As each bird in Ingram Dunes chirps and each precariously perched grain of sand shifts in the wind, the deadline for the City of North Myrtle Beach to spend the money it’s raised to buy the dunes creeps closer.
The 80,000-year-old dunes are the last green space in the city east of U.S. 17, where rustling leaves still sound louder than the cars on Hillside Drive.
But the dunes will likely be bulldozed for a housing development if the city doesn’t close on the property by June 28. That’s the deadline the city has to spend a $510,000 grant from the South Carolina Conservation Bank. The grant makes up almost half the money the city has raised for the purchase.
The city plans to turn the dunes into a park, money-permitting.
City Manager Mike Mahaney said that although the city has to spend the grant money by June 28, they have to let the conservation bank know if they have a deal by May 1. If the purchase isn’t made by the end of June, the city loses the $510,000 grant.
“May 1 is going to be here before long,” Mahaney said at a March 4 city council meeting. “We’ve got to have time to do closing documents. There’s due diligence that’s required. May 1 is the deadline.”
Recently, the city made another offer on the property, said spokesman Pat Dowling, who declined to disclose the amount but said it was less than the $3.1 million asking price.
The city’s own appraisal of the land, on the on the other hand, is $1.9 million.
“One thing that should be said is the landowner and his agent, Scott Jackson, have been very cooperative, very forthcoming,” Dowling said. “If the deal goes through, that’s great. If it doesn’t, it’s not because everybody, including the property owner, didn’t try.”
Jackson did not immediately return a request for comment.
Right now, the city has $1,060,000 at its disposal: $500,000 from the city coffers, $510,000 from the S.C. Conservation Bank, $40,000 in private donations including from Preserve Ingram Dunes, and a $10,000 grant from Horry County Councilman Harold Worley’s community benefit fund to be used if the sale goes through.
There are other monies available too, but the city can’t access them. Almost $50,000 has been pledged to the city. But the city can’t put a promise in the bank.
Damien Triouleyre of Preserve Ingram Dunes said his organization has $40,000 in “hard pledges,” which is money promised for the purchase if the city buys the land.
Triouleyre said people are still reluctant to give to the city.
“They want to see the deal on the table," Triouleyre said. "[That] is what they’re looking for.”
In addition, the North Myrtle Beach Historic Preservation Society has raised $8,000 and is in the process of raising more, but the city hasn’t seen that money yet either.
Society President Susan Platt said the organization isn’t ready to donate the money until there’s a contract to buy the land.
“The $8,000 was collected for the preservation of Ingram Dunes with the understanding that if the site was not saved, that the money would be used to for an exhibit at the NMB Historic Area Museum in the memory of Ingram Dunes,” Platt said in an email. “In order to present the money to the city, there must be a signed legal contract between the city and the owners. We were advised by our attorney to wait.”
Platt said "the city has offered no written guarantee how and when the money would be returned if the site was not purchased."
She added that they're "concerned because even though the city is accepting donations from the public they have never issued a press release stating this to be true or advertised."
A letter the city sent to a member of the preservation society says that donors will receive a receipt for their donation, and if the deal doesn’t go through, the city will return the money.
The preservation society is still raising money and is holding another fundraising event, “A Night Under the Stars,” on April 27th at the North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum.
Mahaney said the city can’t make an offer on property based on promises.
“We have to tell them by May 1, ‘We have got the money and we have got a deal,’” Mahaney said. “I can’t stress enough, I can’t go on hard pledges. That money needs to be in here with who’s giving it. If it doesn’t work out, they’re going to get the money back.”