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Flat Rock group hopes to save Mountain Lodge

Historic Flat Rock Inc. has offered $550,000 to buy Mountain Lodge in a purchase endorsed by a bankruptcy trustee in Columbia, S.C. Historic Flat Rock Inc. has offered $550,000 to buy Mountain Lodge in a purchase endorsed by a bankruptcy trustee in Columbia, S.C.

FLAT ROCK — One of the most historic homes in Flat Rock — and also one of the most time-ravaged and costly to save — would go to Historic Flat Rock Inc. if a bankruptcy court in South Carolina approves the sale.

The preservation group submitted an offer of $550,000 from a revolving fund it uses to save, stabilize and resell endangered historic properties. The offer has the support of a bankruptcy trustee appointed by the court in April to guide the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of owner William Maxwell Gregg II and guard the interest of creditors.
"As in all bankruptcy sales, the creditors get noticed and all we can do is hope that nobody raises the ante on us," Historic Flat Rock president Rick Merrill said. "If the judge approves the sale we're going to close two weeks later.
"We really want to save the old gal. She's been neglected since Bill Gregg acquired her in 1995. There was a freeze soon after that that broke every radiator and pipe in the place. The insurance company paid $600,000 but he didn't use that for repairs. He put it back toward the mortgage. It's raining inside every time it rains. There's moss growing on a couple of flat roofs. There's a lot of dead trees trees. One of the things we're going to do it rent a stump grinder and a couple of backhoes and just clean it up."

Owner in bankruptcy

In a bankruptcy filing, Gregg, of Columbia, S.C., listed assets including $389 million in real property (including a 298-acre granite quarry he valued at $326 million); $2.7 million in personal property, including $2.5 million in intellectual property for the value of Oneita Industries, once the largest T-shirt and baby clothes maker in the U.S.; and $8,491 in cash. In all, he claimed $393 million worth of assets versus $13 million in debts. His balance sheet notwithstanding, he wasn't paying his bills, records show.
Russell Brands, the athletic wear company, holds a $1.22 million mortgage on the Flat Rock property. Bankruptcy trustee R. William Metzger Jr. proposed holding 10 percent of the sale proceeds to cover costs and paying the mortgage holder $495,000. Gregg bought the house and land in 1995 from Albert and Sarah Little "Pepper" Moreno for $1.05 million.
"The home was built in 1827 and is one of the oldest homes in the Flat Rock area with great historical significance to the community," Metzger said in a motion asking a judge to authorize the sale. "It is in extremely poor condition due to its age and lack of maintenance, upkeep and repairs, which has resulted in vandalism, roof and water damage for several years. The home has not had power or utilities since 2010 and is only presently insured through the efforts of Russell Brands." There is some urgency. The policy expires Aug. 6, and the lender has little incentive to renew it.

Repairs approach $1 million

Although the property has an appraised value of $1.45 million, cost of repairs to make it habitable exceed $850,000, the trustee said.
Historic Flat Rock can't afford to do the while job but will work to make the property marketable.
"We're going to stabilize it, correct all the water infiltration, fix all the bad wood on the outside, repaint it, update the electrical and update the plumbing so it's functional and try to find someone that wants to restore it," Merrill said.
The foundation would like to hold fundraisers and events on the property.
Besides the 7,000-square-foot home, the 23-acre property includes a separate billiard room, a stone springhouse and a smaller cottage in a field visible from Rutledge Drive.
"We've got enough cash and a enough borrowing ability to take care of acquiring it, stabilizing it and marketing it," Merrill said. A sale to a buyer willing to invest a million dollars or more to "restore it to its former glory" would also require a preservation agreement barring the owner from demolishing the house or changing the historic character and from developing the property. Looking beyond the weed-choked yard and dilapidated condition, Merrill said, it's a magnificent home, emblematic of the wealthy Charleston transplants who bought huge tracts of land and built splendid summer homes.
The Barings came to Flat Rock in the mid-1820s for the cool summer climate and to explore the possibility of a rail link to the Midwest, according to research by Historic Flat Rock. They built Mountain Lodge in an English style that included servants' quarters, a kitchen house, gatekeeper's cottage, a deer park and a chapel.
The first chapel burned and was replaced by the present day St. John in the Wilderness. Susan Baring died in 1845, leaving Mountain Lodge and 3,050 surrounding acres to her husband.
Formed in 1968, Historic Flat Rock Inc. works to save historic properties in the community. Mountain Lodge would be by far the biggest undertaking for the organization both physically and financially.
"This is probably one of the most significant houses in Flat Rock," Merrill said. "The Barings built St. John in the Wilderness as their personal chapel. The Kings and the Barings kind of cornered the market on real estate in Flat Rock."

Information provided by Galen Reuther of Historic Flat Rock Inc. was used in this report.