Although Conway City Council has not taken a final vote on the site of its new city hall, Conway’s chamber of commerce is moving forward with planning for its future if it must move to make room for the new building.
The current architect’s drawing for the new three-story, 50,000-square-foot city hall shows it located on Main Street, beside the historic Robert Mills city hall and using the space where the Conway Chamber of Commerce sits.
After a meeting with City Administrator Adam Emrick and Assistant Administrator Mary Catherine Hyman, the chamber group moved into action, holding a board meeting and selecting Delan Stevens to head a committee to decide the chamber’s next move.
“I think the city, from our perspective, the city made it pretty clear that this was the route that they were going. I know they haven’t made a final decision as far as a formal vote on that,” chamber executive director Kelli James said. “We’re moving forward with the assumption that this is their plan and we just need to decide what our options are as far as compensation and relocation assistance and what the city is willing to do to help the chamber relocate.”
Stevens says he may add another member or two to his committee, but so far it includes: Bill Marsh, president of Palmetto Chevrolet, one of Downtown Conway’s largest and longest-running businesses; Justin Ferraro, owner of a home repair business and one of the chamber’s younger members; Josh Kay, a former city administrator and former president of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, who works now as an economic and business development consultant; Rebecca Beverly, a lifelong Conwayite who works with Beverly Homes, her family’s business; and Gary Lee, assistant pastor of the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ and former chamber president.
Stevens says the group’s first action will be to evaluate the value of the chamber building and the lease the city has on it because the city will have to buy them out. The city already owns the property and has given the chamber a long-term lease on it.
He expects to present to the city the value of what the chamber has going for it and the cost of moving before saying to the city, “This is what we expect y’all to do.”
“This is our first scope, and our second one is where do we go because currently I feel like we have a good location. We have parking; we have high visibility. We’re downtown. I don’t know that the chamber has to be downtown per se, does that matter, but I do think we need a place that has good visibility and parking,” the chairman said.
Those will both take a major effort, because, Stevens said, the chamber never before entertained the idea that it might have to move.
The group hopes to make its presentation to city council shortly after the first year, or no later than the end of January, according to Stevens.
Although at least one city councilman says he’s open to locating the new city hall at a different site, Shane Hubbard doesn’t want to reveal the location he has in mind worrying that might cause its owner to increase the price. He doesn’t think it’s absolutely necessary for the building to be on Main Street, but he does want it in a location that is near downtown and has lots of parking.
The plan the way it is drawn now reduces the number of parking spaces near the new building.
Stevens isn’t waiting to see what happens with that plan.
“I’m totally resigned to the fact that we’re going to have to move,” he said. “Anything can change. I’m sure it can, but based on our meeting, based on conversations that I’ve had with a couple of people, I just think the city has decided that’s where they need to be and that’s what they’re going to do.”
Stevens says that’s a separate issue from his committee’s focus.
“My goal and this committee’s goal is to look out for the best interest of the chamber and the members it represents, and that is part of where do we relocate and what is a fair value for the city to give us to do that relocation…We just have to prepare and be ready if that’s the outcome. We’re just doing our due diligence to be prepared, that’s all,” he said.
Chamber president Kevin Cox says his group wants the best resolution for the chamber and the city, and he is looking forward to what Stevens’ group puts together.
“We think it’s all going to be very positive. We looking forward to it,” he said.
He also believes that the city prefers to take over the chamber building, “and that’s fine,” he said, adding that it’s still very early in the process.
He says the chamber needs to move along as quickly as possible because building a new home, if that’s the conclusion that the chamber comes to, won’t be quick in today’s very busy building market.
James says she thinks her group definitely doesn’t want to lose its current visibility so staying in the downtown area will be a preference “if the chamber has to go away,” she said.
She, too, wants what’s best in the long run for the chamber, the city and the chamber’s businesses.