Lawsuit puts Ghost Town development in limbo
Just two weeks after a lawsuit was filed to dissolve Ghost Town in the Sky, LLC — the company that claims to be developing the former amusement park — attorneys representing the party wishing to keep it intact has filed to move the case to the state’s business court.
The lawsuit to dissolve GTITS, LLC — as well as Maggie Valley RV, LLC, which includes the same members and was to be used to develop a Moody Farm property in the valley — was filed on Aug. 4 by Jill Holland McClure, niece of longtime Ghost Town owner Alaska Pressley, who passed away in April of this year.
Presley had been working with the developer known around Maggie Valley as Frankie Wood, who’s listed in the suit as Jimmy F. Wood, Jr., the managing partner for Coastal Development, LLC, a South Carolina company that made up the other half of GTITS. The plan put out to the public was to revive the amusement park, which sits on five parcels totaling about 250 acres that have an assessed value of over $5 million.
McClure filed the suit on Aug. 8 in Haywood County. It includes specific allegations that Coastal Development hasn’t held up its end of the operating agreement that both Presley and Wood signed on June 19, 2020. The agreement stipulated that Presley and Coastal Development would share profits and losses equally.
The suit notes that Wood first approached Presley in 2019 and told her “he owned properties valued at $3,000,000” that were “ready to sell” and that he had $34,000,000 in grant money approved that could be used to “develop Ghost Town.” Throughout the suit, it’s stated that Presley was the only party to put any money toward the project.
“Before her death, Alaska made additional capital contributions to GTITS, LLC in various amounts totaling in excess of $100,000 including direct payments to Frankie to secure the installation of a large cross on the mountain top among other improvements,” the suit reads.
However, according to the suit, the purchase agreement was not “consummated” within a year, and further stated that GTITS, LLC is insolvent, has minimal income and has earned no profits.
“LLC’s only source of potential income is a residential rental unit with an at-will tenancy,” the suit reads.
“No accounting or rents collected, if any, by Coastal has been provided to Jill or to Alaska before her death,” it reads.
“GTITS, LLC has no liquidity and requires expenditures for taxes, utilities, insurance, and other basic costs related to ownership of the real property,” it continues, adding that no accounting of money expended for financing and labor toward developing the property had been provided.
In addition, McClure alleges in the suit that she’s not been granted access to anything involving either LLC — not even the park property itself.
“Despite her reasonable request to Coastal, Jill has been refused a key to unlock the gate to the premises of Ghost Town such that she can thoroughly inspect and inventory damage to the property [caused by vandals],” the suit reads.
The details for the other LLC involved in the suit, MVRV, are similar, but that section notes that the money Presley provided for that venture was even more than put forward for Ghost Town at $250,000. That suit also alleges that although Coastal initially stated plans to develop an RV park, that isn’t what’s happening.
“Coastal, designated as the managing member of MVRV, LLC has made plans to develop the property for permanent residential structures rather than for RVs, which was not within the reasonable expectation of the members at the time the Operating Agreement was executed,” the suit reads.
“There is no timeline in place for completion of the structures and infrastructure necessary for MVRV, LLC to begin producing the income necessary to maintain the basic costs of real property ownership,” it later reads.
While the suit calls for the dissolution of the LLCs, that allegedly wasn’t the only option McClure put on the table.
“Jill has offered Coastal the opportunity to buy-out her membership interest in GTITS, LLC for fair market value, and coastal has declined to buy out Jill’s membership interest for fair market value,” it reads.
Ultimately, the suit calls to dissolve the LLC. It also calls for an accounting of capital contributed by Coastal to the LLC and any rents collected, as well as any other information regarding Coastal’s involvement with the GTITS, LLC and MVRV, LLC, including the existence of bank accounts, post office boxes, permits and contracts.
Petitioning to change the venue
Waynesville attorney Rusty McLean is representing GTITS, LLC. Last Friday, he petitioned North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby to have the case moved to North Carolina’s business court.
The business court was formed in 1996 and has locations in Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. If Chief Justice Newby decides to assign the case to business court, it could be heard in any of those locations, depending on which one has the most time to adequately handle it. According to the North Carolina Business Court Rules the court is supposed to handle any case that is designated as “a mandatory complex business case.”
If assigned to business court, the case can have one of several outcomes, including a settlement through mediation or even a jury trial.
McLean said he’s had cases in business court before, adding that he wanted this case to be heard in that venue because the judges are experts in dealing specifically with such complex matters.
“A lot of businesses are dealing with breached contract issues, and they’re talking about millions of dollars, and you have superior court judges all over the state who are not as skilled in the analysis of contract law,” he said. “They just got tired of all these big cases always getting appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.”
Although McLean didn’t talk extensively about the case, he did say he feels confident that the outcome will be favorable for his client, noting that his client should have full control of the LLCs.
However, the suit calls that into question.
“Upon the death of Alaska Presley occurring while Alaska Presley is a member under this Agreement, then and in that event, Jill Holland McClure shall succeed to all of Alaska Presley’s Membership interest under this Agreement, with all the interests, rights and duties previously held by decedent,” it reads.
But McLean said the language doesn’t entitle McClure to what some may think.
“It says membership interests, not managing interests,” he said. “If a guy sits on a horse, he owns the horse. It’s clear that [Wood] is managing it.”
McClure declined to comment, and her attorney, Mary E. Euler of McGuire Wood & Bissette Law Firm could not be reached for comment.
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Alaska was from an era where a man’s word was his bond. We are living in times of acceptable deceit. Woods profiled Alaska and knew she was vulnerable because of her age. Never a sharper woman early on, but she had become feeble. He told her what she wanted to hear and blatantly took advantage of her. Took her money to use for his own devices and accomplished nothing set forth in their agreement. Shame on him and I pray Justice is served here and he’s ran out of town! Go Jill!!!