Mercer Reynolds, chairman of Reynolds' parent company Linger Longer Development Co., last week sent homeowners in all four Reynolds Plantation communities a letter explaining that Linger Longer would have to sell many of the amenities in order to pay off some of the company's debts.
Residents are worried that the sale could detract from the value of homes they sank their life savings into. Government officials are worried that a drop in value for the county's most exclusive real estate could leave a large hole in the county's tax digest.
"We're going to have to just wait and see," said Greene County Commission Chairman Dene Channell. "If people are still willing to come here and pay the prices, then that's not going to affect us. If for some reason, people lose interest in coming here and won't buy properties at their current prices, then that will hurt us."
Properties in and surrounding Reynolds Plantation communities on Lake Oconee account for a large portion of the tax base in the primarily agricultural county. Property values in Greene County already have fallen by about 8 percent since the beginning of the housing downturn, Channell said.
For the past two decades, Linger Longer Development has been building upscale, golf-centered resort communities on Lake Oconee in Greene and Putnam counties. The company continued to expand during the beginning of the housing downturn, purchasing competing gated housing developments as other developers went bust.
"Historically, acquiring land in the Lake Oconee area to ensure that Reynolds Plantation continued to grow has been a reliable business strategy," Reynolds wrote in the letter. "However, with this downturn, we found ourselves in the position of having acquired more real estate, and debt, for Reynolds Plantation than is supported by recent demand."
Reynolds did not disclose the entire amount of debt owed, but assured property owners that they money was only used to develop Reynolds Plantation-related projects.
The Reynolds family personally put up $60 million in assets to extend its line of credit, but creditors demanded that Linger Longer pay down at least $45 million of the debt before they would extend the company's line of credit.
Amenities to be sold include the communities' six golf courses, marinas and clubhouses as well as the community's administration and maintenance buildings and The Jackson House, an 1883 mansion that Reynolds moved from downtown Greensboro and restored to serve as an entrance monument for Reynolds Plantation.
Linger Longer Development spent $136 million on the amenities included in the sale, according to the letter. Linger Longer has been approached by a private company interested in buying some of the amenities, but there is also a possibility that a group of landowners or the landowners association will purchase the amenities.
In either scenario, the level of service and residents' access to the amenities will not change, according to the letter.
People are divided on which course would be best. The Greene County Citizens Involvement Committee of Reynolds Plantation, a nonprofit that looks after property owners' interests in the community, hasn't met since the letters were sent so members haven't discussed the sale, said Billy Smith, vice-president for the committee.
"We're all still in a kind of wait-and-see mode," he said.