The Sand Dunes Club is one of the largest beachfront properties on Sullivan's Island, and home to a swimming pool island residents used for decades, until the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.
Long-owned by South Carolina Electric & Gas and used as a club for employees, and an event space for weddings and receptions, the Sand Dunes Club is now part of Dominion Energy. It's been shut down since early 2020 due to the pandemic.
Now, Beemok Capital — owned by local billionaire Ben Navarro — is interested in buying the property, and the town hopes the Sand Dunes Club will become a private club for island property owners and residents.
Navarro and his companies have purchased, among other things, the Belmond Charleston Place hotel and the Credit One Bank Stadium on Daniel Island.
The clubhouse is a historic building associated with Fort Moultrie and can't be demolished without the town's permission. It dates to the days when a large amount of Sullivan's Island was dedicated to the military installation.
Hundreds of homes and properties associated with Fort Moultrie were sold by the government in 1950. One property was the former Fort Moultrie officers' club, with dining rooms and a large ballroom, sitting on a generous front-beach lot 250 feet wide.
SCE&G bought it for $27,000 and it became the Sand Dunes Club.
“I used to swim in the pool back in the '60s when I was a little kid," town Administrator Andrew Benke said. "It’s always been an asset for the island residents, and particularly neighborhood kids."
The pandemic-related closure is understandable, but the change in ownership, to Dominion Energy, prompted concern on the island about the club's future. Dominion won't say much about the club's fate, but according to a town agreement, the property could potentially become a private club for Sullivan's Island residents.
"Even before the pandemic began, we were looking at the company's ownership and use of various properties that are not used directly in servicing customers, and that ongoing analysis will include the employee clubs," Dominion spokesman Paul Fischer said. He said the utility has made no agreement related to the Sand Dunes Club.
But the town has.
In February, Sullivan's Island signed an agreement with Beemok Capital.
Beemok, the agreement says, "desires to purchase the property from its current owner, renovate the clubhouse and operate the club." The agreement also says "the town believes a club with membership limited to town residents and property owners" would be desirable, if the club were sold.
Zachary Tramonti, a spokesman for Beemok, said the company would not comment but provided a copy of the same agreement.
The "memorandum of understanding" signed by the company and the town lays out how the property could and could not be used, if it were sold.
“What is basically says — and it would be the same for anyone who purchased it — is that it can’t be used for anything more than it’s used for now," Benke said. "You couldn’t buy it and turn it into a hotel or a restaurant."
“They could build houses on the vacant lots," he said.
There's room on the property to develop several houses, in addition to the clubhouse. The large clubhouse could not be demolished, unless the town's Design Review Board were to remove its historic designation.
“That structure is protected," said Joe Henderson, the town's zoning official. “It’s considered a Sullivan’s Island landmark."
Dominion Energy won't say if the property is for sale, and Beemok Capital declined to comment, so it's not clear if or when the ownership of the club could change. The agreement signed by the town, however, lays out how the club could be used if there's a new owner.
Among other provisions, such as operating hours, the agreement says that the price of membership in the club would not exceed the cost of operating the club, and the town would get to review confidential financial statements to ensure that provision.
Residents and town property owners could become members, and nonmembers could still use the pool, for a fee comparable to what municipal recreation departments charge in Mount Pleasant or on Isle of Palms, the agreements says.