USC in bidding contest with quarry for riverfront land

08/15/2014 9:48 PM

08/15/2014 9:50 PM

The University of South Carolina is in a bidding contest with a riverfront mining operation over nearly 300 acres of land near Williams-Brice Stadium that are for sale in bankruptcy court.

The property, behind Gamecock Park on Bluff Road, goes to auction Sept. 18 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Columbia.

In bids filed earlier this summer, Vulcan Mining Co. tripled the offer made by the USC Development Foundation, a private fundraising arm of the university that wants the flood-prone property for a short-game facility for the men’s and women’s golf programs and intramural playing fields for softball, football and soccer.

Vulcan, which operates a 300-acre granite mine in the Olympia community, less than a mile away from the site, offered $3 million. It goes into court next month with the high bid, one the lawyer for the property owner is prepared to accept, according to court documents.

The deadline for bids besting Vulcan’s offer is Sept. 8 — and USC is prepared to “scrape up the money, if that’s the deciding factor,” foundation director Russ Meekins said Thursday.

A third bidder showed interest in the property, too, through a letter of intent that remains private, said Jim Daniel, the real estate broker for the USC Development Foundation.

USC athletics director Ray Tanner said Friday he would be concerned if anyone other than the university had control of the property.

Even now, USC is building two new practice fields and an indoor practice facility for Gamecock football nearby.

“We’re very interested in that property ourselves, for our donors, our fans, our student body,” Tanner said. “There’s certainly a higher and better use for that property — for us.”

Meekins said the property — 298 acres with limited development potential because of its designation as a flood plain — is a natural for playing fields for USC students on an expanding urban campus. He said the university had approached long-time property owner William Gregg with offers numerous times over the years.

“We would like the property for playing fields for our students,” Meekins said. “As we grow, we don’t have enough fields in town, and the fields we do have are pretty expensive real estate.”

He said a company official approached him in June, saying Vulcan wanted to buy the land but would be willing to lease it to the university for 15 years or so.

“It’s a mine in an urban area, and is that a good thing?” Meekins asked. “That’s for the leaders to answer, but our feeling is it’s not a good thing for the university. It’s not a good thing for all the student housing that’s out there.”

A spokesman for Vulcan said Friday it was too early to know how it would use the land.

The Birmingham-based company has not explored whether there’s granite on the site, but could make other, unspecified uses of the property, said Jimmy Fleming, vice president of human resources for Vulcan in Atlanta.

“We have expressed an interest in the property,” he said. “Its proximity to our current property ... makes us want to take a closer look at it to decide if it’s something that would fit into our future plans.”

In December 2010, Gregg filed a request with Richland County to have his land rezoned from rural to heavy industrial, saying it would be ideally suited for mining.

The public’s opposition was quick and Gregg never followed through on his plans. He filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy early last year.

Friday, environmental activist Ryan Nevius said she was disturbed to hear Vulcan — with its dust, noisy blasts and truck traffic — was pursuing an expansion.

“It doesn’t seem it’s a direction that our city wants to go, to further expand an industrial quarry,” she said. “We think they’re responsible. We understand their needs. It just is not right for our city.”

Richland County Councilman Kelvin Washington, too, expressed concern about possible health ramifications for people living in the historic Olympia, Arthurtown and Little Camden communities. “They always get overwhelmed by these industrial activities; that’s what I’m concerned about.”

But Vulcan’s quarry in Olympia, where granite is processed to crushed rock used in concrete and asphalt, has been operating for some 125 years. Fleming said it has between 15 and 25 years’ worth of granite left to mine, depending on the market.

Already, Vulcan is making plans for a new quarry in western Lexington County, midway between Gilbert and Batesburg-Leesville. To the dismay of nearby residents, the company revealed last year that it was working on mining permits for a 300-acre plant, just off U.S. 1.

Fleming confirmed the company had submitted its bid under the name Cherokee Rose Resources LLC, as USC Foundation officials had surmised.

Trustee R. William Metzger Jr., a Columbia lawyer, was appointed by Judge David Duncan to represent Gregg’s estate. It’s his job to get as much money for creditors as he can through the sale of Gregg’s property.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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