Shep Davis, managing partner for Sullivan’s Island Bathing Co., is looking to acquire and renovate the former Sand Dunes Club and rename it the Ocean Club. Formerly owned by South Carolina Electric & Gas and used as a club for employees, Davis would open the new members-only facility to residents and visitors.
Sullivan’s Island Bathing Co. plans to invest more than $30 million to acquire and renovate the former Sand Dunes Club in Sullivan’s Island, S.C.
The newly formed development group is asking town officials to allow a members-only social venture called the Ocean Club as a conditional use in an area zoned for single-family homes, the Post and Courier reported. Shep Davis, the development firm’s managing partner, said the property operated as a private club for close to a century without being open to island residents.
Club + Resort Business reported in September 2021 that billionaire Ben Navarro was interested in buying the property and turning it into a private club. Shut down since early 2020 because of the pandemic, the property, which was owned by South Carolina Electric & Gas and used as a club for employees.
Under this latest proposal, island residents will have the option of joining for the first time—at a cost of a $60,000 sign-up fee and an estimated $500 in monthly dues, the Post and Courier reported.
Built in 1933 for $14,000, the then 5,400-sq.-ft. structure was called Jasper Hall, an officer’s club for military personnel stationed at nearby Fort Moultrie, the Post and Courier reported. SCE&G acquired it in the 1950s and expanded it over the years to just under 10,000 sq. ft.
Davis said the property has not been properly kept up for several years and is in disrepair, the Post and Courier reported. One neighbor recently complained of the uncovered pool starting to smell and becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Davis and Brian Hellman, a Sullivan’s resident who is representing the development group, said the pool is being maintained.
Davis estimated it will take an investment of “in excess of $30 million” for his group to buy the property, overhaul the building and amenities and place a stormwater retention pond underground, the Post and Courier reported. Retrofitting the pool alone, he said could cost half a million dollars.
Improvement plans include offering separate pools for families and adults, upgrading the existing building and landscaping the parking area, the Post and Courier reported. The developers also would add a fitness center, dining terrace and gazebo along with a new entry area off a beach access path.
“We can preserve the building and re-create the club for its historical use,” Davis said.
Hellman said the current proposal comes after gathering input during several meetings with residents and town leaders over the past few months, the Post and Courier reported. He said the private-membership venue will provide a place for homeowners to eat and exercise without having to drive off the island or jockey for tables with tourists at the restaurants in the town’s small business district.
“It will be a gathering place to socialize that won’t compete with beachgoers,” Hellman said. “Dining will not be open to the general public and will reduce the need for residents to leave the island.”
The 3.5-acre club site is owned by a company affiliated with Charleston real estate investor John Derbyshire, the former owner of the chain of Money Man Pawn shops, the Post and Courier reported. The firm paid Dominion $16.2 million for the property in 2022, according to Charleston County land records.
A large house is being built for Derbyshire, who plans to remain a partner in the project, on part of the property next to the club, Hellman told the Post and Courier.
The developer said the goal is that the Ocean Club will be open to all Sullivan’s residents who want to join, the Post and Courier reported. Davis estimated the venture will need at least 400 members to get the project off the ground.
The proposed Ocean Club would give priority to individuals and families who primarily reside on the island, said Jim Wanless, one of the partners, the Post and Courier reported. Off-island residents could join, too.
The proposed parking rules to allow a social club in a residential area require at least one parking space for every 10 memberships whose primary or secondary residences are within 2½ miles, the Post and Courier reported. Sixty percent of those spaces must be designated for golf carts and low-speed vehicles.
For members living outside the 2½-mile range, which is basically anyone who doesn’t live on Sullivan’s, one vehicle parking space would be required for every five memberships, the Post and Courier reported. The rules also would require one bicycle space—through a rack or corral—for every 20 memberships.
“For whatever the number will be of those living off the island, they most certainly would come by car,” Davis said. “On-island residents would have much less need for parking” since they’d have the option to come by golf cart, bike or foot.
Tentative plans call for 50 car parking spaces, at least an equal number of golf cart spaces and “adequate” bicycle parking spaces, Hellman told the Post and Courier.
Though the membership will be open to all island residents, the developers don’t expect everyone to join, the Post and Courier reported. They also have not set a cap on membership.
“We are trying to come up with the right number of members for the club without excluding property owners,” Davis said.
During a public workshop last week, where a standing-room-only crowd spilled into the hallway, the developers addressed a list of written questions from elected officials, including the benefit to the town if the club is allowed, the Post and Courier reported.
Davis said, under the current zoning, the property could be sold for residential development that would allow three to five homes that could be taxed at the 4 percent rate if they are primary residences, the Post and Courier reported. If the club use is allowed, the developers will pay the 6 percent commercial property tax as well as licensing and permit fees.
The developers also said they won’t allow corporate memberships or agreements with hotels to provide dining or other services, the Post and Courier reported. In addition, no reciprocal-use deals with other private clubs are planned.
Some island residents see the idea as another amenity for Sullivan’s while others are concerned about increased traffic and noise a club would bring to a residential area, the Post and Courier reported.
In letters to the town, supporters pointed to the property’s long history as a site for dining, fitness, sports, recreation and cultural, educational and social events, the Post and Courier reported. They said those uses should continue to be allowed.
Others said they’re against the rezoning to allow a restaurant or for it to become a for-profit entity, the Post and Courier reported.