ATLANTA -- Bill Waters resisted Saudi Prince Faisal's attempts to buy his Floyd County, Ga., property in the early 1980s when the prince was putting together almost 8,000 scenic acres along the Etowah River to build a huge royal manor.
The prince's dream faded in U.S. Bankruptcy Court and now Mr. Waters is the owner of a piece of the prince's estate. He bought 216 acres surrounding his own antebellum home in an auction at which 1,200 acres of Prince Faisal's land was sold to pay creditors.
"I've been an island on the prince's property for years," said Mr. Waters, 34, who owns a Rome, Ga., textile company. He paid $435,000 for the rolling farmland, which has 1,900 feet of river frontage and clumps of forest. "I didn't plan to buy all this, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance."
More than 300 farmers, land speculators and the curious crowded under a circus tent on the property last week to see if Prince Faisal's loss could be their gain. The auction, which raised more than $1.6 million, was the first of three summer sales where Prince Faisal's North Georgia holdings will be sold to help pay his $21 million debt. His lavish Buckhead mansion has already been sold for $7.5 million.
Prince Faisal, 46, came to the state in 1975 for military training, fell in love with Georgia and started buying land in Bartow and Floyd counties. He hoped to build an English-style manor complete with a castle.
But court testimony showed that the prince was behind in payments on the land for more than two years. No reason for his financial woes has been disclosed. He is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.
Tom Bowen, 53, owner of a Dunwoody computer company, said he has closely followed newspaper accounts of Prince Faisal's financial woes and awaited such a sale. He paid $60,000 for 28 acres on the Etowah River and wants to build a home there when he retires.
"It's beautiful, quiet land and there's an allure about riverfront property. I can go all the way to the gulf from my front door," he said with a smile. "I just want to build a big place and be in the middle of all that land."
Howard Howell, 54, a used-car dealer from Cartersville, Ga., said the proposed Outer Perimeter highway and developments like the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Cartersville, which will open next year, could dramatically increase the value of such property.
"I'm hoping in four or five years this land will be worth $5,000 an acre," said Mr. Howell, who bought 11 acres along a county road for $28,600. "This land is close to Rome and an hour from Atlanta. You could cut this into smaller tracts and develop it."