Originally created 05/27/98

Officials retain law firm to close prison deal



A Bamberg, S.C., law firm has been hired by the state Attorney General's Office to close a controversial land deal in Blackville, S.C., to clear the way for a $50 million prison.

The real estate law firm of Early and Ness was retained by Charlie Condon's office to perform the legwork needed to hurry the land deal between owner John Boyd and the state Department of Corrections. Eventually, the prison, which will be built on about 365 acres of farmland between South Carolina Highway 3 and U.S. Highway 278, will create about 500 jobs.

The deal could be finalized in less than 10 days.

John Barkley, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the hiring of the firm was standard procedure, given that the attorney general's office frequently hires contractors for state departments. Mr. Barkley said the Department of Corrections has a number of lawyers on its judicial staff, but none that could expertly close the deal.

Originally the department had requested in its proposal for the 1,500-bed facility that the land deal should close within 90 days of the selection and if that time line wasn't met, reserved the right to terminate its contract and search for another taker.

The Barnwell County town of 2,600 was the only community left in the running after Abbeville County withdrew its bid in November, citing a lack of public support. Although the 90-day period expired April 24, Mr. Barkley said Blackville wouldn't be penalized and the prospects of building the prison weren't in jeopardy.

A major holdup of the land acquisition has centered around Mr. Boyd's financial troubles. Recently, the businessman's assets were unfrozen. He is the owner of Augusta Fiberglass.

The contract also stipulated that the state will pay no more than the appraised value for the land.

Before finalizing a purchase price, the state Budget and Control Board had the land appraised, which came in substantially lower than the local appraisal, which set the price at $438,000 -- $133,000 more that the state's estimated value of the 365-acre tract.

But Mr. Boyd doesn't want to part with the land for less than $438,000, so the difference will be made up by local money instead of state coffers, county council members said.