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Shrimp 'n Grits

Riley brokered James Island land swap between First Baptist School and Griffith-Knapp Properties
Lee Walton

In Charleston, business deals, particularly covert deal-estate development deals, are often like young, promising vintage wines. Once bottled, tucked away quietly in a dark cellar and left undisturbed for a few years to quietly mature, they are usually safe from prying eyes or loose lips unless one of the players just can’t wait any longer and pops-a-cork too early. Such was the intriguing story about a James Island land swap brokered by Mayor J. Pericles Riley in the latter part of 2007 when he summoned the leaders of the First Baptist School of Charleston to his office and offered them a deal they just couldn’t refuse. But for a strategically placed mole in City Hall, some would say a sharp-eared rat; the story of Riley’s quintessential covert involvement in this deal may have gone undiscovered for at least a few more years.

For years the First Baptist School located on lower Church Street has fought valiantly against limited building and parking space, nosy tourist, and the lack of a well-planned, centralized campus environment. Its gymnasium and 90-space parking facility is located many blocks north in the heart of the City Market on a very valuable tract bordered by North Market, Anson, Pinckney, and Church Streets. Its main athletic field complex, including several large ball fields, open spaces, and a significant undeveloped water-front vista overlooking Clark Sound is located on a very valuable 31-acre tract located south of the Ft Johnson Road Soccer Complex immediately west of the Bayview Farms subdivision. With all that widely scattering, albeit very valuable and, some would say, underutilized real estate, it’s no wonder that they listened attentively as Pericles pleaded with them to consider the once-in-a-lifetime land-swap he proposed.

Riley just happened to know of a large, heavily wooded 62-acre tract located on Riverland Drive in the James Island Dill Tract that was available. Because of dwelling unit assignments to nearby parcels and other restrictive covenants, this largest of the few remaining undeveloped parcels in the Dill Tract could not be developed as residential property without risking an embarrassing public out-cry, but it would be perfect for a new, consolidated First Baptist School campus. The clincher in Riley’s deal-estate proposal was an unbelievable 2-for-1 acre land swap – the School’s 31-acre athletic facility overlooking Clark Sound for Griffith-Knapp’s 62-acre Parcel-K in the Dill Tract. The image of Pericles dancing around his desk, flailing his arms, and shrieking of the wonder that his genius had created for the benefit of First Baptist School conjures the image of a prancing Spoleto street-clown in full, multi-colored regalia.

But the deal gets even stranger, First Baptist purchased the 62-acre Dill Tract parcel from Griffith-Knapp in early January, 2008 for a reported sum just a tad under $2.2 million. But still it is indicated as the owner-of-record of the 31-acre athletic field tract on Clark Sound, even though Riley clearly brokered the deal to First Baptist School as a land swap for their 31-acre tract. One just has to wonder when the other shoe, or shoes knowing Riley’s world-class deal-estate talents, will fall. Maybe Pericles is just waiting for a lazy, hot Saturday late this summer when everyone’s out of town to have one of his not-so-journalistic cronies at thePalter and Chatter run a well-hidden little blurb low in the bowels of page 9-B disclosing the rest of the story.

Can’t you just imagine the wheeling and dealing that will go into this Riley-brokered real estate development on James Island before all the well-sequestered facts finally come to light? Anyone want to take odds on which developer will snatch another gold ring from Pericles’ scrawny little fingers?

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