Group way short of $10 million goal to buy former Freestyle Music Park as deadline approaches

dbryant@thesunnews.comMay 7, 2013 

— Five days remaining, roughly $9.9 million left to go.

Abiding Village, an arm of Christ United Methodist Church that provides an arts center with classes for youth, doesn’t seem to be on track to meet the Sunday deadline to raise $10 million to buy the former Freestyle Music Park property.

Just don’t tell the fund-raisers that.

“I really believe somehow, some way that God is going to do it,” said Jess Sagun, director of Abiding Village, which operates from the former Waccamaw Pottery next to the park property. “I don’t know how he is going to do it....We still believe God is going to give us that property.”

Abiding Village and the church launched a fund-raising blitz less than a month ago, saying it could buy the park’s 150 acres -- minus the rides -- if it could raise $10 million by Mother’s Day. An attorney for the former park, which has sat vacant since 2009, has declined to comment about plans for the park property and whether it’s in negotiations with Abiding Village. He could not be reached Tuesday.

Abiding Village, a 5-year-old not-for-profit, had raised $128,219.82 by Monday evening, according to its website. Most of that came from small donations of $10 or $20 and efforts such as kids’ lemonade stands and a yard sale in the parking lot of the former Waccamaw Pottery that supporters are doing to try to help, Sagun said.

“I’ve just really been moved by people’s hearts,” she said.

Abiding Village has a multi-phase vision for the sprawling theme park property that would include a business center that would pair local business leaders with young budding entrepreneurs, a Christ-centered private school and a shopping and dining complex run by the products of its business center.

Jeff Dunn, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, has said the church will not go into debt to buy the park property. He has said that contributors can specify that their donation only be used for the park property purchase, and they will receive a refund if Abiding Village doesn’t raise enough money to buy the property. Donations can be made through the website, www.abidingvillage.org.

Determined fund-raisers aren’t letting up. Church member Anita Hewett has organized a community yard sale, which is on tap for Saturday in the Waccamaw Pottery parking lot. The first wave of the sale happened last weekend. Sellers can rent space for $10, and the church has a building packed with donations that will be sold, Hewett said.

She isn’t ready to toss in the towel on the potential park purchase either.

“Anything’s possible,” Hewett said. “God is much bigger than our yard sale.”

Sagun brushed off skeptics who say the effort is a fund-raising stunt using a potential purchase of the park property as a way to raise money for Abiding Village programs. She reiterated that significant contributors who only want their money used to buy the park can specify that and receive a refund if enough money isn’t raised to purchase the park.

“It’s just nonsense,” Sagun said of the criticism.

Though a far cry from the goal, the effort has brought in significantly more money than the not-for-profit has raised since its start, Sagun said. In 2011, Abiding Village had $46,939 in revenue and $38,393 in expenses, according to filings with the S.C. Secretary of State.

Abiding Village’s programs are free to those attending, but it pays instructors, Sagun said.

“We already have raised more money in the last two weeks than Abiding Village has raised in the last five years,” she said.

Sagun said Abiding Village will move forward with expanding its programs even if the park purchase doesn’t work out.

The theme park closed after the 2009 summer season. The attraction, which officials said cost $400 million to build, debuted in 2008 as Hard Rock Park, was bought out of bankruptcy for $25 million in early 2009 then reopened as Freestyle Music Park for summer 2009. Freestyle also failed and closed after one season.

In August 2011, the theme park’s mortgage holders took control of the property with the goal of finding a buyer or operator who could reopen it in time for the summer 2012 season. At the time, the park’s attorneys said the owners didn’t want to sell off the rides, but Abiding Village officials have said the rides would be removed before they purchased the park land and buildings.

Other businesses in Fantasy Harbour off U.S. 501, where the former park is located, have wanted some type of activity to return to the property. Some still hold out hope that a theme park operator will take it over and reopen it. It’s unclear whether other purchase offers are on the table.

Sagun said she didn’t know what will happen come Monday, when officials are set to meet with park representatives about the potential purchase. Abiding Village plans to continue pursuing the park property until it has the deed, she said.

“I don’t know who is going to rush over there and buy it on Tuesday,” Sagun said. “If we don’t get it this time, it just means we’ll get it cheaper next time.”

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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