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Developer Larry McNair Jr. of Greenville, South Carolina
Proposes $80 million Green Diamond Project,
Site to Include Golf Course and Hotel

By Jeff Wilkinson and Sammy Fretwell, The State, Columbia, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 3, 2009--A Greenville developer has a contract to buy about one-third of the old Green Diamond property on the Congaree River for a golf course-style development that would cater to USC sports fans and downtown Columbia workers.

Larry McNair Jr.'s plan to develop 1,400 acres of the 4,600-acre tract surfaced Tuesday at a briefing before Cayce City Council. The $80 million project would include more than 1,000 homes plus retail stores, a hotel, several lakes and possibly a marina.

McNair said he had been working on the plan for several years and found it attractive because it's close to the University of South Carolina and downtown Columbia.

"The reason it works is because of the proximity" to downtown, he said. The low-lying farmland is about eight miles southeast of Columbia.

McNair said he was moving ahead with the project despite the recession because he wanted it to be ready when the economy improves.

"It's going to be two years" before the first lot is sold, he said. "I'm hoping we're going to be out of this mess by then."

The $80 million price tag would include just site preparation, utilities, streets and the golf course. McNair said lots would probably sell for $100,000 and up.

The golf course alone would cost $11 million to build, he said. That's about the same price Myrtle Beach developer Burroughs & Chapin Co. and its partners paid for the property in 1999.

McNair's proposal is a new twist on development plans for the land that straddles Interstate 77.

Burroughs & Chapin acquired the property for what they billed as a "city within a city."

The company discussed a mixture of retail, homes and USC research facilities for the property but was unable to develop it.

The plan was controversial. Much of the land is in a flood plain; some is in the more restrictive floodway, which has prompted bickering, lawsuits and the repeated redrawing of FEMA flood maps.

McNair said he has a contract to purchase the land from Columbia Venture, the company formed by Burroughs & Chapin to handle the land.

McNair's plan is for the 1,400-acre upper section, mostly north of I-77 -- between the Congaree River and Bluff Road.

The plan works around flood restrictions, according to preliminary maps released by the developer Tuesday. McNair said he has no plan to build up a series of homemade levees to protect the property from the river.

That could mollify long-standing concerns by conservation and neighborhood groups.

Many fought the Burroughs & Chapin plan, saying it was unwise to build homes and businesses in a flood-prone area. There were also concerns that building up the levees could cause the Congaree to flood more property across the river in Cayce.

"I'm not going to touch them," McNair said of the levees. "They've been fighting about that for 10 years. I want to do what can be done the way things are now."

Burroughs and Chapin officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening, but officials in Cayce said the plan sounds worthwhile.

"At first glance, if it does meet (federal flood) guidelines and doesn't require levee improvements, it might be possible,'" Mayor Elise Partin said. "It seems feasible."

Cayce annexed about 3,000-acres of the 4,600-acre site in December 2007, expressing interest at the time in having the land developed. Partin was elected after voicing criticism about the way the previous City Council annexed the land.

Partin said she took the rare step of having the initial briefing at an open City Council meeting to make the dealings with McNair "transparent." It was the first time the two had met.

Unknown is whether the company would press ahead with a legal challenge that seeks to loosen flood restrictions on the property. The case is pending in federal court, but Burroughs & Chapin could decide to abandon the challenge if it sells much of the land.

McNair, 56, is a USC graduate with extensive residential real estate development experience around the state. He also owns two marinas in Charleston.

He said he hopes the project, which he has dubbed "Cayce East," would be attractive to Carolina football fans in town to watch the Gamecocks play. The northern portions of the property are within walking distance of USC's Williams-Brice football stadium.

McNair said he is working with professional golfer Gary Player's design group to build the golf course in an area that is now restricted from development.

The golf course property sits in the floodway, the area most prone to flooding from the Congaree River after heavy rains.

Federal law restricts buildings in floodways, but golf courses are allowed. Much of the remainder of the 1,400 acres is either in a flood plain or high ground. Flood plain development is allowed as long as buildings are elevated, much like those found along the oceanfront.

McNair said he also is contemplating a marina for the land. It would have a lift to take boats in and out of the Congaree River with canals leading to the home sites. He envisions catering to USC football fans, the marina spurring a "Gamecock navy."

"They could go from Columbia all the way to Santee and back," he said.

Reach Wilkinson at (803) 7718495 and Fretwell at (803) 771-8537.

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To see more of The State, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.thestate.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The State, Columbia, S.C.

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