The foundation that supports York County's museums faces more questions about its involvement in a failed deal to develop 400 acres along the Catawba River for a new museum.
The questions, from new County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell, include why the Culture and Heritage Foundation owes $3.78 million on land donated to the foundation. Blackwell also wants details about how $4.5 million given to a subsidiary of the foundation was spent.
After hearing concerns from museum commissioners and government officials, Blackwell instructed County Manager Jim Baker to send a letter to the foundation. The letter, sent March 4, requests specific financial and land transaction information about the subsidiary, a private corporation that the foundation created to oversee the land's development.
The corporation is called Sustainable Development Group, or SDG, and is run by an all-volunteer board.
Jane Spratt McColl, sister of former U.S. Rep. John Spratt of York, donated the land near Interstate 77 and Sutton Road in Fort Mill to the foundation in 1998 "as green, open and common space with trees and bushes and trails and paths - and we hope, some day, a new Museum of York County."
In 2006, the foundation partnered with an international development company called Cherokee Investment Partners to build an environmentally friendly housing community called Kanawha. Proceeds from the development were supposed to pay for a new county museum along the river.
But the deal fell through, and now the foundation and SDG owe $3.78 million to a development partner that exited the project. They have until June to pay, although the deadline could be extended for a year.
SDG has agreed to sell some of the land to a Charlotte-based medical group vying for permission from South Carolina officials to build a hospital in Fort Mill.
Facing similar questions last year, foundation and SDG leaders presented information to the County Council and museum commission. Foundation and SDG leaders have said that the amount owed is fair in comparison to what Cherokee invested in the project.
When SDG and Cherokee partnered, Cherokee paid SDG $4.5 million in exchange for 54 percent interest in 332 acres. The foundation set aside the remaining 68 acres as the site of the new museum.
According to information provided by SDG and the foundation, $1.4 million went to the foundation for support of the museums and $1.84 million went back into the partnership with Cherokee.
About $1 million was used to pay SDG's expenses since the corporation was formed. Last August, SDG's remaining bank balance was more than $220,000, according to information provided by an attorney for SDG.
Attempts Friday and Saturday to reach Carol Maroska, the foundation's president, were unsuccessful.
Blackwell's request is for more specific information, including:
All quarterly profit and loss statements and balance sheets
All land closing statements from when Cherokee and SDG became partners
Documentation of the financial investments Cherokee and SDG made in the partnership
Itemized expense reports including check amounts and who was paid
Private, not public
As private entities, neither the foundation nor SDG is obligated to open its books, York County Manager Jim Baker said during the County Council's Feb. 21 meeting, when Blackwell requested the information.
Baker said there's an inaccurate perception that taxpayer money was involved in the failed development plan. Baker, Foundation and SDG leaders and former council Chairman Buddy Motz say the perception is not true.
Motz said during his tenure, he was satisfied with the reporting SDG leaders gave.
"The foundation and what they did with their money and what they did with their land is not really in the county's purview to look at," Motz said Saturday.
Even though he never saw more specific financial information than what SDG presented to the council, Motz said, he has no reason to believe the foundation or SDG did anything questionable.
The deal's failure was a result of the economy, he said. Foundation leaders have maintained the same position.
Even though the foundation is private, Blackwell said Saturday, it "came about for the benefit of the museum, which is a majority taxpayer-funded organization." And as a result, he said, county leaders need to understand what happened on the property.
Blackwell hopes the foundation will fulfill his request for the sake of resolving lingering questions.
Asking for the information "is me trying to do my job as chairman and get the facts" so the County Council can make informed decisions, Blackwell said. "I'm not on a witch hunt.
"Our job is to listen to the people we work for and get to the truth."