By Jessica Brodie
A new chapter has begun for Camps and Retreat Ministries, and while it means they’ve said goodbye to one much-loved piece of coastal property, they are now moving full speed ahead on expansion and development of their thriving summer camp in the Upstate.
At Annual Conference, United Methodist Camps and Retreat Executive Director Arthur Spriggs and Board Chair Kim Wilburn announced they had just closed on the sale of Sewee Coastal Retreat Center, a 40-acre property on the Intracoastal Waterway between Charleston and Myrtle Beach.
The sale, finalized June 2, totaled $4.09 million. The buyer is a private individual, attorney Ed Westbrook, a prominent asbestos property damage attorney.
“We did really well,” Spriggs told the Advocate.
Sewee was one of the properties owned by Camps and Retreat Ministries, but it had closed, and when Spriggs came in 2011, he and the board had been hoping to fix it up. They had a big $8 million development plan for the property, and they began to make their way around the state to talk to leaders and youth and gauge interest.
But they were surprised to discover people were not terribly interested in the Sewee property.
“We were asking, ‘If we build it, will you come,’ and we found out, ‘Ehhhhh, I don’t know about that,’” Spriggs said.
It was disappointing for Spriggs, who thought the property was spectacular, so they began to seek alternate uses. They tried to collaborate with groups like Clemson University, the forestry department, the Nature Conservancy and others to do some sort of group effort at Sewee, but again—God was steering them away. None of the other groups was willing to help fund it.
Spriggs and board “felt like landlords,” he said, and as much as they wanted to keep the property, they realized if they were not doing ministry there, there was no point in keeping it.
They put the property up for sale.
Sale will help fund master plan
It took a while to find the right buyer, but finally this summer, their long wait paid off.
The $4 million in sale funds will help fund Phase One of a multiphase master plan for Asbury Hills, Camps and Retreat Ministries’ thriving summer camp and retreat center in the Upstate. Asbury Hills, now in its 56th year of operation, recently received a $40,000 conservation grant and was named “the coolest camp in South Carolina” and “a summer camp that changes the world.”
Spriggs and the board have big plans for taking Asbury Hills to the next level, adding new features, group spaces and lodging so even more individuals and groups can enjoy the property.
Their $30 million master plan was finished in December and calls for a huge expansion of the camp for the youth, as well as the creation of a new adult retreat center with hotel-style lodging.
Phase One, costing roughly $3 million, will build a worship center and a new swimming pool and is targeted to be complete within the next five years.
Next, costing roughly $7 million, are other Asbury Hills improvements, such as a dining hall expansion, more cabins, staff housing, etc.
Finally, costing roughly $20 million, is the adult center and lodging.
Spriggs said they plan to use $1.5 million of the Sewee sale funds toward the worship center and swimming pool, then raise funds for the rest. The remainder of the Sewee sale funds will go into an operations reserve and maintenance reserve for the camp, something they haven’t had previously.
“This will put us in a very healthy position,” Spriggs said.
Now, Camps and Retreat Ministries is working on concept drawings for the worship center, then architectural drawings, while they put together the reserves and gear up for the Phase One fundraising effort.
Spriggs hopes construction can begin in 2018.
“We look forward to all God has in store,” Spriggs said.
For more on Asbury Hills: www.asburyhills.org.
By Jessica Brodie