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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Is Jim Anthony still pulling strings at Cliffs?

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        Some residents at The Cliffs Communities scratched their heads when the board in charge of identifying a buyer for the development selected a wealthy local couple, Steve and Penny Carlile, over experienced developers, including the [John] Reed Group out of Bluffton, SC (Colleton River, Belfair, Berkeley Hall, Hampton Hall) and the Stokes Land Group,

Buyers of The Cliffs have no experience in golf community development, except for having bought and sold a couple of lots in the community.

a Jacksonville, FL based developer with golf communities in its portfolio and a secret weapon that might soon be under its financial control (see below). Although they are successful business people (oil, gas, trucking, home and garden accessories), it appears that the sum and substance of the Carliles’ golf development experience is that they purchased a property in The Cliffs at Walnut Cove and later sold it and bought a lot at Cliffs at High Mountain, site of the as yet un-built Tiger Woods golf course. The Carliles own one of just 50 properties sold so far at the struggling High Carolina.

        As the board’s decision to choose the Carliles sinks in, some residents are speculating that Cliffs founder Jim Anthony may be behind the surprising selection. The Carliles have made no secret that they plan to engage Anthony as a consultant, and the fact that the couple bought a lot in the flailing High Mountain development could signal a special kind of loyalty to the founder. The Carliles also contributed a reported $300,000 to the $64 million they and 500 other members provided to Anthony to upgrade and finish the amenities in the Cliffs communities. After one payment, Anthony defaulted on that loan and precipitated the current selling process. A bankruptcy court will ultimately decide if the Carliles have the best plan for The Cliffs.  If some other group walks off with the prize, the Carliles will receive a $1 million payment, plus expenses, for their troubles, according to our sources.

        As we wrote earlier, the Carliles’ agreement with the Cliffs board leaves the door open to other bids. Readers of this column may recall that a few months before he defaulted on the loan from his members, Anthony sued the Urbana Companies and a local South Carolina bank for having

There is speculation that Jim Anthony sold The Cliffs trademark to Urbana, whom he is suing for fraud.

duped him out of large parcels of land, asserting that Urbana did not have the financial backing it had claimed when it purchased the large tracts of properties (and that the group was in cahoots with the local bank). We understand that Stokes, one of the bidders for The Cliffs, may now be close to financial control of Urbana, and that Anthony’s animosity toward Urbana, and his more practical desire to salvage something out of his lawsuit against them, might have driven the board’s decision to choose the Carliles rather than Stokes. (There is also a rumor that, in desperation for a cash influx, Anthony also sold The Cliffs trademark to Urbana. If that is true, and Stokes does not wind up with The Cliffs, a name change for the well-branded communities might be necessary –- or it could cost a fortune to, literally, get back their good name.)

        Cliffs members meet tonight in Greenville to discuss with the board and the Carliles the sale of their community. I won’t be a fly on the wall, but if I were, and given the Carliles’ apparent fierce loyalty to Jim Anthony in the face of his failed management and default on their loan, I would ask the Carliles one question: “Will you adopt me?”

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Larry Gavrich

This blog was conceived and is published by me, Larry Gavrich, a former corporate communications executive who founded HomeOnTheCourse, LLC, in 2005.  Our firm advises baby boomers and others seeking a lifestyle in which golf is a major component.  My wife Connie and I own a home in Connecticut (not on a golf course) and a condo at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, on a Jack Nicklaus layout.  We began our search for our home on the course more than 15 years ago, and the challenges of the search inspired me to research golf communities and write objective reviews of them.