When Myrtle Beach city officials decided, months ago, to build a library and children’s museum on the downtown superblock, they had to buy a lot of land.
Real estate negotiations can be difficult under normal circumstances. But as the city cobbled together multiple lots from almost as many discrete owners with $10 million in loans, its own staff didn’t knock on buyers’ doors – the city of Myrtle Beach hired a broker named Scott Taylor.
Taylor went to work sending emails, and calling, making offers to landowners under a company called Metro Properties Group LLC. The LLC was registered to the same address as E.F. Hucks, an appraisal firm headed by Buddy Hucks that has previously done work for government entities, according to documents from the S.C. Secretary of State.
“Buddy and I were talking this morning and agree that we (our names/company names) need to be kept private during and after any announcements if possible,” Taylor wrote in a Jan. 12 email to Jim McCrackin, an attorney that handled aspects of the sales for Myrtle Beach.
“We are tools from the back of the drawer and don’t really need or want any public recognition of our involvement.”
We are tools from the back of the drawer and don’t really need or want any public recognition of our involvement.
Scott Taylor, a broker who made offers as Myrtle Beach bought land for its new library.
Taylor’s email was provided to The Sun News in a set of documents resulting from a Freedom of Information Act request.
He could not be reached by phone Friday evening. Metro Properties Group’s registered address changed to a location in Pawleys Island in a filing on March 3.
So if an anonymous buyer comes to a home or business to make an offer, it could just be a private person – or it could be the city.
But government experts and former city officials in other areas of South Carolina said using a broker who doesn’t disclose that they’re representing a city or town is relatively normal.
“I think that’s a common practice and even a best practice,” Eric Budds, the deputy executive director of the South Carolina Municipal Association, said. “You’re using somebody that that’s their business – they are experts in the acquisition of property.”
Budds said that in some cases, landowners could raise their asking prices if they know the city is behind the purchase, assuming that a government entity has deep pockets. Or, he said, someone could start buying land in the path of a project in order to flip it at a higher price to a city or town.
Councilman Wayne Gray made a similar point at a Myrtle Beach City Council meeting Tuesday, saying that brokers can ensure taxpayer money is not wasted.
Those on the superblock and other observers commented at the same meeting that the process was not transparent.
Howard Duvall, who has worked both as a public official and as an employee of the Municipal Association, said he could not recall situations in other towns where using brokers led to controversy.
“I have seen it firsthand where the city used brokers to buy property when they tried to get it at fair market price,” said Duvall, who is currently a member of Columbia’s city council.
In some cases, it might be somewhat obvious that a city or the state is trying to buy land. A S.C. Department of Transportation project to straighten the path of U.S. 501 was widely publicized as one of the many infrastructure projects that would benefit from funding initiative RIDE III last year. But the melding of the major artery with Seventh Avenue North in Myrtle Beach will move straight through multiple lots that sit south of the intersection of U.S. 501, Broadway Street and Main Street.
Attorney Miles Adler, however, said he doubted that anonymity would stop landowners from learning that a large project was in the works. Adler represents the owners of House Parts LLC, a business on the superblock that could now be subject to a forced sale.
“It’s still one guy doing all the buying, right? So it’s gonna have the same effect,” Adler said. “If you’ve got one person going around to your neighbors and saying ‘I want to buy your property,’ somebody’s gonna say, ‘Hey, if somebody wants all this stuff, I better ask for more money.’”