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Guest Column: Conflicting Interests In Clemson

The city of Clemson is about to turn its last lakefront green space into an apartment complex … one that will benefit relatives of the university’s president.

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The city of Clemson, South Carolina is being sacrificed at the altar of greed, for the benefit of university president James P. Clements’ in-laws.

Clemson University has always touted its reputation and its relationship with the citizens of Clemson through its nationally recognized town and gown relationship. When you have the university president’s in-laws suing the city, it’s hard to feel the love.

Clemson City Council has an upcoming vote on April 1, 2024, for a planned development on Keowee Trail in downtown Clemson. This proposal will put a 7-story apartment complex with 1,350 students on the 5.5 acres that face Abernathy Park on Lake Hartwell, the last lakefront green space downtown. The investors in that property are identified as Keowee Trail, LLC. The members of that LLC are Kevin Collins, Gregory Smith and Clifton Smith.

Gregory Smith and Clifton Smith are Clements’ brother-in-law and father-in-law, respectively.



Having been a Clemson employee, I’m aware that all employees sign a conflict-of-interest statement. I’m also aware that this document only refers to immediate family.

These are two close relatives of the president looking to profit off the fact he and other university leaders refuse to build additional on-campus housing. That may not be illegal, but it is certainly bad optics and ethically questionable for the university and for president Clements

Keowee Trail LLC filed a lawsuit in 2021 against the city and its individual council members, alleging they impeded its ability to profit off of the property. That suit is now on hold until a decision is made about the planned development. So a project, that I believe City Council would have many reasons to deny, seems to be moving inexorably toward approval — in large part because of this lawsuit that is holding the city hostage until the development is approved. The Keowee Trail LLC has refused any additional negotiation with the current city administration, pushing only for maximum profits.


Clemson university, established 1889.


The land in question is part of a larger parcel that comprises “Uptown Clemson,” as defined by the city. And during a year-long moratorium on 200+ bed multi-family housing in downtown, the city hired a consultant and did numerous community stakeholder meetings to develop a plan for this area — one that did include student housing, but at a much smaller scale, as well as workforce housing, retail, and restaurants, in a way that highlighted and improved the city park that bears former mayor and university professor Larry Abernathy’s name.

The plan put forth by Core Spaces LLC (potential buyer and developer) bears no resemblance to this plan. I believe that the pending lawsuit is the primary reason a number of city council members are feeling that they have no choice but to approve the development.

If this goes through, it will be the University — and the president — that takes the blame for it, regardless of whether or not that is accurate. This is seen by residents as a hostile corporate takeover of the city by developers and investors in cooperation with the University.

This is not my aversion to students, my aversion to change, or my aversion to living in a college town. But it is my aversion to feeling as if the city has no say in its own future. And it is my distaste for the idea that president Clements’ family is attempting to profit from decisions made by the administration.



Nancy Spitler

Nancy Spitler is a twenty-plus year resident of downtown Clemson. After a career in high education communication and marketing, she is enjoying throwing pottery in retirement.



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