance was a surprise, even causing Charleston County Council chair Elliott Summey, who sits on the board, briefly to speak out against his sitting in a place normally reserved for active authority members.

Nevertheless, board Chair Andy Savage afforded the Mount Pleasant lawyer a spot at the table and a chance to speak about a good deed done by the airport police in returning a lost computer to a Harvard student. Richter didn’t speak after that, and he didn’t stay for the entire meeting.

Savage said he would allow all other former board members the same opportunity.

The Senate did not reappoint Richter to the Aviation Authority in June. Afterward he served as the proxy for state Rep. Chip Limehouse, until Limehouse rotated off the board in January.

Vice President Joe Biden didn’t say whether he’ll run for president when he visited the Port of Charleston last week to promote the Grow America Act, which would use corporate tax reform to pay for infrastructure projects.

In fact, Biden didn’t take any questions at all from the assembled media during his appearance, part of a three-stop tour in the Carolinas with Anthony Foxx, the former Charlotte mayor who’s now secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Biden’s staff did go out of its way for news photographers, however, allowing them to precede the second-in-command by mere steps as he strolled along the berth at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant. Then, in a bit of staged spontaneity, Biden spent a few minutes shaking hands and taking selfies with dockworkers — all as the TV cameras rolled.

His speech focused on a federal grant the State Ports Authority received last year to help shore up the terminal, and how improved infrastructure is the key to a middle-class resurgence. There was no mention of anyone named Hillary or of anything that might be happening before or on Nov. 8, 2016.

Biden has said previously he won’t make a decision about a presidential run until this summer. But as The New York Times pointed out, there was no mistaking the campaign flavor of his stage exit. With a red, white and blue bus in the background, Biden strode from the podium as Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams” blared over the loudspeakers.

David Wren, John McDermott and Warren Wise contributed to this report.