COLUMBIA -- A Maryland company agreed Monday to pay $12.8 million to buy the troubled Greenwood-based Park Seed Co., whose seed catalog has been a small source of warmth during long winters across the country for more than 140 years.
A federal bankruptcy judge accepted the offer from Blackstreet Capital after frenzied negotiations in the courtroom and hallway of a Columbia courthouse that drove the best bid up $4 million in four hours.
Creditors were pleased with the offer from the Chevy Chase, Md., company that focuses on underperforming companies. But perhaps the happiest people were in Greenwood County, where Blackstreet agreed to keep the company's roughly 200 permanent employees on the payroll for at least three years.
If the firm doesn't, it will have to pay $1.5 million in penalties split between the estate of company founder George W. Park, the state and the county.
Park Seed has been an institution in Greenwood since its founder moved the company there in 1924. Its acres of trial gardens bring thousands of visitors to the company's headquarters every year and are the centerpieces of the South Carolina Festival of Flowers each June.
"We in Greenwood hoped and prayed Park Seed would stay in the state and the jobs would stay. And when all is said and done, it's going to come out a better company because of this," said state Rep. Gene Pinson, R-Greenwood, whose district includes Park Seed.
Park Seed's future has been in doubt for months. When bankruptcy trustee Stan Neely took over in April, he couldn't figure out how the company integrated its accounting system with its inventory control or its mail order records.
"This company had been mismanaged for so long," Neely said.
The first offer to buy was just more than $1 million. But Neely said he realized Park Seed's good name and deep roots in South Carolina were worth a lot more. He recommended Blackstreet's bid over the slightly higher bid of Garden Alive because of the promise to keep jobs in Greenwood. The seed company is a community stalwart in the county of 70,000, where about one out of every eight people wanting to work is out of a job.
Park Seed was founded in Pennsylvania in 1868 by George W. Park, who first sold dried seeds to his neighbors, then took out a newspaper ad to broaden his customer base.
The company might be best known for its tomato seeds, but Park Seed also sells seeds for flowers and other vegetables, its annual spring catalog crammed into mailboxes in the dead of winter.
The Park family ran the company until 2005, when it was sold to Florida real estate executive Donald Hachenberger. He later bought the California-based Jackson & Perkins companies that specialize in roses and holiday products.