If you’re the type who would brag to your friends about staying a week in a grand home on Ted Turner’s former private retreat, this deal is for you.
If you’re an outdoors junkie enamored with the idea of spending a few nights in “Jurassic Park,” it’s also one you’ll like.
If, however, you’re a state senator concerned with how constituents will view a $4.9 million-dollar barrier island purchase while the state struggles to pay teachers and maintain school buses, the deal may give you pause.
Those were some of the options Tuesday as a state panel considered the purchase of St. Philips Island from the media mogul.
Lawmakers were largely supportive of a plan in which the state would buy the private retreat and add it to the state parks system. St. Phillips Island, southwest of Hunting Island, could become a corporate retreat or family vacation spot available for rent.
“I think looking ahead to future generations, if we don’t do it, I think we’ll look back that we made a mistake by not buying it,” Duane Parrish, director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, told members of the General Assembly’s Joint Bond Review Committee.
The purchase includes boats and vehicles already on the island, setting the stage for an adventure getaway a 20-minute boat ride from Hunting Island. State park officials believe the retreat will stay booked and easily allow the state to recoup the purchase and operating costs.
“We’re buying our own Jurassic Park,” said Sen. Glenn Reese, D-Spartanburg.
The barrier island, a Turner family retreat, would become part of the state parks system as a complement to nearby Hunting Island State Park. St. Phillips includes a main house with a dock, caretaker’s house, maritime forest and white sand beach. It was recently valued at $15 million.
State Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, asked Parrish about St. Phillips’ likelihood to erode. Severe erosion on Hunting Island throughout the years has cost the state millions for numerous beach renourishment projects. The biggest and likely most expensive is planned in 2018. That effort is expected to cost approximately $10 million.
Parrish said St. Phillips is somewhat protected from the ocean by Pritchards Island and wouldn’t require additional sand.
“We would let Mother Nature move the beach around as she desires,” Parrish said.
Any new buildings would be built away from the beach, he said.
Peeler, whose Upstate district is just northeast of Spartanburg, told Parrish he questioned buying a barrier island when the state can’t properly fund teacher salaries and school bus maintenance. He questioned why Turner wants to part with the property, likening the island to the billionaire’s failed marriage with actress Jane Fonda.
“If Ted Turner can’t make it work, what makes you think you can?” Peeler asked. “Why would Mr, Turner want to give something away like this? Mr. Chairman (Sen. Hugh Leatherman), I just can’t see the wisdom in this.”
Parrish noted that the 79-year-old Turner has multiple properties and hadn’t been to St. Phillips in several years. He said the bargain would be a boon for the park system and that revenue from St. Phillips would support Hunting Island in addition to its own operating costs.
Turner wants to sell it by the end of the year at a discounted price to qualify for a tax break as a charitable bargain sale, according to the state. He bought the island in 1979. Up to 10 more homes can be built under a conservation easement in place since 1983.
“I have absolutely no problem with the owner benefiting from a tax standpoint,” said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg. “I really like the idea of adding this property to conservation land. It is not something you can get anywhere else.”
The proposal goes before the State Fiscal Accountability Authority for approval next week.
If the deal closes, state parks officials would evaluate the island for the next several months to decide how it could be used, S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism spokeswoman Dawn Dawson-House said last week.